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Grandpa Frank’s Spaghetti Sauce

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Shh, don’t tell anyone, but I am sharing one of our treasured family recipes with you, 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.




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 Rhode Island born, best friend who’s 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 is 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 updated 6/17/19

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 acidity to diminish. BUT, don’t be shy about eating it the day you make it as well.

History Behind the Secret Family Recipe

I didn’t 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, showed me around, introduced me to a couple of his waitresses. You know the kind, like from movies, they have served in the same restaurant their entire working life; they know the customers, the menu, rib and kid you, ask about your family, cry and laugh with you…yeah, that kind.


My mom learned to make the sauce from her dad, I learned from my mom. I’d watch her make it over and over again, adjusting slightly here and there, depending on the acidity of the tomatoes. 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!!! This sauce, so robust, hearty and filled with incredible deep flavor.

I highly recommend investing in a dutch oven; like this Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven! Or if you can swing the cost, try the Staub Dutch Oven or Le Creuset they have lifetime warranties so it might be worth it in the long run and don’t get me wrong, I sure would LOVE ONE!


You betcha! In fact, I encourage you to do so!

  • Serve on pasta, yes, it’s how I use it most often.
  • As a calzone dipping sauce
  • When making lasagna, stuffed shells, chicken parmesan, meatball subs, pizza sauce, or drizzled on zoodles.
  • Use in place of the sauce in this Spaghetti Pie

Check out this recipe for Easy Calzone’s, so stinking simple! In fact, PIN IT now and make it later.

Delicious, quick & easy Calzones are inside out pizzas, customizable for the entire family. Filled with your favorite toppings #thefreshcooky #calzones #easy #quick #freezerfriendly


I love San Marzano tomatoes, they are filled with wonderful flavor, but they aren’t required to make this sauce, 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?)!

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I love adding roasted garlic to my sauce, I believe it adds depth to the sauce, but it’s optional. 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 later. Preheat oven to 400° F.

Cut (my favorite knife) about 1/4 inch off the top of the garlic bulb (the papery side, not the side with the roots), place it on a sheet of foil and drizzle a little olive oil over the top, bake for 20-25 minutes, until soft and golden brown.

Grandpa Frank's Secret Spaghetti Sauce #spaghettisauce #redsauce #secret #familyrecipe

Allow it to cool for 5 minutes or so, then using a paper towel, gently squeeze from the bottom up and those little cloves of garlic will come popping out, catch them in the foil so you can remove any of the skin that falls with it.

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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!

Before you get started, remove all the lids to your cans at once and measure your spices into a small pinch pot or bowl.


Add 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.

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Pour in crushed tomatoes and pureed tomatoes and finally 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 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.

COOKS 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.

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Add herbs and spices. This is done by eyeballing, 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. Alternatively, you can add your spices to the olive oil and tomato paste and “bloom” your spices with the garlic and paste.

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Next shake in some red pepper flakes, I do a couple of shakes, I don’t really want heat in the sauce, just some nice flavor.

Then add a generous palm full of kosher salt, Redmond Real Salt is my favorite, you may have to add more later.

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Give it a good stir and over very low heat, bring to a simmer. Be very careful, you don’t want to burn the bottom, it can ruin the whole sauce.


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!


Now is the time to toss the roasted garlic cloves into the sauce, remove any “papery skin” before tossing it in the sauce.

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Toss in a couple of handfuls of fresh basil if available and if you have a parmesan rind place in sauce as well – keep any leftover rinds and bits in the freezer for sauces and soups, adds wonderful flavor.

Seriously, the BEST! This Spaghetti Sauce recipe has been passed down from my restaurant owning, Italian Grandpa! Loaded with San Marzano tomatoes, roasted garlic, fresh basil, and other herbs and spices. Make it today, use it over pasta, meatball subs, lasagna or for calzone dipping! #thefreshcooky #spaghetti #pasta #homemade #best

When I posted my Zucchini Lemon Bread  recipe I spoke about using shredded zucchini in other dishes. Grate a zucchini or two and toss it into the sauce, or try grated carrots or other veggies to hide in the sauce! Maybe even riced cauliflower!

Don’t worry it will cook into the sauce, giving it even more depth, thickness, and nutrients. Optional of course!

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Toss in brown sugar and stir to combine…if you prefer, you can leave this out. It won’t make the sauce sweet, simply neutralizes the acidity of the tomatoes, enhancing the natural sweetness. Feel free to reduce or omit it.

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Covered, let it simmer (careful to not let it burn), stirring occasionally, you can even put it into a crock pot or into your oven, covered at 250° for as many hours as you need. Add water as needed to bring it to the thickness you like.


