DIY Don’t Buy Pasta Sauce

Spaghetti sauce. Pasta sauce. Marinara. Red sauce. Sugu. I’ve even heard it called gravy. I don’t know what you call it, but it’s a favorite in this house. My grocery store has ⅓ of an aisle devoted to jars and jars of the stuff. But, why?

When I was talking with Vito about DIY, Don’t Buy for today he said I should do pasta sauce. The only problem is…well, I don’t make the pasta sauce. I help make it. I chop, or measure, get something out, and put stuff away. I’ll give an occasional stir, and I’m always there for the taste test. This is a great meal for me to sit on the stool in the kitchen and chat while Vito is mixing it all up. He said he’d make it, and all I’d need to do is write stuff down (Oh, and I totally got stuck with dish duty.).

Pasta Sauce

In our house, we make gallons of pasta sauce. Think I’m kidding? Really, I’m not. Here’s the deal. I like big batches. If you’re going to make it, it really doesn’t take longer to make a big batch than it does to make a small batch. After the huge batch is made, we usually have it for dinner that night, then I pull out the jars, ladle it in, and into the freezer it goes. I know everything that went into it, so I feel good about that, and I still have the convenience of the quick meal. Oh, and it’s already seasoned exactly the way we like it.

When I say that it’s a favorite in this house, let me tell you how much it’s loved. When I was pregnant for Arden, I had the biggest craving for red sauce. We had it almost every Sunday night for dinner. Vito said it was a Sunday staple when he was growing up too.

When Arden started eating his first foods, there were many days, in fact several days a week, that we’d chisel off some of the frozen pasta sauce and mix it in with couscous for a delicious breakfast for the baby. Yeah, he loved it for breakfast.

If you ask either of my boys what their favorite meals are, pasta with sauce is in their top 5 for sure.  Actually, 3 of their top 5 would be pasta, lasagna, and pizza. They’d love it if we had pasta every Sunday.

It’s funny. I’m 36 years old and I’ve never bought a jar of pasta sauce. There’s just no need. So, when we’re talking make it or buy it, we are 100% making it in this household.

It takes awhile to make the sauce up and for all the flavors to meld together. This recipe is for a BIG batch…like a gallon of it. Again, make it once, freeze it, and eat it for many meals to come. In the pictures, we measured everything out, so you can see it. We really tried to dirty every dish in the kitchen-we came close, too. Just so you know, this is totally not how we normally make it. Normally, we get out all the ingredients, and measure directly into the pot as we need them.

Pasta Sauce ingredients

There are a few notes here that I have to let you know. First, the amount of sugar to use is totally depending on how acidic your tomatoes are. Some cans of crushed tomatoes are super acidic and some cans already have a sweetener added to balance out some of the acidity. So, you’ll want to taste the tomatoes. We usually just put a finger in the can, taste them, and go from there.

Also, Vito’s Italian grandmother probably would not be impressed that we put the pasta sauce in the oven to cook it. She used to stand in front of the stove and had to give it much attention to be sure it didn’t burn. Vito’s mom did the same thing. The stovetop method is the way it was always done.

We’ve burned pasta sauce a few times because we had stoves that had two temperatures-boiling and off. That doesn’t bode well for simmering the sauce. So, we discovered if we cooked it in the oven, the outcome was the same, but it didn’t need the constant attention. Also, by cooking it in the dutch oven, it retained an even heat and clean up was a breeze. However, you are welcome to cook it stovetop for the whole time, or to cook it in whatever type of pot you have on hand.

One last thing…that dutch oven has been used and well loved. The pics may look like something is burning, but that’s just the coloring of this pan.

Oh, one more “one last thing,” when Vito was growing up they always used to listen to Dean Martin records on Sunday while his mom was making the sauce. Now, he always listens to Dean Martin on Pandora. He swears, there is something about Dean’s voice that makes the pasta sauce even better.  :)

Don’t want to make a gallon of sauce? This recipe is easily divisible by 3.

Pasta Sauce
  • .6 oz fresh basil
  • .3 oz fresh oregano
  • 3 Tbsp dried basil
  • 3 tsp dried oregano
  • 3 Tbsp dried parsley
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 ½ tsp coarse ground black pepper
  • 3 Tbsp beef base
  • 3 Tbsp ground fennel
  • 6 tsp sugar
  • 6 oz minced garlic (about 15 cloves)
  • 9 oz minced sweet onions (about 1 ½ onions)
  • 9 oz dry red wine (cab or chianti)
  • 3 oz panchetta or bacon
  • 3 32 oz cans crushed tomatos
  • 3 cups water (rinse out tomato cans)
  1. Heat 3 Tbsp olive oil in dutch oven on med heat. Add chopped panchetta or bacon to pan and render until crispy.
  2. When bacon starts to crisp, add onions and garlic. Saute until they start to brown.
  3. Add wine and simmer for 2-3 minutes, until most of wine has evaporated.
  4. Add beef base and whisk in until incorporated.
  5. Reduce to med low heat and gently add tomatoes and water.
  6. Stir until onions, tomatoes, and water are all combined.
  7. Mix in sugar and dried herbs and spices.
  8. Cook until starts to bubble.
  9. Mix in fresh herbs and cover. Put in oven at 250 degrees.
  10. After 1 hour, stir and taste. Re-season as needed. At this point, if sauce seems too thin, tilt lid when putting back in oven so steam can escape.
  11. Re-cover and simmer for another hour.


Leave a Reply