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Grandpa Frank’s Spaghetti Sauce | Authentic Italian Pasta 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, easy pasta sauce is what I grew up on, my mom made it often and our mouths watered as the aroma wafted through the house while simmering all day on the stove.

I love how versatile this easy pasta sauce is; don’t want to simmer all day on your stovetop, this can easily be made in a crockpot. Want to add more veggies, shred them and go for it. Since it is simmered all day, it becomes a rich, thick and zesty spaghetti sauce.

If you love a great authentic recipe, you might try these other family favorite recipes: Best Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies, Authentic Italian Tiramisu or these traditional German Pretzels.

Rich tomato sauce in whit ebowl wiht striped towel beneath.

My best friend who is 100% Italian (and Rhode Island raised), and I disagree about the name of this sauce; she calls it gravy and I called it spaghetti sauce or easy pasta sauce.

Gravy for me is what you spoon over mashed potatoes, but regardless of what you call it; gather the ingredients and make it; East or West Coast!

SECRET RECIPE FOR GRANDPA FRANK’S SPAGHETTI SAUCE

It is based on my Grandpa Frank’s authentic Italian pasta sauce, or gravy or whatever you call the red sauce you put on pasta.

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.

Large gold dutch oven filled with rich, dark red best spaghetti sauce with hand dipping in small piece of bread into sauce.

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.

White bowl filled with spaghetti with red sauce on top, slices of garlic toast on the side with fresh basil on top.

Why you will love this homemade spaghetti sauce

  • 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 spices and herbs slightly here and there.
  • I finally wrote down the basics, but it’s one of those recipes that you simmer and taste, let sit and taste, adjust seasonings and simmer longer and taste.
  • Lot’s of tasting!!! This sauce is robust, rich, thick, zesty and hearty and filled with incredible deep flavor.

I highly recommend investing in a dutch oven; like this Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven! Or try the Staub Dutch Oven or Le Creuset they have lifetime warranties so it might be worth it in the long run.

Bowl of spaghetti sauce with cooked pasts and bread nearby.

Ways to Use Spaghetti Tomato Sauce

  • Serve on pasta (any pasta), 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

Ingredients

Ingredients pictured for spaghetti sauce. San Marzano tomatoes, tomato puree, crushed tomatoes, garlic, brown sugar, tomato paste, olive oil, dried basil, dried oregano and red pepper flakes.
  • Whole San Marzano Tomatoes | I love San Marzano tomatoes, they are filled with wonderful flavor, but they aren’t required to make this sauce. I do believe they are superior tomatoes, if you can find and afford them, give them a try!
  • Crushed Tomatoes | Rich and thick, with a little chunkiness!
  • Tomato Paste | I use organic, this gives thickness, and depth to the sauce.
  • Roasted Garlic | this is optional and I show you how to make it, takes the bite out of the garlic, so worth a little time!
  • Herbs & Spices | Basil, Oregano, Chile Pepper Flakes and Salt and pepper, adjust to your taste!
  • Brown Sugar | sometimes depending on the time of year tomatoes are picked they can be more biter than other times, if you like, you may omit the brown sugar, but for the amount of sauce it is not much!

How to Roast Garlic for this Easy Pasta Sauce

  • I love adding roasted garlic to my sauce, I believe it adds depth to the sauce, but it’s optional. You can even get your sauce simmering and roast it later on, adding to the sauce later. Preheat oven to 400° F.
  • Cut 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. This is my favorite knife!
  • Wrap the foil into a pocket and bake, about for 20-40 minutes, should be slightly brown and very squishy.
Pouring olive oil over the cut top of a bulb of garlic.
  • 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.
Hand using paper towels to squeeze out roasted garlic cloves.

