Umami Rich Tomato Sauce

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Our umami-rich tomato sauce is the best way to upgrade your weeknight pasta dinner recipe. We used fish sauce and anchovies as a way to add salty complex flavors but deglazed our pot with sweet vermouth to balance the saltiness with sweeter flavors.

This umami tomato sauce relies on the salty, briny and somewhat intense flavors of anchovies. If you’re unsure about whether you like anchovies or not, start with one or two and work your way up! I’ve used a whole tin of anchovies in my tomato sauces before, but I know that’s not for everyone.

For this recipe, I like to use flat anchovies in oil, and I love the Cento brand for creating the best umami-rich tomato sauce.

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It’s also important to really let your onions brown in this process. I do not caramelize them completely, but the browner they get, the more sweetness they will add to the sauce. That will complement the briny, salty flavors of the fish sauce and anchovies.

Want to ramp up the umami even more? Try adding mashed capers or chopped caperberries to the mix. They will add even more salty, briny flavors to your sauce. If you want to change the flavor profile of this recipe slightly, use shallots instead of onions and reduce the cooking time. You can also try roasted garlic instead of fresh garlic for a bit more sweetness to the sauce.

Looking for more pasta recipes? Check my archives!

If you made this recipe, please rate it and comment below! You can also follow me and share your creations by tagging me! I’d love to feature your #triedandtruerecipes creation on my feed.

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Umami Rich Tomato Sauce

This tomato sauce is filled with complexity of umami, sweet, and salty flavors!
4.12 from 17 votes
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Cook Time: 20 minutes
Inactive Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings: 4


  • 1 yellow onion peeled and diced
  • 12 cloves garlic peeled
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
  • 4 anchovies from a can
  • 1 teaspoon Asian fish sauce or colatura di alici
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2 teaspoons neutral cooking oil
  • 4 tablespoons butter more or less, depending on preference
  • 2 tablespoons sweet vermouth
  • 28- ounce can of fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For Serving (Optional):

  • Cooked pasta parmesan cheese, freshly cracked black pepper, and extra virgin olive oil


Prepare the Umami Base:

  • In a food processor, combine the garlic, crushed red pepper, anchovies, fish sauce, and lemon juice and pulse until minced. Set aside to allow the flavors to mellow out.

Brown the Onions:

  • In a wide pot or rondeau, heat 2 teaspoons neutral oil over medium heat. Add the diced onion and cook, stirring regularly, for 12-15 minutes until the onions begin to turn brown around the edges, adjusting the heat as necessary to keep the onions from burning.

Cook the Aromatics:

  • Melt the butter into the onions. Once melted and frothy, add the minced aromatics from the food processor. Cook for 1 minute until fragrant.

Finish the Sauce:

  • Deglaze the pot with the sweet vermouth and scrape up any browned bits stuck to the bottom. Pour in the crushed tomatoes and stir to incorporate all the aromatics with the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes. Taste and season to your preferences.

To Serve:

  • Toss cooked pasta with the sauce and divide between plates. Garnish with parmesan cheese, black pepper, and extra virgin olive oil. Enjoy!
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