San Marzano Sauce

A simple, light tomato sauce, made from the last of the fresh San Marzano tomatoes and fresh basil, served over choke the priest pasta.

This was our very first episode – a test if you will. You’ll forgive some of the rough production edges. I think it’s still very solid cooking instruction. And a delicious recipe!

Fresh San Marzano Tomato Sugo (Sauce)
With Strozzapreti (Choke the Priest) Pasta

You will only make this pasta when the San Marzano tomatoes are in the farmer’s market in late summer and fall. In other seasons use canned San Marzano tomatoes from Campania.


  • 3 pounds fresh San Marzano tomatoes or a 28 ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes from Campania, Italy
  • 1 sprig fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt for the sugo
  • 6 quarts of water
  • 2 tablespoons of sea salt for the pasta water
  • 1 pound or 500 grams of strozzapreti durum wheat pasta extruded through a bronze die.  (Of course you can use other cuts of pasta.)
  • 1 tablespoon of a good finishing EVOO to dress the finished pasta
  • 8 fresh basil leaves cut into a chiffonade
  • ¼ cup grated Pecorino Romano

Cooking Directions

  1. Put the water for the pasta and the 2 tablespoons of sea salt in a big pot over a high flame until it begins to boil.
  2. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in another large pot big enough to hold all the tomatoes. (You can use the boiling pasta pot for this step and then again to cook the pasta if you don’t want to use 2 pots.)
  3. Wash the San Marzano tomatoes and take the stems off.
  4. When the water in the second pot is boiling, put the tomatoes in the boiling water for 15-30 seconds, until the skin puckers or bursts.
  5. Take the tomatoes out of the water and let them cool on a large plate. When they are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin.
  6. Cut the tomatoes in half and then into about ½ strips. Remove any skin, stem from the inside, and seeds if you want. Coarsely chop the tomatoes. (This is a variation from the video to help you get the sugo to the right texture more easily. You can just cook the filleto di pomodoro, the strips, just like I did in the video, if you want. Just make sure the tomatoes disintegrate into a sauce, with some pieces of tomato remaining. This method may take longer and require more attention to help break the tomato into chunks as it cooks.)
  7. Put the EVOO and garlic in a cold pan over a high flame. Saute the garlic in the oil to release its flavor. Don’t let the garlic brown. With the oil sizzling, put in all the tomatoes and 1 teaspoon of salt. Add the basil sprigs and stir them into the sauce. They will wilt and release their flavor into the sauce. Cook over medium-high heat until the tomatoes have broken down and a chunky sauce has developed. Most of the tomato water should have evaporated. This should take about 15 minutes, max. Stir frequently. When the sugo is done cooking remove the basil and garlic.
  8. When the pasta water comes to a boil put the pasta in the boiling salted water. Stir the pasta to make sure it doesn’t stick. Cook until al dente, about 8-10 minutes.
  9. Roll up the basil leaves and cut into a chiffonade, ¼ inch bands or strips.
  10. Pull the pasta out of the water with a spider or big slotted spoon and put it in the sugo. Finish cooking the pasta in the sugo. It will absorb some of the tomato liquid. Shut off the flame, drizzle the equivalent of 1 tablespoon of the finishing EVOO over the pasta, scatter the basil and sprinkle the Percorino and mix well into the pasta.

Serve immediately.

48 Replies to “San Marzano Sauce”

  1. Thanks for the wonderful recipe! I have a small garden and have 2 San Marzano plants covered with tomatoes. I wanted a good recipe worthy of my beautiful tomatoes! Your recipe is perfect. Can’t wait to make it once I get enough ripe tomatoes. I also have a large basil plant that I’ve been using for pesto. I’m also italian, though I don’t make many Italian dishes. My family comes from Naples. Thanks!

    1. Ciao Michelle. Let me know how the recipe turns out for you. I too have family roots in Naples and an inland village Mirabella Eclano. Keep on cooking.
      Buon appetito!

    2. Michelle where did you get your plants? I will try again next year but was unable to find any plants for this season, even through Burpee’s. They said that there is not enough interest in San Marzanos to make them available as plants. Tried seeds but that didn’t work out for me, too much work.


      1. Larry,

        A relative started them from seeds. They were pathetic little things when I planted them, but now they’re huge. I knew nothing of San Marzano’s until I received the seedlings. I didn’t realize they were so hard to get. Good luck next year. I hope you’re able to find them.


