just me

Mom’s Chunky Spaghetti Sauce

In Pasta on March 10, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Please don't lick the screen!

Okay guys, this is it – the definitive spaghetti sauce recipe. The traditional recipe made by the women in my family since they came here from Naples in 1904. This is not marinara sauce, it’s spaghetti sauce. This is not Italian, it’s Italian-American. It is the best sauce ever. I sometimes eat it like soup. There’s no sugar in it, yet it doesn’t taste acidic. It’s chunky enough to stand up to a bulky pasta. It clings to the pasta instead of pooling on the plate. It is not greasy, not runny, not bland.

We use canned tomatoes instead of fresh for several reasons. The original reason being, of course, that fresh tomatoes were expensive to a poor immigrant in 1904, unless she grew them herself. If she was lucky enough to have a garden, she got loads of tomatoes for a month or two in the summer, which she quickly canned for use during the rest of the year. If she didn’t have a garden, canned tomatoes were available at the store, and were much cheaper than fresh. When you’re feeding a family of nine on the paycheck of a laborer, budget is a big concern.

The other reason is really just a back-up. My great-great-grandmother had no idea, but canned tomatoes actually have more lycopene than fresh ones. Something about the canning process, I think. And besides, the best sauce only comes from San Marzano tomatoes, and who has a steady supply of those? And if you did, would you really want to hand-chop a few dozen of them?

The recipe itself is quite simple. The secret lies in the simmering. Traditionally, you would get the sauce on the stove early in the morning and let it simmer all day until dinnertime – this way the flavors marry and blend and you end up with tomato perfection. If you are unable to do this, try to simmer at least an hour. If you don’t, you’ll lose out on a whole lotta richness and complexity.

Simmer all day, you say? You mean stand over the stove and stir all day? No. Here’s what you do (I learned this from my mom) – when you start the simmering process, place a big loaf of crusty bread on the counter next to the stove. Inform everyone in the house that the price of a dip is a stir. Within twenty minutes, the irresistible fragrance will be wafting from your kitchen, and you’ll have no shortage of assistants!

Mom’s Chunky Spaghetti Sauce


2 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 cup finely chopped onion

6 ounces tomato paste

28 ounces crushed tomatoes

28 ounces diced tomatoes

salt, pepper, basil, oregano, parsley to taste


In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Saute garlic and onion until tender.

Stir in tomato paste.

Stir in crushed and diced tomatoes.

Bring to a boil. Watch out – the sauce is too thick to boil properly – it will just pop and splatter. There will be clean up. But really, don’t wait for a rolling boil, because it just won’t happen.

Season to taste. Only use a bit of parsley – too much, and it will taste grassy. Easy on the oregano too, because it’s a very strong flavor. Go crazy with the basil, though, because we all know how basil and tomato are in love.

Reduce heat, and simmer (uncovered) until sauce has reduced by about 2 inches. This usually takes about 30 minutes.

If you really want to, you can stop here. For the full authentic flavor, cover and simmer up to 10 hours. Obviously, the longer you’re going to simmer, the lower your heat needs to be. Simmering for an hour needs heat closer to medium than low, while simmering all day uses very low heat.

If you’ve learned one thing here today, it should be this : SIMMER! Please do it, for as long as you can. You’ll notice the difference in taste, I promise. And your house will smell very, very good, too.

  1. Ok made this today and wow am I a fan.
    Wonderful. I simmered and simmered it. Surprised my neibours didn’t knock on the door for a sample it smelled so good.
    thanks for posting.

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