Shh, don’t tell anyone, but I am sharing one of our treasured family recipes with you, the Best Spaghetti Sauce, my Grandpa Frank’s Spaghetti Sauce. This delicious, red spaghetti sauce is what I grew up on, my mom made it often and our mouths watered as the aromatic spices wafted through the house while it simmered on the stove all day long.
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Those robust and rich aromas of garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, and herbs and spices bubbling into a beautiful rich, red sauce. Sometimes, if we were lucky, my mom would let us take a piece of Italian bread and dip it in the sauce, YUMMERS!
It is based on my Grandpa Frank’s amazing red sauce, or gravy or whatever you call the red stuff you put on spaghetti or pasta. My best friend (who is from New England and is 100% Italian) and I have had “arguments” about what this sauce is called; she always called it gravy and I called it spaghetti sauce. Gravy for me was that brown stuff you pour over mashed potatoes, but regardless of what you call it; gather the ingredients and make it; East or West Coast!
This post was updated 9/4/18 | Enjoy!
Give it some time, tomato sauce is really best the next day, simmering for hours allows the natural sweetness of the tomatoes to emerge and the natural acidity to diminish.
History behind the secret family recipe
I didn’t really get to know my grandfather until my early 20’s and one of my favorite memories with him was when he took me to one of his restaurants (he owned three, at different times) showed me around, introduced me to a couple of his waitresses. You know the kind from movies, they have served in the same restaurant their entire working life; they know the customers, the menu, can make suggestions, rib and kid you, ask you about your family, cry and laugh with you…that kind.
Strangely enough, my grandpa wasn’t known for his pastas, instead he was known for his prime rib! But his sauce, oh my, his sauce, so robust, hearty and filled with incredible deep flavor.
My Grandpa never showed me how to make this sauce, my mom did. I watched her make it over and over again, adjusting slightly here and there, depending on the acidity of the tomatoes. In my early 20’s I finally wrote the basics down, but it’s one of those recipes that you simmer and taste, let sit and taste, adjust seasonings and simmer longer, add a bit of water and taste, simmer some more and taste. Lot’s of tasting!!!
While I’m being all nostalgic, the cast iron pot I use is the very one that my mom made this amazing sauce in all those years ago. I love this pot; it’s dented, stained, scratched, and chipped and I love every Harvest Gold inch of it. I highly recommend you investing in a dutch oven like this Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven! You don’t have to spend a months salary on a Staub Dutch Oven or Le Creuset although they have lifetime warranties so it might be worth it in the long run!
This sauce is fabulous, with pasta, yes, it’s how I use it most often. It freezes beautifully, if it lasts that long. But I typically make it and use it at least two to three times, pasta, calzone dipping sauce, or in a lasagna, stuffed shells, etc. Nummy!
I love San Marzano tomatoes, they are filled with wonderful flavor, but they aren’t required to make this sauce, in fact these aren’t even authentic, just make sure one of your cans of tomatoes are whole peeled tomatoes. Can you use diced, sure, but I think there is a bit of magic that happens when you keep the tomato whole and then squeeze it by hand to release the juices into the sauce, feels a bit “I Love Lucy” like (you know the stomping of the grapes episode?)!
If you are roasting the garlic, we’ll start with those instructions. I love it and I believe it adds depth to the sauce, however; sometimes you don’t have time and that’s okay. But if you have time, roast it, oh please, roast it. It’s so easy and adds amazing flavor. You can even get your sauce simmering and roast it later on, adding to the sauce whenever you finish the roasting.
How to Roast Garlic
Cut a smidge off the top of the garlic bulb (the papery up side, not the side with the roots), place it on a sheet of foil and drizzle a little olive oil over the tops, place in a 400 degree oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until soft and brown.
Once it’s done, let it cool for 5 minutes or so, then using a paper towel to grab it, gently squeeze from the bottom up and those little cloves of garlic will come bursting out, catch them in the foil so you can remove any of the skin that falls out with it.
While it roasts, drizzle a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a large, heavy pot over medium heat.
If you decide not to roast your garlic, mince between 3-5 cloves of garlic and toss into the hot olive oil, prior to the tomato paste. Carefully sauté until golden, don’t burn it as it will turn bitter. CAREFUL it will brown quickly!
TIP | Before you get started, remove all the lids to your cans at once, makes it easier to assemble the sauce.
Add your tomato paste to the hot oil and garlic (if you roasted it, wait until you have all of your ingredients before place it in the sauce) and stir around until it turns just slightly darker. It should start to absorb the olive oil. It’ll just take a minute or so.
Next add your crushed tomatoes and pureed tomatoes and finally your whole tomatoes. As you add the whole tomatoes, pour them into the palm of your hand a few at a time and crush/squeeze them into the sauce with your hands. Yikes, apparently photo’s enhance age spots!
Once you’ve added your tomatoes, fill one can about ½ way full of water, swish around and pour into next can and repeat, until you’ve “rinsed” out all of the cans, pour your “tomato sauce” water back into the sauce.
TIP | I like to keep one large can near the stove to store my wooden spoon when I’m not using it, plus it’s handy to fill with water if you need to add a little during the simmering process.
Now add your herbs and spices. This is done by eyeballing it, a nice generous pour into your palm of dried basil and dried oregano. It’s hard to add too much, you might even need to add more later on.
Next shake in a little red pepper flakes, I do just a shake or two, I don’t really want heat in the sauce, but it adds some nice flavor.
Give it a good stir and bring to a very low simmer. Be very careful, you don’t want to burn the bottom, it can ruin the whole sauce.
