My Family Recipe for Classic Tomato Sauce
Over the summer, my friend Molly asked me to make a video about how to make spaghetti sauce. I finally got around to doing so and it’s the perfect time of year for this slow simmered tomato sauce.
I’m fairly certain that every Italian-American family makes their sauce their own way, so this is likely only authentic to my family. And maybe, at this point, it’s only authentic to me as I’ve likely tweaked it over the years. But I know it’s pretty close to the recipe that my father likes because he’s complimented me on my sauce before. And with a recipe as close to the heart as this, being complimented feels like a very good thing.
Growing up, this is a sauce that often bubbled on our stovetop all day. One of my earliest food memories is the scent of garlic and tomato sauce browning on the stove. At any time, one of my parents might yell: “stir the sauce” to anyone nearest the kitchen. And there was always some white bread nearby for dipping when the sauce got close to done. And while I don’t always uphold traditions, we make this sauce every Christmas Eve.
♥ Related: Crispy Baked Eggplant
In the 2-minute tutorial video posted below, I made what I call Christmas sauce because I used pepperoni and, from my memory, we rarely had pepperoni in our sauce during other times of the year. But at Christmas time, pork fat reigns supreme. However, this sauce is fantastic with or without meat.
Besides a long, slow (mostly hands off) cooking time, this recipe is super easy and adaptable. I use canned tomatoes which are picked at the peak of freshness. They are always consistent. Canned tomatoes are also fairly inexpensive. And they have a long shelf life which makes them easy to keep in the pantry at all times (which is why my salsa recipe is also very convenient.)
♥ Related: Lasagna Soup
This is a perfect, classic red sauce use for spaghetti and meatballs, on cheese ravioli, in lasagna, or chicken parmesan. This recipe makes plenty. If you’re family is small, freeze half for a rainy day.
Spaghetti Sauce Variations
If you don’t like pepperoni or sausage, don’t fear, here are some excellent variations.
- Remove the pepperoni or sausage altogether. In this case, I’d up the garlic to 6-8 cloves and add a teaspoon of crushed red pepper when adding the herbs to bump up the flavor you’ll miss from the seasoned sausage.
- Add beef stew meat. Sear cubes of stew meat when you’d sear the sausage. And add it back to the sauce at the same stage.
- Add pork cubes of pork shoulder. Sear cubes of pork shoulder when you’d sear the sausage. And add it back to the sauce at the same stage.
- Have leftover steak or pork chops? Cut them up into bite-sized chunks and toss them in the sauce when you’d add the seared sausage. My father does this a lot and it’s one of my favorite additions!
- Add some meatballs. I like to add homemade meatballs after I’ve baked them in the oven. They only need a couple of hours in the sauce, so add them about halfway through cooking. Or just toss some frozen meatballs in about halfway through cooking.
- Mix a variety of all of the above. It’s always a fun treasure hunt to find different bits in the sauce. Everyone had their favorites.
Video: Spaghetti Sauce 2-Minute Tutorial
Spaghetti Sauce | My Family Recipe for Classic Red Sauce
- 8 oz stick pepperoni cut into 1-2 inch chunks; optional
- 1 large onion diced small, ~1/4 inch dice
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 lb sweet or hot Italian sausage optional
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 6 oz can tomato paste
- 2 15 oz cans tomato sauce
- 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
- 1 28 oz can crushed or ground tomatoes
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 tbsp dried basil
- kosher salt to taste
- If you are using pepperoni, in a small sauce pan filled with water, boil the pepperoni for about 5 minutes. This will remove some of the excess fat in the pepperoni and keep your sauce from becoming too greasy. Drain and set aside.
- If you are using sausage, in a large dutch oven or soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil has heated up, add the sausage. Sear until each side is golden brown. Remove from the pot, cut in half, and set aside.
- Turn the heat down to medium and add your onions to the hot olive oil and sausage fat (if using.) Add a big pinch of salt, about 1 teaspoon. Cook, stirring often, until the onions have softened and start to turn translucent. This will take about 3-5 minutes.
- Add the garlic to the pot and cook for about a minute stirring often during this time.
- Add the tomato paste to brown. This will take about 3-5 minutes. The tomato paste will get a little dark in color and start to brown. Then add a tomato paste can full of water to deglaze the pan. Use your spoon to scrape up any brown spots from the bottom of the pot.
- Add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and ground tomatoes. Then add the dried basil and oregano. Stir well. Cover to bring to a boil.
- Once the sauce comes up to a boil, add your pepperoni and sausage, if using.
- Turn the heat down to the lowest heat. You want the lightest simmer possible. Cover. Cook for 4-6 hours stirring every 30-40 minutes. Don't stress this though. If the heat is on as low as it should be, you won't burn your sauce.
- Once the sauce is done, toss with pasta and serve. I like to serve with parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper. Refrigerate leftovers for up to a week; freeze leftovers for 6 months in an airtight container.