Making spaghetti sauce

Am fed up with store spaghetti sauces. I buy them, don’t like it, buy a different one, nope. I am giving up and making my own. Give me a few ideas, I know tomatos, what I want is a thick sauce, and good flavor. I’m thinking garlic and maybe peppers, but any suggestions would help.

My old Italian mother handed me down two secrets:

  1. She starts with tomato sauce from a can (usually Contadina), but puts it in the blender first. This turns the color from red to orange, and brings out a flavor you otherwise never would get. Then it goes in a pot with lots of the usual spices.

  2. Put in raw meatballs (maybe slightly browned), Italian sausage, chicken breasts, any meat you have lying around. Simmer on the stove for four hours or so, until the meat is cooked. The meat and the sauce are both better for the experience.

How much work are you willing to do? If you start with canned tomatoes, just pulse through the processor until you get the consistency you want, then add a bunch of garlic, fresh basil, black pepper, some red wine, some Greek oregano, a palmful of red pepper flake and let simmer for a few hours.

from an earlier thread:

1 large onion
Olive oil, like 2 tbsp
1/2 lb ground beef
1/4 or so lb of ground/minced summer sausage or other alternate ground/chopped meat (if desired. Can just use beef)
Tomato Sauce, 29 oz can
Tomato paste, 12 oz can
Beef Consomme, Campbell’s, one can
Water, about a half a cup
Lemon juice, 2 tbsp
Oregano 1/4 tsp
marjoram 1/4 tsp
basil 1/4 tsp
Parsley 2 tbsp
Bay leaf, one
Garlic, 2-4 cloves, minced
Vegemite/marmite 1 or so tbsp
ground pepper zero to 4 tsp

Brown one large onion, diced in olive oil. This takes time and requires some skill and attention. Heat the oil over medium heat, when it’s nice and warm, dump the onion bits in, stir thoroughly for about a half minute to coat with oil, then cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar. Stir every 2-4 minutes, scraping up what’s on the bottom. Once the water is mostly gone from the onion, start reducing the heat to low, lest they burn. But don’t stir too much or they won’t caramelize properly.

The browning process will take about a half hour, if done right.

Once the onions are nicely golden brown with most non-oil liquid gone, and they’ve been stirred up good, turn the heat to medium again, and in about a minute add 1/2 lb of ground beef, and about 1/4 lb or so of chopped up summer sausage, preferably jalapeno or or hungarian varieties but any will do. Stir briefly, then let brown for 2 or 3 minutes, then stir, and repeat, etc until most of the non-oil liquid has evaporated. Again, we want things to caramelize but not burn.

Once this state has been achieved, add a 29 oz can of tomato sauce, a 12 oz can of tomato paste, a can of Campbell’s beef consomme, a half to 2/3 can of water, 2 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp of vegemite or marmite, 1/4 tsp of basil, 1/4 tsp of marjoram, 1/4 tsp of oregano, and 2 tbsp of dried parsley. If you’re not using a spicy sausage in the recipe, add pepper to taste (I like a tsp or four). Add a teaspoon or two of minced garlic, or 3 or so minced or crushed garlic cloves. (Don’t sautee the garlic with the onion, it makes it bitter. If you’re daring, try adding the garlic towards the end of the meat browning, to enhance the flavor without bitterness).

Stir the hell out of it with a whisk, as the marmite/vegemite needs encouragement to dissolve. Once everything is nicely stirred together, stick in a bay leaf, bring to a simmer, reduce to low, cover, and stir every once in a while to ensure it’s not burning on the bottom. Let simmer at least an hour. Add liquid as needed, either water or low salt chicken broth. Remember, adding the summer sausage and vegemite and consomme already added a ton of salt to the recipe.

Optional alternative ingredients: Bits of sun dried tomatoes can enhance flavor. Or if you’ve got some nice yummy fresh tomatoes, consider adding a few of them, skinned, seeded, and chopped. Some folks like a dash of sugar, say a teaspoon or two, in the whole recipe, to counteract the acid from tomato and lemon. Greek olives and/or capers can be nice,too.

Consider adding other meats in place of summer sausage (but with the ground beef). Good choices can be ground pork, chopped bacon, minced ham, ground turkey, etc. One may also substitute ground turkey or ground or chunked chicken in the recipe for the beef. If doing so, use chicken broth to equal two cups instead of the consomme/water combo.

A teaspoon or so of MSG might be considered if not using consomme or summer sausage or vegemite.

Beyond that, go crazy, and see what you might like to adjust on your own.

I endorse the above recipe, except for that Marmite/Vegemite stuff.

and a few splurts of worcestershire sauce.

This is great. The purpose of the vegemite is to give it umami and/or funk. Additionally/alternatively this is always the point in a bolognese sauce thread (not strictly what was asked for, I know, but it works generally) where I suggest sauteeing a pinch of chicken liver with the onion. And where I suggest that for beef substitute equal quantity of meatloaf mix (1/3 beef, 1/3 veal, 1/3 pork). And for summer sausage, bacon slurry (raw bacon run through the cuisinart till near-liquified) will also work wonders in small doses.