How to Make Easy Pasta Sauce

  • While the garlic 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!
Wooden spoon stirring rich tomato paste in hot olive oil in pot.
  • 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.
Hand squeezing whole tomatoes into the spaghetti sauce.
  • 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! 
Water rinsed out cans of tomatoes and pouring into the sauce ingredients.
  • 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.
Dried basil in palm of hand going into best spaghetti sauce.
  • 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.
handful of kosher salt going into pot of spaghetti sauce ingredients.
  • 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, you may have to add more later.
  • 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.
  • Now is the time to toss the roasted garlic cloves into the sauce, remove any “papery skin” before tossing it in the sauce.
  • 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.
Large pot filled with tomatoes, fresh basil, parmesan rind, spices, herbs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I save burned tomato sauce?

Yes! 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!

Does Spaghetti Sauce or Tomato Sauce Freeze well?

Yes, my #1 tip is to cool the sauce completely before freezing. I scoop the sauce in two cup portions into a freezer container or baggies (be sure to mark it). When ready to use, thaw overnight in fridge or on counter. Heat and use as planned. Lasts up to 4 months frozen.

How long does homemade tomato sauce last?

About 3-5 days in the refrigerator, freeze if you aren’t going to use it by then!

Crockpot Spaghetti Sauce

I get it, sometimes you want to just walk away and not worry about the easy pasta sauce, so get all of your initial prep done on the stove.

Then when it comes time to start simmering, transfer to a crockpot and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Or place in oven safe pot at 250 degrees for 6-8 hours, allow both versions to cool over night, then bring to low simmer again the net day.

Additions & Substitutions

  • 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!
  • Prefer a roasted tomato taste? Substitute the crushed tomatoes for equal amounts of roasted tomatoes.
  • Onions | Some people like caramelized onions in their tomato sauce, go ahead, add some when you are heating that olive oil, before the tomato paste.
  • Like Spicy Pasta sauce; add more red pepper flakes!
Adding zucchini to Grandpa Frank's Secret best Spaghetti Sauce
  • 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.
Adding brown sugar to best spaghetti tomato sauce.
  • Covered, let it simmer on lowest setting (careful to not let it burn), stirring occasionally. You can even put it into a crock pot or into the oven, covered at 250° for as many hours as you need. Add water as needed to bring it to the thickness you like.
  • 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 darken to a rich, deep red; acidity reduced and the natural sweetness of the tomatoes will have emerged and your sauce.

*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. 

Tips for the Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

  • Remove all the lids on cans at once and measure your spices into a small pinch pot or bowl.
  • Simmer!! The longer the better!
  • Adjust the spices after the second day if you were able to wait that long!
  • BURNING BOTTOM | My stovetop has some hot spots and my sauce can burn, quickly, if I am not careful. See FAQ’s for how to rescue burnt sauce.
  • Quality Ingredients | this makes A LOT of sauce. Think of the savings on a jar of spaghetti sauce you spent $4-6 on and splurge on some higher end tomatoes.
  • Reserve a large tomato can, use to place wooden spoon when not using it, plus, it’s handy to fill with water if you need to add a little during the simmering process.
  • Add cooked meatballs or Italian sausage and simmer for about an hour before serving, the meat will add even more flavor to this robust sauce.
plate of spaghetti horizontal with shaved parmesan on top and bits of Italian parsley.

Smooth or Chunky Homemade Tomato Sauce

  • 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 texture.
  • If you like it chunky, either only partially blend or don’t blend at all! It’s a texture thing!

Serving Suggestions

Serve with fresh grated or shaved Parmesan, chopped basil, crusty Italian or French bread, a crisp salad. Or a simple plate of crisp cucumbers, grape tomatoes and carrots.

White plate with twirled spaghetti with red sauce on top, topped with shaved parmesan and an Italian sausage.

More Delicious Italian Recipes to try:

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Kathleen Pope, The Fresh Cooky.