How to save your sauce if it burns on the bottom
If your sauce does burn, or you suspect a burn, DO NOT scrape the bottom of the pot, carefully pour your hot sauce into a new pot leaving the burnt sauce on the bottom of the other pan. Let your husband clean that pot later. That was for those of you who are still reading…tee-hee!
If you roasted your garlic, now is the time to toss the cloves into the sauce, remove any “papery skin” before tossing it in the sauce.
I’m not sure why my pictures are all so blurry, I must have been so excited about the sauce my hands were shaking…yep, that’s what I’m going with, shaky, from excitement!
If you have fresh basil, toss in a couple of handfuls of fresh basil and if you have a parmesan rind (I toss my leftover rinds in the freezer for sauces and soups like this).
Last week I posted on Zucchini Lemon Bread, and I spoke about using shredded zucchini in all sorts of other meals. This is a great way to use some, grate a zucchini or two up and toss it into the sauce.
Don’t worry it will cook into the sauce, giving it even more depth, thickness, and even nutrients. Optional of course!
Add your brown sugar and stir to combine…if you prefer, you can leave this out, I like it with it, it doesn’t make the sauce sweet, just neutralizes the acidity of the tomatoes a bit, bringing out the natural sweetness. Feel free to reduce it, omit it, or use it!
Covered, let it simmer (on super low, you might even need to turn it off and allow it to cool for a bit and then bring it up to a simmer again), stirring occasionally, just don’t let it burn.
Simmer most of the day, adding water as needed to bring it to the thickness you like it. This is personal taste, I like it thick, some like theirs thin and here’s where it gets really good, remove it from the flame and leave it on the stove top overnight, with the lid on, cooling. The next morning or afternoon, bring it back up to a simmer. The color will have darkened to a rich, deep red, the acidity will have reduced and the natural sweetness of the tomatoes will have emerged and your sauce will be “Mmmm, mmm good!”
Toss in some browned meatballs or Italian sausage and simmer for an hour or so before serving. Use as the base for your lasagna or stuffed shells. Or freeze it!
FREEZING SPAGHETTI SAUCE
If you decide to freeze it, make sure you cool it before placing it in the freezer, so you don’t get that frosty, nasty tasting freezer burn. If desired, you can “can” it, mock canning at least, pour the hot sauce into clean canning jars, allow to cool on the counter, then transfer to the fridge/freezer. I also spoon it (cooled) into heavy duty quart size freezer bags, a couple of cups at a time, lay flat to freeze, they thaw quickly and can be used for anything.
Serve with a loaf of warm, fresh grated or shaved parmesan, chopped basil, crusty Italian or French bread, a crisp salad and a small plate of crisp cucumbers, grape tomatoes and carrots.
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Grandpa Frank’s Spaghetti Sauce
A must have recipe for cool days when you need the comforting aroma of tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and spices simmering on the stove. This is a hearty, robust and amazing spaghetti sauce you can use in numerous ways.
- Prep Time: 25 mins
- Cook Time: 8 hours
- Total Time: 8 hours 25 mins
- Yield: 10-12 cups
- Category: Sauce
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Italian
- 1 bulb roasted garlic, top sliced off to reveal cloves
- 1-2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- *if not using roasted garlic, 3-5 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 8 oz cans tomato paste
- 1 28 oz can pureed tomatoes
- 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1 28 oz can whole tomatoes (I like San Marzano, but any whole tomato will work)
- 2-3 tablespoons dried basil
- 1-2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 1-2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 bulb of roasted garlic
- ⅛ – ¼ cup brown sugar (optional)
- 1 zucchini, washed and grated (optional)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Nip off a slice off the top of the bulb of garlic to reveal most of the garlic cloves.
- Place on square of foil on baking sheet
- Drizzle the olive oil over the tops of the garlic cloves
- Roast for 20-25 minutes until golden and soft
- Allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then using a paper towel, hold the garlic bulb upside down over the foil and squeeze the bulb from the bottom up, pushing the garlic cloves out.
- Most will pop out, some might need to be encouraged or pulled out.
- Remove any of the papery garlic skin and set aside.
MAKING THE SAUCE
- Drizzle oil into large, heavy bottomed pot and heat over medium heat
- If not using roasted garlic, toss in minced garlic and stir until golden, careful not to burn
- Scoop the tomato paste into the hot oil (garlic) and stir around until you see the color darken slightly, don’t let burn
- Pour in the pureed and crushed tomatoes
- Next, pour into your hand a few of the whole tomatoes at a time, crushing them into the sauce
- Pick one of the empty 28 oz cans and fill ½ way with water, swirling around to remove leftover tomato juice, then pour into the next can and the next until you’ve cleaned out all of the cans.
- Don’t throw out.
- Pour water with collected juices into the sauce and stir to combine
- Toss in basil, oregano and salt.
- Add a few shakes of red pepper flakes (more for more heat, less if none desired)
- Toss in roasted garlic, if made.
- Put in brown sugar and stir to combine (optional)
- If desired, grate 1-2 zucchini’s and stir into sauce (optional)
- Simmer, covered on lowest possible setting for 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally.
- Add water as needed if getting too thick, simmer longer if too thin.
- Adjust seasonings to taste.
- Cool on stovetop overnight, covered.
- Before serving, bring up to simmer once again for an hour or so.
- If desired, place browned and drained meatballs or Italian sausage into sauce and simmer for an hour before serving.
- May be frozen (cool completely before freezing)
- May be mock “canned” by placing hot sauce into clean canning jars, sealing tightly with canning tops, allowing to cool on counter, once cooled, store in refrigerator, note that these are not shelf stable.
Keywords: red sauce, italian, spaghetti sauce, best, comfort food, slow cooked
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