      2. I purchased my seeds at Lowes. They are Burpee.

        Just beginning to ripen now. Good luck with yours!

        I can’t wait to try Gianni’s recipe.

      3. I purchased my seeds at Lowes. They are Burpee.

        Just beginning to ripen now. Good luck with yours!

        I can’t wait to try Gianni’s “Choke the priest” recipe.

  2. What did Gianni say in Italian when he removed a garlic stem from the pan??
    I love this site! Internet at it’s best

  3. Gianni

    Thanks for the great recipe. I will be moving back to Colorado where I will finally be able to grow good tomatoes again. I am a little confused as to what are truly San Marzano tomato seeds and where to buy them. There seems to be several varieties

  4. Ciao Gianni. I was wondering, when you buy fresh San Marzano tomatoes, is there also some kind of DOP label or is that only the case with the canned tomatoes? How else do you know you have the real San Marzano tomatoes from Campania (grown in the volcanic soil)?
    I’m from Belgium, and this time of the year I can buy fresh San Marzano tomatoes in the supermarket, but I think they are grown in Belgium so they are not the real ones. They are not even the most expensive ones in the store. Are you able to buy the real FRESH San Marzano tomatoes in North Beach or did you use San Marzano tomatoes that are grown in the US in this movie?
    Do you think that fresh San Marzano tomatoes that are not grown in Campania are also good?

    By the way, I really like your website and recipes! I use them a lot!

    1. Ciao. The organic San Marzano tomatoes I buy in late summer are grown in the San Francisco Bay Area. I wouldn’t be surprised if what you find in your market may be from southern Italy. Buon appetito!

  5. Caio, Gianni

    I recently visited Napoli and Positano. I had a dish at a ristorante in Positano that tasted EXACTLY like this dish. Super fresh and delicious! I live in Des Moines, Iowa, and I am fortunate to have a family-operated Italian grocery store nearby, which carries DOP San Marzano. They also carry the strozzapreti from a producer in Salerno. I have been searching, for quite some time, for a recipe that resembled the dish that I had in Italy and I found your website. I want to sincerely thank you for posting this incredible recipe and your emphasis on buying only the best ingredients. It is spot-on and authentic as you can get. Your instruction and tips in the video recipe were awesome. Love the va fangool’s! My Grandmother used to say it often. Takes me back to the good ol’ days !

    Keep doing what your doing! Great stuff


    1. Ciao Jeff.

      Thanks for your support.

      I’ll be on the Amalfi coast soon and can’t wait to find other dishes that I’ll just have to add to my kitchen. Keep an eye out for posts from Rome, Naples, the Amalfi coast and a small beachtown near Gaeta in southern Lazio.

      I’m shooting a shopping/cooking episode in Rome and 2 new North Beach episodes should be released soon.

      A presto.

    2. Excellent video!
      I just picked fresh San Marzano tomatoes from my garden, I grew these plants from seeds I ordered from Italy (the best) I grow fresh basil too. This is the only way to make true Italian pasta. Your video was perfect, from a true Italian master…
      Can’t wait to make this dish.
      Thank you,

      1. Ciao Michael. You’re a lucky man. We won’t have San Marzano tomatoes here in the San Francisco Bay Area until late August. I’m jealous.
        Buon appetito!

  6. Can you do a phonetic respelling of the Neapolitan-American pronunciation of “basil” that you use sometimes in your shows? I can’t quite make it out.

    My Italian grandpa said close to “basilico,” but it sounds like you are saying “va-za-nee-gal” or something similar.

    Thank you.

    1. Ciao Pat. Sorry for the confusion. I’m not fluent in Italian but basil is il basilico. When I was growing up in Jersey what I remember was the Neapolitan argot spoken by my family who immigrated from Campania. The Italian in this region is very different than standard Italian or what my father called “book Italian.”

  7. Gianni,

    Loved the video, so much better seeing you make the dish rather than just reading a recipe. I too have some San Marzano tomatoes growing in the garden, about 70 plants. I intend to follow your recipe to make fresh sauce using the vine ripened tomatoes until the frost comes, which is about early October here in Syracuse, NY. With 70 plants I will have a good supply of san marzanos to freeze or can. Do you have any suggestions regarding how to best preserve the flavor of these tomatoes so I can enjoy them during our long winter?

