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A jar of tomato-basil sauce.

Quick, Fresh Tomato-Basil Sauce


From Michael Chiarello’s Tra Vigne. Original recipe credited to Jacques Pépin. 

A few notes:

  • Crushed red pepper flakes would be really nice here. I omit because of the children.
  • Original recipe calls for a mix of butter and olive oil at the end — use what you prefer. 
  • My dear friend Linda adds heavy cream to it, which I have yet to try, but which I have no doubt is completely delicious.  


  • 2 lbs. tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 4 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
  • kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup, lightly packed, fresh basil leaves


  1. Place tomatoes and peppers in a large saucepan or pot. Pour in 1 cup water and turn heat to high. Season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a simmer, then turn heat down to medium high. After about 5 minutes, the tomatoes and peppers will begin releasing their juices, and the whole mixture should be bubbling. Adjust the heat to ensure the mixture stays at a constant bubble — medium to medium-high should do it. Stir every five minutes or so to make sure the tomatoes and peppers are not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Cook for about 20 more minutes.
  2. You’ll know when it’s time to turn off the heat when the tomatoes and peppers are tender and nearly all of the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes and peppers are beginning to stick to pot — when you drag a wooden spoon or spatula across the bottom of the pot, the parted pathway between the sauce should be visible briefly (see video for clarification). Note: times will vary depending on the variety/juiciness of the tomatoes you are using. Do rely on the visual cue more than the time to determe when the sauce is done. 
  3. Add the basil and butter to the pot, give it a stir, then transfer the contents of the pot to a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth — be sure to let the mixture cool first if using a blender. Taste. Adjust seasoning with more salt to taste — I often add another teaspoon of kosher salt, but start with a 1/2 teaspoon and add more to taste. Add freshly cracked black pepper to taste, too, if you wish. Store in the fridge for up to a week. Or freeze for up to 3 months.  
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Category: Sauce
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian, American

Keywords: quick, tomato, basil, sauce, fresh, peppers