Dad's Spaghetti Sauce

Dad's Spaghetti Sauce

This is the spaghetti sauce I grew up on, and it is wildly rich and delicious, and I have changed it very little. This recipe makes a huge batch that I freeze in 2-cup portions in Ziploc bags and come a chilly, dark dinnertime, all I have to do is boil a pot of water. I love that. The sauce needs to cook for a long time -- the original recipe actually says 4 hours, though I only do 3. Oregano I don't use, because I don't like it, even though my dad uses it and I love, love, love his sauce even more than mine, because, well, just because.

Hands-On Time: 20 minutes
Ready In: 3 hours
Yield: tons!

1 medium onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt
3 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, and finely chopped
A pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
A couple pinches of dried thyme (or, shudder, oregano)
2 pounds ground beef (not lean)
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes or whole, peeled tomatoes
2 29-ounce cans Hunts tomato sauce (it has to be Hunts)
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1/2 cup sugar
freshly ground black pepper
1/4-1/2 cup mellow red wine (optional)


  1. If you're using whole canned tomatoes, pour them into a bowl and break them up with your hands. This is an incredibly fun job for a child (who has no hang nails or paper cuts).
  2. Now, in a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the onion with one teaspoon of salt, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or so, until it's translucent and just starting to color.
  3. Add the garlic and sauté, still stirring frequently, for another minute or two.
  4. Now crumble in the meat, add the cayenne and oregano or thyme, turn up the heat to medium-high, and cook the meat, stirring occasionally and breaking it up with a spatula, until it is cooked all over and browning in spots; if it seems like it's steaming more than sizzling, turn the heat up even higher.
  5. Now stir in all the tomato products, as well as the sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt, lots of black pepper, and the optional wine, and bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, with the lid 1/2 inch ajar, for 3 hours (or, at the very least, 2).
  6. Stir the sauce occasionally to make sure it's not sticking to the bottom of the pot. Serve over hot, buttered pasta with freshly grated parmesan for passing.

*Ingredient Tips
My dad's recipe calls for 6 8-ounce cans of sauce, and I use 2 29-ounce cans.

The sugar is in the original recipe as "6 tablespoons," and if you leave it out? Well. I don't know. Don't come crying to me when your sauce was only good, but not so lipsmackingly excellent that you sat around long after dinner was over, rubbing your finger around and around the rim of your plate and licking it, in case there was any sauce that didn't already get sponged up by the bread you mopped around. Oh go on. We've all got more to worry about than a bit of sugar, right?

Read more about Catherine making Dad's Spaghetti Sauce with her family.

See all recipes from Catherine Newman's "Dalai Mama Dishes" blog.

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