ETA: Having said that I’ve added most of those tips before, and not to be a jerk, OP should know there’s a wealth of these threads up down the years, some with lots of content, most with good tips.

Spaghetti is one of those dishes that I usually prefer to be vegetarian. My typical recipe:
-Pour a dollop of oil into a big pan.
-Add a bunch of dried herbs and let it sizzle just a bit.
-Dice an onion and throw it in.
-Crush some cloves of garlic; throw it in.
-Optional: slice some cremini mushrooms and throw them in.
-Optional: chop some spinach and throw it in.
-Throw in a couple cans of crushed tomatoes and one can of chopped tomatoes.
-Slosh some red wine into the cans to rinse them out and pour it into the sauce.
-Salt and pepper.

I’ve posted this one several times to good reviews. It’s a pretty authentic Italian gravy:

Time: 3 hours
This is an amazing spaghetti sauce, and any leftover meatballs and sauce can also be used for meatball subs. There’s lots of room for experimentation with meats in this dish, and it makes a lot of servings. Note that the meatball recipe only makes 16 or so. That’s because Italian meatballs (unlike Swedish meatballs) are very large. The important key to good meatballs (or anything made with ground meat, for that matter) is not to overwork the meat mixture. Use a light touch when mixing, and a very light touch when forming the balls, or you’ll end up with dry, dense product.

Salt and pepper
1 pound pork spareribs, neck bones or pork chops
1 pound beef chuck roast, blade steak or brisket
3 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 bay leaf
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, preferably Italian
1 28-ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, roughly chopped
4 small or 2 large pickled peperoncini, chopped

Cooked meatballs (see recipe)
1 pound dried spaghetti for serving
Grated Parmesan for serving.

  1. Sprinkle salt and pepper all over pork and beef. Place large pot over medium-high heat; when hot, add olive oil and brown meat. (Or cook meat in same pot used for meatballs, browning in the leftover fat.) Remove meat to a platter. Turning heat under pot to medium, add onions, and cook 3 minutes, stirring. Add garlic, and cook 2 minutes longer. Add tomato paste, and stir: cook until it absorbs fat in pan. Add oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, kosher salt and bay leaf, stirring to combine.

  2. Add cans of tomatoes and tomato sauce, then 4 1/2 cups water. Stir in sugar, parsley and peperoncini. Return meats to pot with their juices. Bring sauce to a gentle boil. Turn heat down to a simmer, partly cover and leave sauce to simmer 21/2 hours or more, stirring regularly.

  3. About 20 minutes before serving, add browned meatballs to pot. Boil spaghetti according to package directions. Drain, return spaghetti to pan and add 3 cups sauce. Toss pasta in pan for a minute to coat with sauce, and place on a large platter. Pour 2 more cups sauce over pasta. Place meat and meatballs on pasta, slicing large pieces. Serve with bowls of remaining sauce and Parmesan.
    Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

**Italian Meatballs **Time: 20 minutes
2 pounds ground beef
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs
3 tablespoons olive oil.

  1. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients except olive oil by hand, using a light touch. Take a portion of meat in hand, and roll between palms to form a ball that is firmly packed but not compressed. Repeat, making each meatball about 2 inches in diameter.

  2. In a large, heavy pot heat olive oil over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add meatballs in batches. Do not crowd. Brown well on bottoms before turning, or meatballs will break apart. Continue cooking until browned all over. Remove meatballs to a plate as each batch is finished. Let meatballs cool slightly; cover and refrigerate until needed.
    Yield: About 16 meatballs.

Instead of sugar, I like to grate carrots and add them to the sauce. I hate carrots in general but you can’t really taste any “carrot” in the sauce and it balances out the acidity nicely.

-Sauté 2 cloves of sliced garlic in olive oil (sliced as in thin slices to get more cooking surface) – discard (use wooden spoon to smush the soften garlic on the sides of the pan before discarding)
-Add (1) 6-oz can of tomato paste plus 2 cans of water and let simmer until mixture is consistent
-Add (1) 28-oz can of tomato puree Plus 1 ½ cans of water.
-Add (2) tsp. Of fennel seeds, (2) tbsp. Basil and 2 bay leaves
-Simmer 3-4 hours partially covered until fennel seeds have softened and sauce has cooked down.

(1) lb of lean hamburger
(1) egg
(3) slices of toast made into bread crumbs (about a cup)
Add Parmesan cheese in a ratio of ½ of the bread crumbs (half a cup)

Cook meatballs and Italian sausage with sauce. A lean hamburger should require no skimming to remove fat.
NOTE: this sauce is mild and loves lots of parmesan cheese. Serve it with bread toasted with olive oil, rosemary, basil, and a little oregano.

All my serious sauces include red wine. Naturally I use the same wine I’m going to drink with the meal–makes for a guaranteed match, and you shouldn’t cook with any alcohol you wouldn’t drink.

Here’s a “short list” basic marinara sauce, easy and fast:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 (14.5 ounce) can peeled and diced tomatoes
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt

Sweat the onion and garlic until just barely tender, then add the rest and simmer for 20 minutes.