    1. Ciao Rob. I’m pleased the video episode worked for you.

      At the end of the tomato season I blanch the tomatoes, peel and quarter them and let them drain in a colander set in a big bowl. (We use the tomato water that collects in the bowl to make Bloody Mary’s with fresh basil.)

      Some we freeze uncooked right away to use when you just want pure, unadorned tomatoes for your dish.

      I also make the tomato and basil sauce and freeze that too. Use the sauce for pasta or pizza.

  8. Greetings Gianni!
    Thanks for the great video on San Marzano sauce…well done! I love San Marzano tomatoes and am currently growing three plants (each a slightly different variety). In your video you mentioned the brass die. I assume you are referring to the bigolaro pasta extruder? I purchased one a year ago (with four different dies) and absolutely love it. You are absolutely correct about the value of the rough surface to help the sauce cling to the pasta. I even have parties every so often and have guests help extrude pasta (which they love to do). I use a “00” flour and mix it with some durum…makes a terrific pasta. I also have an antique chitarra which I found on eBay. Also great fun! The Italians have captured the essence of cooking by keeping it simple and using fresh, quality ingredients. I have a small vineyard here in western Colorado, 11 miles from our house, and ride my Vespa to it nearly every day. I hope to plant a row of Nebbiolo next year (currently I have an acre of Pinot noir and an acre of Pinot gris (grigio in Italy). We’re planning another trip to the Tuscany/Umbria next year. I wish everyone could experience Italy; an amazing country with beautiful, friendly people! Thanks for all you do to promote Italian cooking!

    1. Ciao. You can get canned San Marzano tomatoes all over North Beach–Union Produce (Union/Mason), Molinari Deli (Columbus/Vallejo), Little City Meats (Stockton/Vallejo), and at Whole Foods, AG Ferrari and some chain supermarkets. Look for DOP on the label for the best from the area south of Naples. They’re grown and produced in accordance with strict regulations. A bit more expensive but worth the money.

  9. Gianni,

    The DOP San Marzanos have been a full-blown revelation and made it exciting to get in the kitchen again. I’ve made your eggplant parm twice in a month, a little better each time. Tomorrow: meatloaf. The new sausage & peppers post will have to wait until next week, but it looks amazing.

    For other North Texans like me, the legit DOP tomatoes can be found at Jimmy’s Food Store in Dallas, along with many other Italian foodstuffs and the best wine selection in the area. Don’t leave without trying the Italian beef sandwich for lunch, too. (No I don’t work there, but I wish I did).

    Thanks for the great website and top shelf videos, Gianni!


    1. Ciao Amos.

      Use great ingredients and you’re 95% to making a great dish. That’s the case with San Marzano DOP tomatoes. If I’m not using local fresh San Marzano tomatoes grown by local Bay Area farmers in the summer and early fall I use the imported canned San Marzano tomatoes from Italia. They can be expensive. Here’s a suggestion to save some money but not necessarily quality. When you find a DOP producer you like try their non-DOP tomatoes. Sometimes they will be almost as good as the DOP at half the price. Often these tomatoes are grown and produced as are the DOP version but may be just outside the DOP growing region.

      Thanks for the tip about where to get San Marzano tomatoes in Dallas. I love Italian Beef sandwiches that originated in Chicago. I always eat them when I’m in the Windy City. Tony’s Slice House is a good place to get them in North Beach when I need a fix. The long-cooked beef sandwich with sauteed broccoli di rabe at the new North Beach Italian deli on Vallejo is pretty tasty too.

      Keep on cooking. You’re gonna love the sausage and peppers.

      A presto.

  10. just made this tonight for the second time in 2 weeks after seeing this video. used canned whole san marzanos and made sure they had the stamp. couldn’t find choke-the-priest at any local stores so we went with penne rigate and it was still great. now i feel like the world’s silliest goose for ever buying the stuff in the jar.

    1. Ciao Al.

      Glad you came over from the dark side. I hope you don’t use that fake parmesan in the green cardboard tube!

      Penne rigate is a good pasta choice. Those ridges help the sauce cling to the pasta. So many of my pasta sauces can be made in the time that it takes to cook the pasta so why bother to open a jar and heat it up when you can eat fresh.

      Buon appetito.