About Kathleen Pope

Recipe Innovator | Food Photographer | Food Writer

Hi, I’m Kathleen Pope. Here at The Fresh Cooky you will find easy, mostly from-scratch, trusted recipes for all occasions. From speedy dinners to tasty desserts, with easy step-by-step instructions. I am here to help teach you how to make mouthwatering recipes without spending hours in the kitchen. Read more about Kathleen here.

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39 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    This was the best gravy I have ever made. Thank You for sharing this recipe. BTW did your Grandpa Frank happen to have a meatball recipe as well?

    1. YAY! Always love hearing that Lori, thank you so much for your kind words. And about the meatballs, I am so sad that he never gave me a recipe and I am still on a hunt to find the best, recipe for flavorful, tender meatballs!

  2. Silly question but the tomato paste ingredient amount supposed to say two 6 ounce cans or was it correct in saying two 8 oz cans of tomato paste? I only ask because I wasn’t able to find any 8oz cans, only 6 oz.

  3. Love this recipe, it is so good! Growing up in NY, my best friend always called sauce gravy (yes I read the whole blog😊) and we would fight over the name so we eventually called it Italian Gravy! I totally forgot about that until I read this!

  4. Your family recipe is one of the most generous and kind thing a person can do… I thank you so much, I am touched by this. I’m going to print this out and try it. I’ve never seen a recipe like this, ever 🙂 This is very nice of you. Thank you for sharing, I appreciate it very much. 🙂 I will never forget this.

    1. Thank you Chandra, that is lovely of you to say. My grandfather was 100% Italian and owned 3 different Italian restaurants during his lifetime. It is our favorite sauce recipe and I believe in sharing things, not holding them back. I sure hope you enjoy this recipe!

  5. This is close to the sauce(gravy) my grandfather and my mom made. I few variations here or there but basically the same. We cook it a long time also. I do add red wine and bay leaves and also I brown my tomato paste for about 10 to 15 min.

    1. Mmm, always delicious with a splash of red wine! And love the bay leaves addition as well as browning the paste longer! Thanks for sharing your ways to make it your own! That’s our motto here on The Fresh Cooky!

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

    Hugs,

    Lynn

  8. 3 stars
    I have been making this sauce for over a year and just love it! I always roast the garlic, use the high end of the spices, add red pepper flakes (we like it spicy!), also use about a teaspoon of crushed fennel and always add the shredded zucchini. It’s really good and worth the effort!

  9. I remember my Aunt Lena telling me to “fry the tomato paste.” When I asked her why I had to do that, she replied, “just do it!’ Also, she added a raw potato to the sauce and removed it when the potato was cooked. Don’t know why she did that either, but her sauce was the best.
    Great memories. Rest in peace, “Tet.”

    1. Lol!! Too funny, that’s how we always did it too, I think it adds depth to the paste?! The raw potato?! I might have to investigate that. Wonder if the starch thickened it?! Thanks for sharing!!

      1. Hi, My grandmother did this as well. It removes acidity. She would add a carrot to sweeten it if needed as well, if too bitter. I miss her sauce, your grandfathers sounds just like hers 🙂

      1. I doubled the recipe had plenty and had leftovers it was perfect I cooked it in the pot on the stove and then transferred it to a crockpot and put it on low and it was so delicious … I roasted my garlic but I added onions at the beginning with the olive oil and I also cooked my spices in the oil with the onion and again added some when I was supposed to VERY GOOD exactly what I was looking for a authentic Italian sauce recipe!!! This will be my go to now! Thank you!

          1. Hi Jess, I can get them from our grocery store in the deli/cheese section. Or I just save mine up from using parm cheese. Not necessary for the recipe tho!!

    1. Kathryn that is a great question. I spent some time living in Europe years ago and learned through experience that many things do just fine sitting longer than we think, so I personally do not have a problem with letting it sit out, probably wouldn’t do in the heat of the summer tho. Here’s my advice, if it doesn’t sit right with you to let it sit on the stove cooling overnight, then I’d say refrigerate it and reheat the next day.