Spaghetti Sauce (Old World Style)
As I sit here writing out this Spaghetti Sauce recipe, the memories of sitting in my Grandmother’s tiny kitchen watching my Grandmother and Aunts make the sauce for Sunday dinner or the holidays come rushing back. Like many Italian families, we ate at dinner at my Grandmother’s house every Sunday followed by watching Lawrence Welk on TV.
My Father was one of 10 children. The twins died when they were toddlers, leaving 8 children. So we have a large family on my Father’s side. My Grandmother’s house was so small that we had to eat in shifts. The children first. Then the men, followed by the women.
The recipe for our Spaghetti Sauce has been passed down through the generations. The basics are the same, but each sibling or their wives may have a slight variation on some ingredient as they made it their own over the years.
My Little Grandma, as our family called her due to her stature, had turned her backyard into a vegetable garden. We always arrived early. I remember going out to the garden with her to collect some tomatoes. I seem to recall that she would put the tomatoes through a food mill to get the tomato sauce or she would simply cut up a few into pieces and throw them into the sauce. She also canned her own tomatoes. Of course now, we have canned tomatoes from the store. We always used Contadina tomatoes, sauce and paste if purchased. However, if you have a garden, you may can or freeze them yourself. Unfortunately, where I currently live, I can’t get the Contadina brand here, so I had to use a different brand.
My Grandmother also used to add pork neck bones to the sauce. She would brown the neck bones in the oven and then let them simmer in the sauce. I am not sure you can even get them anymore at a grocery store. Perhaps a butcher. My Mother stopped doing this. They didn’t have much meat on them and she didn’t like finding tiny bones in the sauce or having to strain it.
I also recall that my Mother used to put crushed red pepper flakes in the sauce, but stopped doing that because it was too spicy for me when I was young. She switched to just a pinch of cayenne pepper, but you could add some crushed red pepper flakes if you like.
For the Italian Sausage, our family used to buy it in one long link (1 pound) that wrapped around in a circle. We got that from an Italian butcher in the neighborhood. Sadly, the butcher is gone. If you buy a package now, they typically come in 5 count links. With the links, we add 2 or 3 hot and a full package of mild. If you decide to leave out the Italian Sausage, then add 1 – 2 teaspoons of crushed fennel seed to the sauce instead.
Personally, I don’t eat Italian Sausage. It is also a little too spicy for me, but I do add it to the sauce as it helps the sauce to develop the flavor. My Mother always left the hot Italian Sausage in longer links and cut up the mild into smaller pieces so everyone could easily tell the difference between the two.
One difference in this recipe is that my Mother’s version does not brown the meatballs or the Italian Sausage. We have never done that, but I know that is typical in most recipes. In fact, most of my cousins brown the meatballs, Italian Sausage and Pork Neck Bones in the oven first. Without browning, the meatballs will be more tender. A few might break apart slightly if you hit one with the spoon while stirring the sauce.
I should also note that this is a thicker Spaghetti Sauce, more of an Old World Ragu Style versus a thinner Marinara Sauce.
A note on the baking soda. This helps to remove the acidity of the tomatoes. The sauce will bubble up and you should skim off anything that comes to the top. You will also want to skim off any grease from the Italian Sausage and/or Meatballs.
This sauce freezes well. We use this sauce with Spaghetti or Mostaccioli. We also use it in our Lasagna, for Stuffed Shells, Stuffed Peppers and the kids love Sauce Sandwiches (Spaghetti Sauce over bread).
I hope you will give our family’s Spaghetti Sauce a try. If you love this recipe, please leave a comment and let me know what you think. If you made it, post your wonderful images on Instagram and tag me. Don’t forget to subscribe and you will be emailed each time I post a new recipe.
Spaghetti Sauce (Old World Style)
- 1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes, crushed finely through fingers
- 5 8 ounce cans tomato sauce
- 3 12 ounce cans tomato paste
- 6 cans water (use the tomato paste cans)
- 2 medium garlic cloves, finely minced
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons dried parsley, crushed
- 1 1/2 teaspoon dried basil, crushed (Genovese)
- 1 1/2 teaspoon onion flakes
- 1 teaspoon garlic salt
- 1 teaspoon ground oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried spearmint leaves, crushed
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
1 pound Pork Neck Bones (optional)
Italian Sausage - 1/2 pound hot, 1 pound mild
- 2 pounds of ground beef, 85% lean
- 2 egg
- 3/4 cups Italian Bread Crumbs
- 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese
- 4 teaspoons water
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
NOTE: If you leave out the Italian Sausage, add 1 -2 teaspoons of crushed fennel seed instead. You can crush it in a mortar and pestle.
- Step 1 Sauce: In a large 10 quart stock pot, add the ingredients, except the baking soda. Stir to break up the tomato paste. Add the amount of water as described in the ingredients. You may need to add more water to cover everything. That is ok. Bring the sauce to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer.
- Step 2 Add the baking soda and stir. The baking soda helps to neutralize the acid in the tomatoes, making the sauce more palatable. Once you add the baking soda, it will bubble up. Cook the sauce for 30 to 45 minutes to let the baking soda cook out, stirring occasionally.
- Step 3 Pork Neck Bones (Optional): Roast in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven until brown and then add them to the sauce.
- Step 4 Italian Sausage – Leave the hot Italian sausage whole or in longer links. Cut the mild Italian sausage in smaller pieces so you can tell the difference between them. Add the Italian sausage to the pot.
- Step 5 Meatballs – Make the meatballs and add them to the pot after the baking soda has been cooked out. My immediate family does not brown the meatballs, but you certainly can brown them if you like. Not browning first gives you a very tender meatball.
- Step 6 Simmer the sauce on the stove for an additional 2 to 3 hours. Test a meatball and a piece of sausage to ensure they are cooked. Occasionally, skim off any grease or tomato foam that comes to the top.
- Step 7 Serving: Remove the Italian sausage and meatballs and transfer them to a serving dish. If you added Pork Neck Bones, you will need to strain the sauce to remove any bones. Mix some of the sauce with your pasta. Place additional sauce in a serving container. Serve with some additional grated Pecorino Romano cheese on the side.