Today, I’m sharing the recipe that is closest to my heart: my Mom’s spaghetti sauce. I have talked a lot about the German side of my heritage, but I haven’t had the chance to share anything about my Italian side. My Mom is a Chicago Italian, and she grew up as one of eight children. Every week her mother made spaghetti because it was not only delicious, but also an easy way to feed 8 mouths. Now, we’re not talking spaghetti sauce in a jar. We’re talking slow cooked, homemade sauce that makes your mouth water the second you enter the house.
One thing I love about Italians is how hospitable they are. According to my Mom, anyone and everyone was invited to dinner when she was growing up. Despite the fact that my Grandparents didn’t have a lot of money and they had eight kids of their own to feed, there was always enough food to share with someone else. Though our household of four wasn’t quite as busy growing up, my mother still carried on that need to share food with everyone who walked through the door. Someone came to fix the plumbing? Here, have some spaghetti. A neighbor popped by to say hello? Here, have some spaghetti. One of the most admirable qualities about my mother is her never-ending generosity. My love of cooking and sharing food with those that I love is something I definitely learned from her.
An interesting fact about my Mom’s family is that each sibling makes their own sauce, but each one has a different recipe—none of which are the same as my Grandmother’s. Every time we visited Chicago when I was a child, a huge family dinner with spaghetti was in store for our first night in town. Sometimes it was Aunt Connie’s sauce, sometimes it was Aunt Mary’s sauce, sometimes it was Aunt Lee Ann’s sauce, sometimes it was Aunt Donna’s sauce… the list goes on. No matter whose sauce it was, it was always delicious. All of their sauces were different from my Mom’s sauce, but each one had a common base that made it absolutely divine.
When I went off to college, I quickly experienced withdrawal from my Mom’s sauce. My first time I attempted to make the sauce on my own, I remember calling her every 2 minutes. Wait, how much oregano? How long do I cook the onions and garlic? Both of my parents are excellent cooks but they never measure anything. I would be so frustrated when I called her to ask and her response would be something along the lines of “until it looks right.” I finally knew I had it right when I momentarily left my apartment and walked back in and smelled the sauce. Home. I was so excited when that smell hit me and I realized that I had done it just right. I remember thinking that I would never be able to cook without measuring, but as the years went by I started to feel like I could finally cook like my parents. Confession: The most difficult aspect of creating recipes for this blog is trying to figure out measurements after I eyeball everything!
Some important things to note before making this sauce:
- I’m putting a rough measurement for how much water to add to the sauce, but you have to use your judgement based on how thick or thin it is looking.
- I’m writing the recipe to serve 4, but you will have leftover sauce and meatballs. This sauce freezes excellently. Whatever sauce and meatballs you have left, throw in the freezer for a super easy meal later on down the road.
- Meatballs are optional. They add good flavor to the sauce, but it’s still delicious as a vegetarian dish.
- This sauce can be the base for just about anything: stuffed shells, lasagna, baked ziti, etc.
- It’s going to be the best spaghetti sauce you’ve ever had. Be warned.
Mom’s Spaghetti Sauce
Serves 4 (with leftovers)
1 lb pasta (we almost always use linguine, but use whatever you like)
8 cloves garlic, chopped
½ of a sweet onion, chopped
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
1 (28 oz) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
1.5 teaspoon dried basil
1.5 teaspoon dried oregano
Roughly 20 oz water (I use the emptied cans of tomatoes to measure this)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
Fresh basil and Parmesan cheese, for serving
For the meatballs—
1 lb ground beef (sirloin)
¼ lb ground pork
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
- In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Sautée the onion and garlic for 3-4 minutes, until the onions are translucent.
- Add in the tomato paste, basil, and oregano. Stir to combine and let the flavors meld for 1-2 minutes.
- Add in the San Marzano tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Turn the heat down to low and allow the sauce to simmer.
- If you’re making meatballs: combine all of the meatball ingredients (except for the olive oil) in a medium bowl and mix with your hands until just combined. Do not overmix.
- Using your hands, form small balls from the mixture (roughly 2 tablespoons per ball).
- In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Fry the meatballs in batches until they have a nice golden brown crust all around, about 3-5 minutes. You are not going to cook them all the way through; you are just crisping them on the outside.
- Drop desired amount of meatballs (I recommend 10) into the simmering sauce. Leftover meatballs can be set aside to cool. Once cooled, you can store them in a Ziploc bag and save them for future sauce.
- Allow the sauce to simmer uncovered for at least 2-3 hours; preferably 4-6.
- Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain.
- Plate desired amount of pasta and top with sauce, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, & fresh chopped basil.
- Mangia (eat)!