  11. I can’t get fresh San Marzanos and they are difficult and really expensive to get canned. I have to stock up on when I get a chance to buy them (closest place the sells is hours away) so I am very careful with recipes I use them in. I have to say, this is probably one of my favorite meals, ever. I make it on a regular basis. It is quick, simple and so good. Thanks so much. Off to make this recipe, again.

  12. GIANNI
    Your San Marzanano tomatoe sauce looked beatiful. I am going to try it in a few weeks when my fresh San marzanono’s are ripe. I have seeds froom the old country can’t wait. Maybe you can answer a question about pinolia and rasins in meatalls. My family is from Avellino. My family has been making meatballs this way for over 100 years. What I understand rasins introduced in to Italain cooking is a siclian way of cooking not neopolitain? My wife is of Avellino and Siclian desent . We debate this all the time.

    By the way Carrados is the best.
    northern Nj

    1. Ciao Michael. I’m jealous about your San Marzano crop. I was just in your neck of the woods and got some early beefsteak tomatoes at the farmer’s market in the Paterson railroad yards. My mother was born in Mirabella Eclano very near Avellino. She used raisins and pinoli in her meatballs often. I think both show up in the cuisine of southern Italy regions. My mother used them in pork braciola but not in her beef brachiola. Both of these braciole are in my Sunday Gravy episode. I don’t use the raisins and pinoli in my meatballs that often lately.

  13. I just made this with my first 6 nicely ripened San Marzano tomatoes. My husband is away so I had just enough for a serving for one. Didn’t have Priest choking pasta so I used a gemelli….so yummy!! Thanks Gianni!

    1. Ciao Patricia. I’m jealous–tomatoes this early in the season. Glad the recipe worked well for you. The gemelli were an excellent substitute for the strozzapreti.

  14. This is just a simple yet terrific way to make sauce. I made it a week ago and my wife loved it so much she asked me to make it again this week so she could put it on whole wheat pasta and bring a healthy lunch to work every day. Picked up some tomatoes at the farmers market. I nee to look for the San Marzano cans and try it. I know I have used them before and indeed they do make a difference. I don’t believe my regular super market carries them so I am on a search. Thanks again Gianni.

  15. Ciao Debbie. Glad that the San Marzano sauce worked for you. Can’t go wrong when you use great ingredients and keep it simple. We’ll have lots of other vegetarian recipes on the website soon.

  16. Hi Gianni. I just made this recipe using the canned Marzano tomatoes and I love it. I’m a vegetarian and until now, have not found a tomato sauce that excited me. This sauce was exceptional. Thanks so much for sharing and I love your videos. Please keep your recipes coming.

    1. Thanks Peter. We’re headed back into the kitchen next week and hope to post a few more episodes soon. I think it will a crazy pasta day. Stay tuned.

  17. G’Day Gianni,
    Excellent recipe! I cooked this up last night and it was absolutely awesome. Like no other sauce I have had but so simple to make. Thanks for putting these videos up. I dont usually cook but seeing how easy this was I had to give it a try.

  18. Grazie Robert. Glad you enjoyed the sauce. Fresh, quick and economical. We hope to give you many more pasta sauce recipes that are simple, healthy and tasty. Most can be made in the time it takes to cook the pasta. Let me know how the pizza recipe works out for you.

  19. Gianni ~ I was inspired by San Marzano Sauce video and whipped up a batch for my wife last night. Simply amazing flavor and laughably easy to prepare! I agree, fresh ingredients make all the difference. I will never eat another pre-made canned sauce again.

    I can’t wait to try the Pizza recipe.

    Thank you very much for hookin us up with this website!

  20. This dish looked incredible. I’m in Chicago and have very little access to good tomatoes – the best method I found for sauce was to get the best canned crushed tomatoes I could and then spice it. If I ever find those DOT tomatoes, I’ll definitely give this a shot.

    1. Hey Michael. Too cold for fresh San Marzano tomatoes in Chicago huh? I don’t think American tomatoes, crushed or otherwise, can match up to canned San Marzano from Italy. Those marked DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta, or Protected Denomination of Origin) have a government stamp that certifies they are San Marzano tomatoes grown in the area around Salerno and in other parts of the region of Campania. I think these are the best. They are bright red in color, very meaty, with a full, sweet tomato flavor. You can find them at Italian markets in Chicago (Google Chicago Italian food markets if you don’t know of any) or even at Whole Foods. Check out my various tomato sauce recipes to see what I use to flavor mine.

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