What’s Cooking with Ben Pote? An Endlessly Customizable Recipe for Tomato Sauce

First in a series by Chef Ben Pote, owner of Wildacre Rotisserie in Cos Cob

Let me preface this by saying I love Rao’s jarred tomato sauces. They’re absolutely delicious, very affordable, and easy to prep when you’re in a rush. Candidly, I hadn’t tried Rao’s tomato sauce until my wife and I moved back to the east coast in the fall of 2020, and my mind was blown. Big fan.

All of that said, there’s nothing quite like making tomato sauce yourself. Even though this recipe is made with canned tomatoes, it brings a brightness, acidity, and freshness that you seldom find in jarred tomato sauces.

This recipe is endlessly customizable – you can add dried chili flake to make it spicy, some fresh basil at the end to brighten it up even more, an anchovy filet or two for some extra umami, or a little heavy cream if you’ve had that kind of day. I’ve been making this sauce for years when we don’t have much else in the pantry, and it always hits the spot.

The Easiest Tomato Sauce in the World
Box of your favorite pasta (I love a good thin spaghetti)
28-oz can of whole peeled tomatoes
¼ cup of good quality olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced thin
Big pinch of salt, to taste
Small pinch of black pepper, to taste

Fill a large pot with water for your pasta and throw in a bit of salt. Cover and bring to a rolling boil over high heat.

Open the entire can of whole peeled tomatoes, including the liquid, into a medium bowl. Using clean hands, crush the tomatoes into small chunks. Doesn’t have to be perfect. Set aside.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat, then add the olive oil. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the garlic and stir. Cook for 20-30 seconds, until the garlic is fragrant and lightly golden (but not burned!). Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour in the bowl of crushed tomatoes, being careful as the oil tends to splatter a bit at this part. Stir the tomatoes, garlic, and oil together, then add your big pinch of salt (tomatoes love salt) and black pepper. Let the sauce simmer away, and season to taste as it cooks.

That’s pretty much it! Cook the pasta per the box’s cooking instructions, drain into a colander, transfer to serving bowls and pour the tomato sauce over the top to serve. I always grate fresh parmesan on top to bring the whole thing together. Enjoy.

Feeling cheffy? When the pasta has cooked for about 5 minutes, carefully transfer it into the pan with the tomato sauce using tongs. Ladle some of the cooking water over the top and continue to simmer until the pasta is done. Cooking the pasta in the tomato sauce gives the whole thing a beautiful, velvety texture that comes from the starch in the pasta. You might need to add another ladle or two of water until the pasta is done, but the end result is absolutely delicious.

More from Ben Pote on Instagram @wildacrerotisserie