The Best Type Of Tomato For Making Homemade Pasta Sauce

As is often the case with Italian cooking, all it takes to make a worthy tomato sauce is a handful of high-quality ingredients and giving them the right kind of attention. A basic homemade pasta sauce turns a simple meal into an experience that lifts the spirit when cooked correctly. And crucial to having this tomato-sauce-induced ephemeral experience is (you guessed it) the right tomato.

Whether you're browsing fresh produce at the farmer's market or shelves of canned foods at the grocery store, tomatoes to make a flavorful sauce are within reach. Here's an easy way to remember what to look for — paste tomatoes, and if available, the famed San Marzano. Paste tomatoes are the meatier, less watery variety ideal for sauce making, and the San Marzano happens to be the best paste tomato to use in your homemade pasta sauce.

Fresh San Marzano tomatoes are the holy grail for sauces, but other fresh heirloom paste tomatoes also offer a delicious, bright flavor and luscious texture. For non-summer months, canned or stored tomatoes may be the only option. Fortunately, there are ways to coax a delicious pasta sauce out of canned tomatoes, too. The key is to know what you're working with and tweak your recipe accordingly. And, whenever possible, get San Marzano.

The San Marzano tomato reigns supreme for pasta sauce

The original Italian San Marzano tomatoes get the same DOP certification as authentic parmesan cheese. This variety is so good that, at one point, it was the focus of tomato breeders and canning companies, both attempting to widen the San Marzano tomato's reach using their respective methods. Several subsequent hybrid tomato varieties resulted from cross-breeding San Marzanos. The most popular among these when it comes to Italian cooking is the Roma tomato.

Just because they're San Marzano doesn't mean they're grown in Italy since the name refers to an area of Italy and the strain of tomatoes. Therefore, a can of DOP San Marzano tomatoes will be authentically Italian. A can of San Marzano tomatoes without the DOP stamp will contain the same variety, but they could be grown elsewhere, even domestically.

So, how does all this translate to your sauce? While some would argue that getting cans of DOP San Marzano is the best option, the difference between those and regular canned San Marzano is usually marginal, especially when cooked into a sauce. Both will give you the noble tomato strain's distinct sweet richness and low acidity.

If in season, fresh heirloom paste tomatoes grown locally also impart deliciousness to your sauce. A mix of canned San Marzano and fresh paste tomatoes gives the best of both worlds. Your pasta sauce will benefit from the former's richness and silky texture and the latter's bright, fresh flavor.

Use paste tomatoes for sauces

Tomato's unique culinary facets are often overlooked. Packed with savory amino acids and aromatic compounds that give them a satisfying mouthfeel, it's easy to forget they are fruits. Tomatoes have come a long way from the bitter berries they were before evolving to their current luscious persona. Now, there is an almost unending list of tomato varieties. However, for our purposes, tomatoes can be divided into slicing and paste tomatoes, the former being juicier and better for eating raw in sandwiches and salads.

Always get a paste tomato for a sauce since it has more flesh, low water content, and fewer seeds. This translates to a sauce with better texture and more concentrated flavors. You can also guide and enhance the taste of your tomato sauce, which is why paste tomatoes are more suitable for cooking despite tasting blander than slicing tomatoes.

Roma tomatoes are one of the most popular paste tomatoes and are readily available. You can also find larger paste tomatoes like the Jersey Giant and Big Mama, which will help reduce prep time since you'll have to skin and deseed fewer tomatoes. If in doubt, remember that paste tomatoes generally have an elongated shape. When using fresh, in-season tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes give the best results. When it comes to canned, the flavor differences between heirloom and hybrid varieties are subtle, so both can be turned into a delectable pasta sauce.