my family's spaghetti sauce

Despite the fact that I talk about France a lot on this blog, I am actually half Italian. The majority of that comes from my mom's father's side and a little bit of that comes from my dad's father's side. My maternal grandfather's parents came over from Guilianova, Italy through Ellis Island. I don't know much about my paternal connection to Italy.

There weren't many recipes passed down to me from my grandfather's family that I make very often. I have shared the recipe for Italian wedding soup with you but the only other recipe I make is my family's spaghetti sauce. I make a big batch of the sauce in the fall and I freeze it in small amounts to use throughout the winter. I make Chicken Parmesan, Lasagna, and Manicotti.

I actually thought about this post for awhile. I was going to title it "the one recipe you will never get." But that seemed mean and I really do want to share it with you. I just feel like I am sharing a "secret."

And honestly, I don't really have a recipe I go by. I am pretty sure I do it a bit differently every time. Actually, everyone in my family makes a little bit different. We all make meatballs to add to the sauce but other than that, it varies. I like adding hot Italian sausage to add a bit of a kick while others add mild. My mom adds a bit of both. My grandparents sometimes adds a pork chop or a chicken leg to add a bit of flavor, sometimes they don't.

My mom's and my sauce tends to be a bit thicker. We simmer our sauces for at least five hours. My grandfather's is always a thinner, more watery sauce. I am not sure if it is because he adds more whole tomatoes or because he doesn't simmer his for as long.

And his entire family has multiple opinions on how the sauce should be made.
First, let's start with the meatballs. I add an egg to ground beef along with garlic, dried oregano, and garlic powder. I always used to sauté the meatballs and sausage in olive oil to bind them before adding them to the sauce. My grandfather always adds the "essence" which is what he calls the oil and anything left in the pan. I never did. Sometimes now, when I am lazy, I just drop them right in raw. I started doing this when the Hubs said his mom would sometimes do it that way. (His mom is Sicilian.)

For the actual sauce, I sauté onion and garlic in olive oil in a big pot. Then I add a combination of cans of whole tomatoes with juices, diced tomatoes with juices, crushed tomatoes, and tomato paste. It is important to use good quality canned tomatoes for this. Then I add dried oregano, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a bay leaf. I am pretty sure I am not missing anything. I don't have this written down. It always just "happens."

Then it simmers for at least five hours. I check on it every so often to stir it and to skim any oil off the top since the meat tends to produce a lot of it. A lot of times, on days when I make this, I don't even eat lunch. I just dip bread in the sauce throughout the day to see how it is coming a long and whether or not I need to add anything. (However, the sauce will probably be pretty tangy in the first two hours regardless, so don't add anything then.)

That night, after the sauce has been simmering all day, we serve it over pasta with the meatballs and sausage. When I cook pasta, I always add a bit of olive oil and salt to the boiling water. Also, although there is sauce going on top of it, I find it important to season the pasta as well. When the pasta is al dente, I drain it and then add olive oil, garlic salt, and oregano.

We eat the meatballs and sausages throughout the week and the rest of the sauce gets frozen for use later.

There are no measurements. This sauce doesn't need it. If you like garlic, add more garlic. If you like oregano, add more oregano. But make sure you simmer for at least five hours and add meatballs and sausage. This will not taste the same otherwise.

Do you have any recipes that have been passed down through your family?


  1. this is definitely on my to do list for this late autumn.... nothing beats a huge batch of tomato sauce (and your trick with the hot sausage is key, it tastes so good!)


  2. the best recipes are the recipes just like this - passed down through the family with no real measurements! thanks for sharing (my family adds a bit of red wine to ours)!


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