Gjelina's Pomodoro Sauce

I am often mesmerized by minimalist recipes. The dishes don't usually seem like much on paper, but then the magic of food science transforms them into something special. (This probably explains my fixation on naturally leavened bread.) Though it only has 5 ingredients, Gjelina's Pomodoro Sauce is absolutely delicious and perfect to have on hand for a quick weeknight meal or something more involved like homemade pizza. The sauce develops a wonderful sweetness while it reduces and the fruity olive oil rounds out the flavor and mouthfeel.

I've added a few steps and tips that weren't in the Gjelina cookbook, but overall the process is easy and most of the cooking time is passive. Similar to homemade mayo, store-bought pasta sauce doesn't hold a candle to what can made with your own two hands. This recipe also happens to be step 1 for Cooking Wish List 2.0 which is a bonus. My goals are small but mighty (delicious). Tomatoes for President.

Recipe Tips


The sauce should coat a spoon but not thicken to the point that it's gloopy (technical cooking term). The original recipe suggests that 8 pounds of tomatoes should be reduced to about 6 1/2 cups of sauce. I stopped reducing once I had 7 cups since it coated a spoon just fine at that point. Chef's discretion.

Hey, Sweet Stuff

Add sugar (if needed) in small amounts. Adjusting the acidity of pasta sauce goes from just right to overdone very quickly. And to my Italian friends, I respect and recognize that you may be strongly opposed to adding any sugar at all. To each his or her own.


Add the basil to the sauce at the very end so that the herbs maintain their brightness.


The flavor of this pomodoro sauce benefits from a night in the refrigerator so that the flavors can marry up.

Original vs. Adapted

Tomato Skins

The cookbook doesn't specify if the tomatoes should be peeled. Even if you puree the sauce with an immersion blender or food processor, those little bits of skin probably won't be desirable from a texture standpoint. I added a step that involves running the tomatoes through a food mill after about 30 minutes of cooking. If you don't have a food mill, blanch and peel the tomatoes before starting your sauce. Instructions for blanching and peeling are in this post.


The original recipe calls for about 1 1/8 teaspoons of salt per pound of tomatoes so I round down to 1. Additionally, I withhold about 1/4 of the salt until the sauce nears the end of the simmering process. The flavors become quite concentrated as the sauce reduces so this extra step affords a little more control over how salty the flavor is.

Cooking Time & Temperature

The recipe suggests that it takes 30 minutes to reduce the sauce down to 6 1/2 cups using low to medium-low heat. While cooking over a medium flame at a strong simmer, I found that it took the tomatoes about 30 minutes to dump their liquid and break down, and then it took another 1 1/2 hours or so to thicken. It's passive cooking aside from a few stirs, but it does take longer than 30 minutes to get the right texture and quantity so budget your time accordingly. UPDATE: Early Girl tomatoes are juicy and take much longer than meatier Italian varieties (Roman, San Marzano, and so forth). I recommend combining Early Girl tomatoes with an Italian variety. This will reduce the cooking time and result in more sauce.

Striped Roman tomatoes from Milliken Family Farm - Santa Monica Farmers Market

Farmers | Artisans

I make an effort to source my food from local California artisans with a special focus on the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Below is a list of the talented folks who contributed to this dish.


Ingredients (Adapted from the Gjelina cookbook)

One of the many great things about Gjelina's pomodoro sauce is that the 1:1 ratio makes it easy to scale for whatever quantity of tomatoes you have. I'm including the original recipe as well as the scalable version below.

Broken Down 1:1

  • 1 lb ripe tomatoes Note: I've had great results mixing Italian varieties such as Striped Roman with Early Girl tomatoes. You want a good sauce tomato - something that's more meaty than juicy. Early Girls are delicious but tend to be on the juicier side so that's why I use both.
  • 1 teaspoon flake-style salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon basil leaves (about 2 grams)
  • 1/8-1/4 teaspoon sugar (optional - see "Recipe Tips")

For 8 pounds of Tomatoes

  • 8 lbs ripe tomatoes Note: As mentioned above, Italian varieties such as Striped Roman and Early Girl tomatoes are great for this dish. You want a good sauce tomato - something that's more meaty than juicy. Early Girls are delicious but tend to be on the juicier side so that's why I use both.
  • 2 tablespoons + 1-2 teaspoons flake-style salt
  • 1/2 cup quality olive oil
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons - about 16 grams) basil leaves
  • 1-2 teaspoons sugar (optional - see "Recipe Tips")
Instructions (for 8 pounds of tomatoes)
    • Cut the tomatoes into quarters for medium-size tomatoes.
    • Add the tomato wedges, 2 tablespoons (6 teaspoons) of flake-style salt, and 1/2 cup of olive oil to the pot, then stir. Note: I start with 2 tablespoons (6 teaspoons) of salt for 8 pounds of tomatoes, holding back the last 2 teaspoons until the end. See "Recipe Tips" above.
    • Over medium-high heat, bring the tomatoes to a simmer.
    • Continuing on the low end of medium-high, cook for 15-20 minutes (covered), stirring once or twice. At the end of the cooking time, the tomatoes will be submerged in liquid.
    • Run the tomatoes through the food mill and discard any skins. Be sure to scrape the tomato pulp that collects underneath the mill back into the bowl.
    • Return the processed tomatoes to the pot, bring to a simmer, and cook uncovered over a medium flame until thickened and slightly sweet. This takes about 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours. Note: After the sauce has been simmering for a while, the solids and liquids can separate. I use an immersion blender to puree the sauce before I make a final evaluation of the consistency. Also, adjust the heat down a bit if the sauce boils or starts sticking to the bottom of the pot.
    • When the sauce is finished reducing, adjust the flavor with the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt (to taste - be generous) and add any needed sugar up to about 2 teaspoons. Note: For 8-9 pounds of tomatoes, I only needed 1/2-3/4 teaspoon of sugar to take the edge off of the acidity.
    • Cut the basil into a chiffonade, add to the sauce, and stir to combine.
    • Cool, then refrigerate in an airtight container.


    I keep pasta sauce in the refrigerator for 2-3 days and then freeze anything that's left over. I've used the sauce over a month after freezing it and found no issues with the flavor or texture.

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