The Tomatoes Lidia Bastianich Recommends For The Perfect Red Sauce - Exclusive

There's nothing like the taste of al dente spaghetti doused in a classic marinara sauce on a Sunday afternoon. The key to getting that perfect red sauce comes down to the tomatoes, but according to Lidia Bastianich, they don't have to be fresh. There are many variations of tomato sauce that result in a delicious dish — but when it comes to Italian American cuisine, we trust Bastianich's advice.

The culinary mogul told Tasting Table in an exclusive interview, "Everybody's uptight about fresh [tomatoes]. Fresh tomatoes are very ripe, and they season fantastically. But otherwise, canned tomatoes are great."

Canned tomatoes contain more salt due to the fact that the fruit is preserved, and they actually hold more beneficial nutrients like lycopene, as dietitian Toby Amidor told Food Network. Plus, fresh tomatoes don't have the pantry storing power that canned tomatoes do, with many cans lasting up to 18 months. But which kind is the best to purchase? Bastianich broke down for us why she thinks you should reach for San Marzano tomatoes, whether you're buying fresh or canned.

Canned San Marzano tomatoes are the way to go

Culinary mogul Lidia Bastianich recommends the San Marzano tomatoes — certified whole peeled tomatoes considered a product of Italy — from store shelves. "If you get a good San Marzano tomato, a whole tomato in its juice, that makes the best sauce, the best marinara," she said. The importance of tomatoes is that they are "sweet" and "not over-watery," because who wants a soupy sauce? Bastianich explained, "Why they are good is [they have] thin skin, a lot of pulp, not too much juice — juice is acidic — and not too many seeds." 

Depending on your desired flavor profile, you can leave the seeds in for a richer and more bitter taste. But in order to cook up a tasty sauce beyond the tomatoes, Bastianich advises that you use a food mill instead of a food processor. A food mill strains out seeds and skin into more of a puree, whereas a food processor and blender are incapable of that action. If you're looking to spice up your classic tomato sauce, opt to throw in some peperoncino — but not too much to overwhelm the sauce. Then, as Lidia said, "All you need for this marinara sauce to cook is 20 minutes, and you get the fresh taste!" 

"Lidia Celebrates America: Flavors That Define Us" airs on May 30 at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT on PBS and will be available for streaming on PBS' website and the PBS app.