It’s taken me a long time to bring this recipe to the blog. First, I had to make it my own. Then I had to “perfect” it. Finally, I had to try and figure out the best way to write it down as a recipe without too must “taste and see” which, unfortunately, is exactly how you succeed at making your own pasta sauce.
But! here we are.
When I married into a (partially) Italian family, conjuring my very own signature Sunday sauce became a goal. With a last name like Sandonato, it would be blasphemous to not have my own from-scratch Italian gravy, right?
Let me tell you, it was no easy feat.
I remember thinking, “Tomato sauce; how difficult can it be?”
Between balancing out the acidity and finding the right smidgen of sweetness to make the savory POP… quite difficult, actually.
How do you like your tomato sauce?
Some people like it super tangy and acidic while others, like myself, prefer a smoother flavor with a subtle hint of sweet. Because of that, getting my sauce to where I wanted it to be took A LOT of experimenting.
After trying different types of tomatoes—from Roma to San Marzano; from canned to jarred—I realized that my efforts had to go beyond the tomato-picking process.
So, I did what any helpless white gal from Eastern and Northern European descent would do: I called on my Italian friends.
I was told to cut the acidity by:
- cooking a piece of meat, preferably pork, in the sauce (this was before I was pescetarian)
- simmering a carrot in the sauce, as it would release its natural sweetness and would let you skip out on the sugar
- adding a tablespoon of vinegar
- tossing in some sugar
I tried all of these things several times, together and interchangeably, to no avail.
My sauce was still too acidic for my taste.
I’m not sure how much sugar you’re supposed to add in order to cut the sweetness (though there’s a famous ranch-dwelling diva on the Food Network that puts six tablespoons of sugar in her tomato soup), but I didn’t feel like tossing my pasta in ketchup, so I was eager to find another way.
Let me tell you — when I figured it out, it was a glorious day.
And it wasn’t rocket science.
Though, it was science.
Neutralizing tomato sauce with baking soda.
Adding a smidgen of sugar to your sauce will brighten the flavors, but it doesn’t neutralize the acidity.
But! Baking soda does.
The trick is to add about 1/2 tsp of baking soda halfway through your cooking process. Stir, and watch your sauce foam and fizzle. Let the sauce simmer for about 10-15 minutes before tasting it again (if you taste it right after adding the baking soda, you’ll think you’ve ruined your sauce. Trust me on this.) If the sauce is still too acidic, add more baking soda in 1/8 tsp increments until you’ve got the smoothness you want. Then season as you see fit by adding more salt or sugar if necessary.
About five minute prior to removing your sauce from the heat, stir in a knob of butter. This is optional of course, but it’ll give you an extra smooth and creamy finish.
Homemade Mushroom Pasta Sauce.
Even in my beef-eating days, I never liked a bolognese sauce; I always found them incredibly heavy and they always bugged my tumtum.
And a plain ol’ sauce can get boring.
The solution? Filling the sauce with meaty robust mushrooms. That, plus a diced onion and chunks of Roma tomatoes, and you’ve got yourself a nice and chunky textured sauce that will fill you up without weighing you down.
This sauce is also delish with extra veggies added in, like shredded zucchini or carrots.
While you add this recipe to your collection, be sure to also add my Classic Tomato Soup + Pesto Grilled Cheese Croutons!
If you make this dish, snap a photo and tag me on the Insta @killing__thyme! I love seeing your creations, and you’ll get a chance to be featured in my monthly newsletter.
Homemade Mushroom Pasta Sauce
- 2 TBSP olive oil
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/2 white onion, diced
- Kosher salt and cracked black pepper, to taste Start with 1/4 tsp and work your way up as needed. This is a personal preference, so season to taste.
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 TBSP tomato paste
- 8 oz mushrooms, sliced or diced I like to use Baby Bella when I can find them, but any mushrooms will do.
- 28 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes; don't drain
- 28 oz can of puréed tomatoes
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1 TBSP butter (optional)
- Heat 1 TBSP of olive oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic and onions. Cook them, stirring every now and then to prevent the garlic from burning, for about 3-5 minutes, or until the onions are tender. Increase the heat to medium heat. Add a bit of salt and cracked black pepper.
- Add the fresh parsley and the tomato paste to the onions, and stir until the onions are pretty much coated with the paste.
- Add the mushrooms to the onions and, if needed, add the other TBSP of olive oil. Stir to coat and cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until the mushrooms are tender.
- Once the mushrooms are tender, add the tomatoes (don't drain them; include the juice), the tomato purée, and the sugar. Stir the contents of the pot, and partially cover the saucepan or Dutch oven with a lid. Decrease the heat to medium-low and let the sauce simmer for 30 minutes to an hour.
- After you've let the sauce simmer for a while, come back, and give it a taste. This is where you're going to have to make your own decisions based on your own personal preference. If you find the sauce to be acidic (which I always do at this point), add the baking soda. The sauce will foam and fizz. Give it a good stir and let it simmer for about 15 minutes before tasting it again. Once some time has passed, taste it and adjust your seasoning (salt + sugar). Your sauce should be much less acidic, but if this definitely depends on the tomatoes you're using. If it's still too acidic, add more baking soda in 1/8 tsp increments until it's just right, but it shouldn't take more than one more pinch of the stuff.
- Let the sauce simmer for 3-4 hours, partially covered with a lid. Come back to stir it occasionally and, of course, give it a taste. The longer your let your sauce simmer, the more flavorful it will get.
- When it's time to remove the sauce from the heat, add a knob of butter (about a TBSP) to the sauce and stir. This will leave you with a super creamy and super smooth finish.
- Toss this sauce with your favorite pasta, layer it in with your lasagna, or slather it over a pizza shell!