Here’s where it gets really good, turn off the heat and leave it on the stove top overnight*, lid on, cooling. The next day, slowly over very low heat, return to a simmer. The color will have darkened to a rich, deep red, acidity reduced and the natural sweetness of the tomatoes will have emerged and your sauce will be “Mmmm, mmm good!” Simmer for another 1-2 hours, serve immediately or if not using right away, cool completely and freeze in quart size freezer baggies. 

*If you are making this in a warm climate or are not comfortable with leaving it out overnight without refrigeration, by all means plop it in the refrigerator, then slowly reheat the following day. 


I typically blend the sauce since my family likes it smooth. I love my immersion blender or if desired, place in small batches in a blender. Blend until desired. But if you like it chunky, either only partially blend or don’t blend at all! It’s a texture thing!

Toss in some browned meatballs or Italian sausage for a meat/sausage sauce and simmer for an hour or so before serving.



Yes, yes you can! Make sure it’s completely cooled before placing it in the freezer, so it doesn’t that frosty, nasty freezer burn. You can mock “can” it, pour the hot sauce into clean canning jars, allow to cool on the counter, then transfer to the fridge/freezer. Or can it the real way if you know how and store in the pantry.

I also spoon the cooled sauce 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 so many dishes.

Serve with 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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Yield: 10-12 cups

Grandpa Frank's Spaghetti Sauce

Pot of spaghetti sauce and fresh ingredients like basil, parmesan cheese, herbs and spices. Via

Our secret family recipe passed down from my Italian Grandpa Frank. This robust tomato sauce is easy, all-natural, and so versatile.

Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 8 hours
Cooling Time 1 hour
Total Time 9 hours 25 minutes


Roasted Garlic

  • 1 bulb roasted garlic, top sliced off to reveal cloves
  • 1-2 teaspoons olive oil


  • 1-2 Shredded Carrots (optional)
  • Toss in a handful of fresh basil, oregano or thyme if available (optional)


Roasted Garlic

  1. Preheat oven to 400 °. 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 and drizzle the olive oil over the tops of the garlic cloves. Sprinkle with a little kosher salt.
  2. 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.


  1. 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 allow to burn.
  2. Pour in the pureed and crushed tomatoes, next, pour one or two whole tomatoes at a time in your hand, squeezing and 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 tomato "water" with collected juices into the sauce, stir to combine.
  3. Toss in basil, oregano and sea salt and a few shakes of red pepper flakes (more for more heat, less if none desired). Toss in roasted garlic, if made. Place in brown sugar and stir to combine (optional). If desired, grate 1-2 zucchini's and stir into sauce (optional) and add parmesan rind(s), optional.
  4. Simmer, covered on lowest possible setting for 4-6 hours (or longer), stirring occasionally. Add water as needed if getting too thick, simmer longer if too thin. Adjust seasonings to taste, adding more of each if needed.
  5. Cool on stovetop overnight, covered. Before serving, bring up to simmer once again for an hour or so. Optional: Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth. Place browned and drained meatballs or Italian sausage into sauce and simmer for an hour before serving, if desired.
  6. May be frozen (cool completely before freezing), 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.


How to Save Your Sauce if the Bottom Burns

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 are making this in a warm climate or are not comfortable with leaving it out overnight without refrigeration, by all means plop it in the refrigerator, then slowly reheat the following day.

Nutrition Information:


12 cups

Serving Size:

1/2 cup

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 188Total Fat: 8gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 15mgSodium: 1359mgCarbohydrates: 25gFiber: 6gSugar: 12gProtein: 9g

The nutritional information is estimated and may not be entirely accurate.

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Sunday 24th of January 2021

This has been my go-to sauce since I discovered your recipe a few years ago. I love it as is and I love that I can modify it with whatever fresh herbs I have on hand. It is always 1000x better then next day, which is hard to believe considering how amazing it is on day 1! My significant other is 100% Italian and his mom died before we met, but he says this recipe is SO close to what she made that he loved but he can't figure out what is different in this one compared to hers. In any event, your recipe makes our whole family happy and I love to keep a few jars on hand in my freezer! Thank you so much for sharing this!


Sunday 24th of January 2021

Thank you so much Katelynn for your encouraging and kind comment! You made my day, month, year!!

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Lynn B Spencer

Wednesday 3rd of June 2020

Were you speaking to me as it relates to burnt on spaghetti sauce? I've done that more times that I can count! But, this looks delicious! Love the idea of adding zucchini and carrots! Thanks, my friend.




Wednesday 3rd of June 2020

Well not directly, mainly speaking of myself, cause I do it all the time! Hope you enjoy the sauce, it's a family favorite! Hugs, Kathleen

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