Our family tomato sauce – brought straight from Italy when my grandma moved here at 5 years old – made the same way ever since!
Every Italian grandma makes the best sauce.
It’s true. I like almost any kind of food, but the one thing I can be super picky about is Italian food at any restaurant. Because if it doesn’t taste like my grandparents’ or mom’s cooking, it’s just not as good, you know? I can honestly say that I’ve never been to a restaurant where I care for their tomato sauce, simply because it’s not how we made it growing up. For this reason, I almost always order a white sauce of some kind (alfredo, lemon cream, garlic, whatevs, just give me all the creamy sauce). It’s so stereotypical, but it’s true; every Italian family is super defensive about their family recipe and grandma’s cooking.
And I guarantee you feel the same way about at least one dish your family has made the same way for years. Think about it, and I bet you can name that dish in a hot second!
To sugar or not to sugar
Along with the “nobody makes a meatball like my grandma” stance, I’ve found over the years that there’s also two camps when it comes to homemade tomato sauce: the “must have sugar in it” camp and the “are you insane?” camp.
Let me be clear just so you know which camp I’m in: Sugar has no place in tomato sauce. Period. It’s savory, not sweet. If you want sugar, go eat a cannoli. The best homemade tomato sauce does not have sugar in it. Obviously.
P.S. If your Italian grandma put sugar in her family tomato sauce, I apologize. I’m sure it’s the best sauce. **See the section above.
What you need for our family tomato sauce:
- extra virgin olive oil
- garlic powder
- Italian sausage
- red wine
- tomato paste
- tomato sauce
- dried basil, oregano, and parsley
- a big pot (at least 6.5 quarts)
- a little time and a lot of love
How you make our family tomato sauce:
We usually call this “sauce and meatballs” in our family, because we almost always make homemade meatballs first and then use the drippings for the start of our sauce. But for simplicity’s sake (and because I was making the sauce for homemade lasagna) we’re starting with Italian sausage instead.
First, sprinkle garlic powder on the sausage and brown it in some olive oil. Once it’s browned, add some red wine and deglaze the pot as the alcohol cooks out for a bit. Then add the tomato paste, tomato sauce, water, and spices. Stir a bit and let simmer on the stove with the lid on for about 2 hours. That’s it! Your house is going to smell amazing, and the anticipation of dinner around the table together will make it even better.
If you’ve got 15 minutes for on-hand cook time, you can make a huge batch of amazing tomato sauce – enough for a few meals, depending on how many you’re feeding. With this batch, I had enough for a big pan of lasagna and probably two more meals for our family of 5. It’s just waiting for me in the freezer for a night when I need something quick – make some pasta and reheat that sauce, and it’ll taste like I was in the kitchen all day.
What kind of pasta is best for this sauce?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there are certain rules about pasta. Some sauces and pastas work better together than others, and if you choose incorrectly in an Italian family, you may never hear the end of it.
That being said, I will always say that any pasta is better than no pasta at all, so no judgment here.
My top choices of pasta for this sauce are rigatoni or paccheri.
(This is my all-time favorite! It’s big, fat, flat pieces of tubular pasta that just pick up the sauce perfectly – just like my grandma made it. See? It always goes back to the grandma.)
Sunday dinner without the all-day work
I really try to feed my family well, but just like you, we are often short on time. The weeknights are filled with soccer practice, church, or homework, and the weekends are much of the same – minus the homework. But our family tomato sauce is one way I can take a little time when I do have it to ensure I’ve got something delicious and hot and filling ready to go on an otherwise busy evening.
Serve it with salad and some Easy No-Knead Artisan Bread, and you’ve got an easy, no-fuss meal.
And it’s a crowd-pleaser! You can easily feed your extended family or friends coming over for a weekend dinner with this. It’s little on-hand time to prep, super inexpensive, and easily adjustable to the amount needed. It’s a meal we used to linger over for hours when my grandpa would come over. Such good conversation and memories.
So who are you going to invite over and enjoy the Sunday pace with over this pasta meal?
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Our Family Tomato Sauce
- 16 oz. ground Italian sausage
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Tb. garlic powder
- ¼ cup dry red wine
- 6 – 6 oz. tomato paste
- 3 – 15 oz. tomato sauce
- 10 cups water
- 3 tsp. basil dried and chopped
- 3 tsp. oregano dried and chopped
- 3 tsp. parsley dried and chopped
- salt and pepper
- Brown the sausage in olive oil in a large pot (at least 6.5 quarts). Once browned, add the red wine and deglaze the pot while the alcohol cooks out. After a few minutes, add the tomato paste, tomato sauce, water, and spices. Stir to combine, cover with lid, and let simmer over low heat for 2 hours. Serve over pasta. Refrigerate or freeze extra sauce.