Paati’s Tomato Sauce

This is a super-simple recipe that is not only easy for kids to make but can serve as a good base for many other recipes down the line. It’s also great for a simple plate of pasta, drizzled over eggs, or as a sauce for pizza. I suggest freezing it in two batches for ease so it doesn’t take as long to thaw out. 


  • 2 ½ lbs or 10 plum tomatoes
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 5-6 medium cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced lengthwise into thirds
  • 2-3 medium bay leaves, preferably fresh
  • Kosher salt to taste (approximately 1 teaspoon)
  • Crushed black pepper and/or red pepper flakes to taste
  • ¼–½ tsp sugar (only if not using peak-season tomatoes)


  1. Set a large pot of water to boil. 

  2. With a knife, carefully cut an X on the smooth bottom end of each tomato (the bottom is the end without the stem). Each line should measure ¾ inches long. (This can be done with a serrated butter knife instead of a sharp knife, for safety.) 

  3. When the water is vigorously boiling, carefully lower each tomato into the pot with a slotted spoon. Fully immerse all the tomatoes in the boiling water. Let the tomatoes boil 3 minutes or until you see the Xs get wider and pull open slightly. Use the slotted spoon to remove each tomato. Let the tomatoes cool enough to touch. 

  4. Peel back each corner of the skin, all the way to the other end of the tomato. Repeat for each tomato. If it’s difficult to peel the skin, simply immerse the tomato back into the boiling water for a minute or two. Cut any remaining peel and stem-end off the tomato. Cut each tomato into 8 pieces, reserving as much juice as you can. 

  5. In a deep skillet, an adult should heat the oil on medium to medium-low, depending on your stove. Add the slices of garlic. Stir to coat the garlic with oil and cover the pan, checking every 3 minutes and stirring. Covering the pan will help soften the garlic as it fries. Lower the heat if it sizzles too hard, because you want the garlic to be just barely tinged golden yellow, not browned. You don’t want it to burn on the outside and still be raw on the inside either! You can tilt the pan up so that all the oil pools and garlic is immersed in oil for a few minutes, thus cooking it evenly. Do not let the garlic cook too quickly. It should take 5–7 minutes to cook, but you can lower the flame and cook it a bit longer to ensure it cooks properly. Taking longer to cook the garlic on lower heat will ensure a better flavor, reducing the chance of bitterness that comes from overcooking or burning garlic. 

  6. Slowly add the tomatoes to the skillet, being careful not to splatter. Add the bay leaves and a sprinkle of salt, and stir. Cover the skillet. Keep the heat at medium-low. Check the sauce every 5 minutes. Lift the lid, let the water on the underside of the lid pour back into the pan, and stir well. Repeat this for 20–25 more minutes, until the sauce darkens. Taste and add additional salt if needed, as well as red and black pepper to taste. (For younger kids, use just a smidge of black pepper.) 

  7. If the sauce tastes too sour, add some sugar, pinch by pinch. Stir. Let the tomatoes cook uncovered for another 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Let cool and divide into freezer-safe glass containers or use immediately for pasta or pizza (for pizza sauce, add 1 teaspoon of oregano when first adding salt).