Simple Spaghetti Sauce: A couple steps up from jars

In college, it always seems that the default food (well after ramen and easy mac) is spaghetti. So generally, I am reluctant to make it when I have guests over. After all everyone has spaghetti, and I want them to have something they don’t normally have. However, just because it is a typical meal, doesn’t mean that when you make it it has to be the typical, grab a bottle/can of sauce heat it and throw it over some spaghetti (or whatever pasta you have one hand). This recipe is a fairly simple homemade sauce that usually doesn’t take more time than it does to boil the water and cook some fettuccine (I know because I just did that today ;)). As most of my recipes have been, this is fairly flexible according to your tastes, and a lot of the measurements for seasonings have been estimated.


  • 1/3 pound to 1 pound of ground beef : I generally add less meat to my meals. I buy in bulk and package in 1/3- 1/2 pound increments. Usually one of those suffices for me, but my mum usually adds a whole pound. Another option is to use ground Italian sausage (usually packaged similarly in the meat section as the ground beef), or you can get some of that precooked sausage roll thingy and simply slice it up. If you are vegetarian you can either omit the meat or substitute it with something like Morning star’s crumbles (which are also great for tacos!)
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes: I generally prefer petite diced, and if I’m lazy Italian seasoned diced tomatoes. If you don’t like large chunks of tomatoes go with petite diced, or omit and just add extra tomato sauce.
  • 1 can of tomato paste: This can be doubled if you are making more or just want a thicker sauce. Note: reserve the can because you’ll be adding a can or two of water.
  • 1 16oz can of tomato sauce: If you prefer a thinner sauce you can reduce it to an 8 oz can or omit altogether.
  • 1-2 celery stalks: either slice them so you have U shapes, cut them down the center and then slice or mince them. Basically determine whether you prefer larger, smaller, or nonexistent chunks. You could also use a blender to make the vegetables into a mush: a great way to hide them from picky kids.
  • 1/2 medium large onion: same principle applies as above, chop, dice, mince etc. If you want to go heavier on the onion go ahead an add a whole one. If you hate onion pieces and don’t want to go the mush method, onion powder is a suitable alternative.
  • 1/2 bell pepper: Any color will do, again flexible  as to how to prepare it. This is optional. My roomie has a food allergy/sensitivity to peppers so I omit them.
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder: If you are more daring than me you can use fresh garlic minced: just saute it when you do the other vegetables. I usually just add garlic to taste, so feel free to add more or less.
  • 1-2 tbsp of brown sugar: If you prefer sweeter sauces add more. You can also use white sugar. Basically, you want something sweet to cut the edge off the tomatoes. Honey could potentially work, though I’ve never tried.
  • basil, italian seasoning, oregano, etc: I know rather vague, but these I change how much I add. If you’re not big on seasoning I recommend you not use more than a tablespoon or two of this. Other possibilities are to  include rosemary or sage.
  • dash of pepper: Yes, a dash. . . sorta. You can omit this one. I think it just adds a bit extra. Also, when the flavor just doesn’t seem to fit I add a dash of cumin and/or chili powder. Neither flavor actually shows up, it just adds balance. Another random optional spice that is surprisingly good, and well just surprising, is cinnamon. I don’t usually use it, but it makes the leftover sauce great for pizza the next day.


  1. Begin browning ground beef in a large skillet over medium high heat: you’ll want something somewhat deeper or just larger to cook the sauce in. If you don’t have that then brown the ground beef then transfer it to a sauce pan when you add the tomato ingredients later.
  2. After you start to see a bit of the melted fat add the celery, onion, and bell pepper. Cook it until the onions are clear-ish. I find this has two benefits, it cuts some of the burning flesh scent that I smell when I cook meat and you use the fat from the beef to saute the vegetables. If you prefer you can brown the meat entirely, drain the fat, remove the meat, add a bit of olive oil then saute the vegetables. If you are using ground turkey, you’ll want to get the vegetable started first with olive oil then add the ground turkey (I noticed the turkey cooks faster than the vegetables and doesn’t produce enough fat to really cook them).
  3. Reduce heat to low and add canned tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce and 1-2 tomato paste cans of water. If you read the notes above this is where you determine if it will be a chunkier sauce or a thick sauce or a chunky thick sauce. You can also add more water to thin it down if it’s too thick.
  4. Add seasonings and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally. Beware, with the thicker sauces especially, as it bubbles the tomato sauce will splatter, burns like the devil and you have tomato spots all over your stove top and wall. At this point you are just trying to heat everything. You can let it simmer for a few hours ( I would recommend transferring to a crock pot if you’re doing that), or serving it whenever you’re ready with pasta (or rice, or something else).

Now this recipe is easy to edit, you can double, triple, whatever, you just need a pot big enough to do the job. Experiment with seasonings until you find a flavor combination that’s right for you. Enjoy!


3 responses to “Simple Spaghetti Sauce: A couple steps up from jars

  1. I love your blog. But I want to clarify a few things. I don’t add a pound of hamburger now. I did when I was first married, but I’ve cut back on beef products. I usually add 1/3 to 1/2 hamburger for your father. I’d probably use even less if he wasn’t eating it. Also, I only add a pinch of sugar (no more than 1/2 teaspoon. You must have very sweet sauce to add 1-2 tablespoons. I also add oregano, parsley, basil, garlic powder, season salt, Worchestershire sauce, and red pepper flakes to season my sauce besides salt and pepper. Sometimes I’ve even added a bay leaf which is removed before serving. Love, Mom

  2. Those are some great additions and thanks on the clarifications! I generally make both more sauce and a saucier sauce, which is perhaps why I end up using more sugar. I hadn’t thought of using Worcestershire sauce or red pepper flakes. No wonder yours always tastes better 🙂

  3. Pingback: Time saver: Precooking Ground Meat | Mischief, Mishaps, and Misadventures·

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