You can do pretty much anything with this sauce, adding more vegetables or meat or cream or whatever.

Who has tried The Godfather sauce?

I’m not going to give a recipe, because just saying spaghetti sauce doesn’t say enough. Are you looking for a quick marinara sauce. A quick meat sauce? A long, slow braise with lots of meat? If you have been using jarred sauce, I’m guessing you are looking for instant satisfaction, and you can get that in about 15 minutes with a marinara sauce.

Joe Valachi, the notable squealer, had the definitive tomato sauce in The Valachi Papers; as far as I remember it was fresh tomatoes, olive oil and garlic mostly… Can’t remember. Cooking seems a lot of work at the best of times, but there’s little to do in prison.

Trying to look this up, Google offered nothing but this weird 13 page long 2004 **Italian recipe thread**dedicated to The Sopranos.
Reading about food is uninteresting for a non-cook; all mafioso were just cheap little punks who have no significance in the end, so the combination is dispiriting.
Here are two recipes from that thread:
*Valachi’s Penne Bosciaola

2 pints grape tomatoes, cut in half
5 oz portabella mushrooms, sliced
1/2 swewet red onion, sliced
2 handfuls arugola or spinach
6 oz. chicken broth
3/4 of a stick of butter
4 oz grated Romano cheese
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
12 oz penne pasta, cooked and drained
salt,pepper, and chopped fresh basil to taste

Lightly saute garlic and onions until translucent. Add mushrooms and cook one minute. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper and cook for 30 seconds, until just heated. Finish by adding chicken broth, butter, arugola, basil and cheese.Stir until ingredients are well heated ad butter has melted. Mix with pasta and serve.*
Spaghettini col Erbi e Pomodoro (Spaghettini with Herbs and Tomato)

*1 1/2 lbs (675 g) ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
3 Tbs (45 ml) chopped fresh basil
3 Tbs (45 ml) chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbs (15 ml) chopped fresh sage
1 Tbs (15 ml) chopped fresh rosemary
1 Tbs (15 ml) chopped fresh mint
1/3 cup (80 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 lb (450 g) spaghettini (thin spaghetti) or spaghetti,
cooked according to the package directions and drained
Combine the tomatoes and herbs in a large, heat-proof bowl. Heat the
olive oil in a small saucepan over high heat until it just begins to
smoke. Pour over the tomato and herb mixture - it should be hot
enough to sizzle when it hits the tomatoes. Season with salt and
pepper and add the cooked pasta. Toss to combine and serve
immediately. Serves 4 to 6.

Okay, this is not a six hour simmered gorgeous sauce, and it is not a quick fresh sauce. It is, however, much better than jarred, very customizable, exceedingly kid friendly, and so forth, which makes it a candidate for heavy rotation lately since I’ve been cooking a lot for my niece and nephews. Consider it a step up from jarred.

1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 8 oz cans tomato sauce
1 6 oz can tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp dried oregano
1 pinch pepper flakes

Dump and simmer at least 30 minutes.

I add red wine if I’m drinking some and whatever odds and ends I’m thinking about. I’m a bit embarrassed to post this with Big Spaghetti Sauce Recipes, but it’s really been a life saver for me lately while not having a bunch of corn syrup and crap in it, and being controllable to what I want. And it’s tasty, so there.

If you like salty briney stuff (like olives, capers, and anchovies) with a little bit of a hot pepper kick, you really can’t beat puttanesca. If you want to, you can even short-cut it by using prepared tapenade in place of the olives, capers, and anchovies.

The main thing in making a good pasta sauce: start with good tomatoes. My favorite domestic brand is Muir Glen, especially the fire-roasted variety. Cook’s Illustrated also likes Progresso’s whole peeled tomatoes, although I think those may not be available anymore. I’ve never tried them, as you’ll never get me to cheat on my Muir Glen. Although, if I’m going for imported Italian San Marzano tomatoes (considered to be the gold standard for tomato sauce,) there’s Coluccio brand San Marzano DOP. With tomatoes this good, all you really need is some equally good olive oil (Frantoia is my baby–I know this is disgusting, but I used to take sips from the bottle, it was that good), maybe garlic or onion, salt, and some fresh basil at the very end.

I like thick sauce too; I second the suggestions for tomato paste. Like Hazel Nut Coffee, I dump in a couple of carrots to soak up the saltiness/acidity if I screw something up. I like lumps of tomatoes, so I dump in a few cans of canned Italian tomatoes and just break them up a little bit with the spoon.

My mom used to make amazing tomato sauce. All I really remember is that she sauteed the onions (finely chopped, so we kids didn’t bitch and moan) and garlic first, then dumped the tomatoes, paste and spices (dried oregano, parsley, basil) and simmered the hell out of it for hours.

Let us know what you decide to make!

The above post reminds me: drain the tomatoes for your sauce, otherwise it will end up too soupy. Keep a few small cans of tomato paste around in case you like your sauce on the thicker end of the spectrum. I wish more manufacturers would make this toothpaste tube style of tomato paste. I always find myself only needing part of a can of tomato paste, and the rest usually ends up rotting in the fridge by the time I get around to it again.