Authentic Italian food is a big tradition in our family. Over the years I’ve come up with plenty of healthy twists on our favorite Italian dishes that fit our lifestyle. One of the most delicious recipes is this homemade spaghetti sauce that goes great on rice noodles, zucchini noodles, and of course homemade meatballs.
Why Homemade Pasta Sauce?
Years ago I became privy to my Nonna’s best spaghetti sauce recipe that uses pre-canned tomato sauce and diced tomatoes (that she probably canned herself). One year I attempted to mimic the recipe using fresh tomatoes since we had an abundance from our garden and came up with my own pasta sauce recipe. It’s great on homemade “spaghetti” and meatballs, especially with a little parmesan cheese.
I’m sharing my variations of both today:
How to Make Pasta Sauce from Fresh or Canned Tomatoes
If you’re working from fresh tomatoes, use the first recipe. If you’re using canned tomatoes, use the second. I cook this on the stovetop, but you could also simmer them down in a Crockpot or slow cooker if preferred.
While “Nonna’s Recipe” is still the gold standard of spaghetti sauce in our family, I’m not sure I’m allowed to share the secret recipe. Instead, I’m sharing my own variations. I know I can share one part of her secret, which is to throw a piece of a carrot into the sauce while it’s cooking. This absorbs the acidity of the tomatoes and creates a sweeter sauce. It also removes the need for a sweetener to cut down the acidity.
This spaghetti sauce is great for an easy weeknight dinner, especially if you can it for later. Plus we think it tastes a lot better than jarred sauce from the store.
Homemade Spaghetti Sauce With Fresh Tomatoes
- 5 lbs fresh tomatoes (peeled and seeded, see notes)
- 3 medium onions (diced)
- 8 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 carrot (divided)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ⅓ cup fresh basil (finely chopped)
- 1 sprig fresh thyme (or ½ tsp dried thyme)
- 1 sprig fresh oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 springs fresh parsley (or 1 tsp dried parsley)
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 TBSP honey (optional)
- Grate half of the carrot.
- Pour the olive oil into a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
- When hot, add the diced onions to the olive oil and saute for 5 minutes.
- Add the minced garlic and grated carrot and saute for 2-3 minutes longer or until onions are translucent and tender.
- Add the tomatoes, chopped basil leaves, oregano, thyme bay leaves, parsley, and sea salt.
- Simmer on low heat for 2-3 hours or until cooked down and starting to darken.
- Add carrot piece for the last 30 minutes to absorb acidity while the sauce thickens.
- Remove the sprigs of fresh herbs, bay leaves, and piece of carrot.
- Optional: Use an immersion blender to puree sauce until smooth (for a thicker sauce, skip this step).
- Use fresh or store in the refrigerator up to 1 week, or can it according to your canner’s instructions for tomato products.
30 Minute Homemade Spaghetti Sauce With Canned Tomatoes
- 2 medium onions (chopped)
- 8 cloves fresh garlic (minced)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 56 ounces crushed tomatoes (or whole or stewed tomatoes)
- 6 ounces tomato paste
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- 1 TBSP dried basil leaves or 1/4 cup fresh, finely chopped
- 2 bay leaves optional
- ½ tsp dried thyme optional
- salt (to taste)
- black pepper (to taste)
- Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized or large pot over medium heat. Add onions and saute until soft, about 5 minutes
- Add minced garlic and saute for another minute.
- Then, add tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, basil, bay leaves, thyme, salt, and pepper.
- Bring to a boil and immediately reduce to a simmer.
- Simmer for 10-15 minutes to let flavors meld. (Can simmer longer if desired for a thicker sauce with a deeper flavor).
- Serve over spaghetti noodles or pasta of choice.
- For a thinner sauce that works better for pizza, chicken parmesan, etc, use an immersion blender to blend until smooth.
- This recipe yields about 4 cups of sauce.
How to Use Homemade Pasta Sauce
You probably already have a recipe in mind since you’re reading this post, but this is endlessly versatile and great in many recipes. The fresh tomato recipe variation is great for tomato season, and I often can any extras to use in the winter.
It works great with Italian sausage, beef, and even ground turkey. I’ll often serve it with zucchini noodles and chopped up bell peppers for extra veggies.
I use this sauce in:
- Homemade meat sauce. Brown 1-2 pounds of ground beef and serve over zucchini or shirataki noodles
- Zucchini Lasagna
- Chicken Cacciatore (in place of the tomato sauce/paste/spices)
- Chicken Parmesan
How to Can Your Own Pasta Sauce
You can easily make a large batch of either of these sauces and can it for future use. I often do this when we have an abundance of tomatoes from the garden. There’s really no reason to can the recipe made from canned tomatoes since it’s quick to whip up and there’s no need for the extra step.
Canning Instructions for Homemade Tomato Sauce
I follow these instructions for canning my homemade tomato sauce. There’s some debate if it’s ok to water bath can tomato products or not. The general consensus seems to be that tomatoes are iffy for water bath canning because the pH is sometimes not quite acidic enough. One solution is to add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice per pint for canning or check the pH to make sure it is 4.4 or below.
I prefer to just pressure can according to my pressure canner instructions. The pressure is enough to kill any botulism spores and is considered safe for tomatoes.
How to Freeze Homemade Tomato Sauce
If canning isn’t your thing, you can also freeze this homemade sauce. I like to freeze in quart-size glass mason jars (here’s how) or metal containers, to avoid the plastic in freezer bags. You can also freeze this sauce in any airtight container once it has cooled.
What are your favorite ways to use spaghetti sauce? Leave a comment and let me know!