Šalša, tomato sauce from the Croatian coast, is so satisfying and flavorful, you'll be mesmerized from the first taste. Not only is it a great base for pizza and lasagna, but it's a perfect companion for your favorite pasta. Shall we?
Šalša is a simple tomato sauce hailing from Croatia, (specifically the Dalmatian coast). Our easy version comes from the Pelješac peninsula.
Šalša is a versatile sauce. You can use it for pizza, stuffed peppers, rice, meatballs, or pasta. It consists of just a few natural ingredients, as a good tomato sauce should.
It's similar to Marcella Hazan's delicious classic sauce. However, šalša is made exclusively with fresh tomatoes, the onion is optional, and there are some everyday herbs involved.
You can make it in small or large quantities, and adjust the seasonings to your taste.
Tomatoes: look for fresh heirlooms, tomatoes on the vine, Roma, beefsteak, or cherry tomatoes. (Note: cherry tomatoes take longer to skin.) The ripeness of the tomatoes decides šalša acidity. The less ripe the tomatoes, the more acidic the sauce.
Oil: olive oil is preferred, but it will influence šalša taste the most out of all oils. Other options are sunflower, vegetable, or coconut oil.
Butter: although not everyone uses butter, it's the trick to that buttery texture and sauce richness. We highly recommend it!
(Optional) onion: this is one ingredient that is used in šalša 50/50. Some love it, some not so much. We don't put it in ours.
- mint (it seems to be the point of contention, but we like it).
Also, fresh herbs are the best, but dried herbs are fine too.
Seasonings: salt and pepper to taste. (Optional) paprika in small quantities for the smokiness factor.
Sugar: sugar is there to counteract acidity. Too much will make the sauce sweet, so be careful with it.
(Optional) baking powder: if the sauce is too sour, a pinch of baking powder (or a little bit more) to correct the course.
(Optional) This sauce is versatile and can be adjusted to your taste even more with carrots, celery, bay leaf, oregano, chili pepper, and white wine.
Step 1. Cut "x" into each tomato. Boil for 2 minutes.
Step 2. Transfer to ice-cold water and skin. Transfer to another bowl, squeeze and keep meat and juices.
Step 3. Heat oil and butter. Add garlic and simmer. Add tomatoes and seasonings.
Step 4. Simmer for 45-60 minutes, or until the sauce is reduced by half.
Serving: serve warm over your favorite pasta, as a base for lasagna and pizza or anything else you may need a tomato sauce for.
Storing: keep homemade šalša tomato sauce in the fridge for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 4. When ready to use, thaw, and then reheat using your preferred method.
If you made Šalša and liked it, please consider giving it a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (5-star) rating. This helps others find the recipe more easily!
Also, feel free to leave a comment (I read each one!), and don't forget to tag a photo #balkanlunchbox, or us @balkanlunchbox, on IG.
Prijatno and bon appetit!
(Adapted from the recipe by S. Hajdarević)
Šalša: Croatian Tomato Sauce
- 4 pounds fresh tomatoes heirloom, roma, or beefsteak tomatoes
- 4-5 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable, coconut, sunflower oil
- 1-2 tablespoons butter
- 1-2 tablespoons sugar
- (Optional) a pinch of baking powder
- 2-3 garlic cloves peeled and minced
- (Optional) 1-2 onions peeled and diced small
Herbs and seasonings (mix, add, omit and adjust to your taste)
- 1 tablespoon parsley
- 1 tablespoon basil
- 1 tablespoon mint
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cut an "X" on the bottom of each tomato. Fill up a large pot halfway with water, and bring to boil on high. Place tomatoes into the boiling water and leave for 1-2 minutes. (Don’t over boil them or they’ll be too mushy.)
- Fill up a medium-sized bowl with water and ice cubes, and then transfer tomatoes into it for 30 seconds. They should be easy to skin at this point, so remove the skin keeping as much tomato meat as possible. Transfer skinned tomatoes to a dry bowl and squeeze each until they are falling apart. (Keep all the juices!) If you prefer chunkier tomato sauce, leave it like this. If you like your tomato sauce to be smooth, cut tomato pieces down more, or use an immersion blender to achieve the desired thickness.
- In a large pot heat up oil and butter on medium. (If you’re using it, add the garlic now and simmer.) Add the tomatoes and juices, and start simmering. (You can mix the herbs and seasonings in now, or at the end of cooking.)
- Simmer the sauce on low for 45-60 minutes, or until ingredients have reduced by a third or a half, frequently stirring. (For a very thick sauce, cook another 30-60 minutes.) Taste the sauce throughout the cooking and adjust the seasonings to your liking.
- Serve over pasta, polenta, or rice, or use it as a base for lasagna. Store in the fridge for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 4 months. Reheat using your preferred method.
Julie at Hostess At Heart says
What a beautiful dish! I love when simple ingredients become spectacular dishes. I've visited Italy a couple times but never got to the areas that you spoke of. I really enjoyed your description of traveling by train. I enjoyed traveling by train too.
Thank you Julie! I've noticed you have some great recipes with simple ingredients. This part of the world described above is in Croatia which neighbors Italy - well worth a visit next time you are in the area, especially if you like the beach.
demeter | beaming baker says
"Cook from your eye." Love it! That's the beautiful thing about cooking, isn't it? You cook with your eyes and from your heart. 🙂 I feel like I learned so much in this post. The way you talked about summers by the sea and those long train rides really took me to a different part of the world. Great sauce recipe! Can't wait to see more posts, Aida. 🙂
Thanks Demeter! 🙂 More recipes on the way
This was so delicious! I made it this afternoon and just like you said, it really did take exactly one hour from start to finish on my first attempt! This sauce recipe is WAY better than anything that comes out of a can or jar; you can really taste the freshness and sweetness of the tomatoes. I served it over spaghetti and it was wonderful 🙂 I can't wait to try the meatball recipe next!
Glad the sauce turned out well! It definitely has that freshness taste. Some tomato sauce can be heavy on a stomach, but this one was fluffy and light. Let me know if you made any Marwah changes. 🙂
Not this time! 🙂 I made it exactly as written 🙂 It was so nice and easy!
This was delicious! Such a wonderful light sauce for pasta. Perfect use of summer tomatoes.
Thanks Tara! Glad you liked it.
Michael Beric says
I love the way you describe the trip from Sarajevo to Ploce. I was once young and traveled like that from BanjaLuka to Sibenik. I remember the first breath and aroma of the sea... Best regards to you.
The story was written by my friend. He'll be happy to read you enjoyed it. But yes, nothing like that first hit of aroma as you reach the seaside.
The recipe is from a Pelješac native. Thx.