My Sunday Pasta Sauce

My house all-purpose pasta sauce that’s great on everything from spaghetti to after-school English muffin pizzas.

And nothing is wasted in this slow-simmered sauce. Mom would approve!

It’s Sunday. We have plenty of time to cook and we want to make the home smell wonderful. We also want to have plenty of leftovers for other meals, which is half of what weekend cooking is all about.

I’m not Italian. Most of my DNA originated in France, England, and Ireland, with a few other designated flavors thrown in, but alas no Italian. So I add cheese to fish dishes, put too much sauce on my spaghetti, and and make my pasta sauce the way I like it, straight up and loaded with aromatics and no meat products! That way everyone in the family can eat the sauce, but we still have the richness we want. Leave out the Parmesan, and you have a vegan sauce.

It’s all about slow cooking, that tantalizing fragrance of food that is going to be wonderful, as long as we are patient.

I actually have several tomato sauce variations in my rotation. A super fresh tomato sauce when the garden is in season that takes a blink of an eye, a 45-minute or so marinara sauce that serves me well for many dishes, and my favorite, this flavorful slow-simmered sauce that I make for family dinners with plenty left over to tuck in the freezer for quick weeknight meals. I always think I’m brilliant when I do this. The sauce takes hours to simmer, and I’m glad of it. I can put the whole thing together and let it do its own thing while I play with my grandchildren or get Sunday lost somewhere, in a book, the garden, or a painting, a poem.

The deep flavored sauce

This is the sauce I use when I make lasagne, or spaghetti and meatballs (I know, that’s not traditionally Italian either). This is really a variation on what my mother made, only she usually made a meat sauce with ground beef added at the beginning. It is slow cooked, rich, and tastes better with each reheat. It is especially good if it has been previously frozen, so making a giant batch is  not only economical, but great cooking as well.

Cook this on top of the stove, in the oven, or in the crock pot, your choice. This is about patience, no instant gratification here. But the actual hands-on time is not long, the pot and the clock do most of the work.

Let’s not waste a thing

The tomato base here is made from both tomato paste and strained, fresh tomatoes. It is strained to remove the seeds and skins which could turn bitter in the long cook. The carton or bottle will note that it has been strained, so look for this. The tomato paste adds a richness that reminds me of my mom’s sauce, so I always add it. When adding tomato paste, there’s always room to add some water. I generally fill the emptied strained tomato bottles with water to clean out the containers of every drop of tomato, just like mom! She wasted nothing.

Don’t forget to add a little water to the containers to get every drop of tomato goodness for your sauce.

And there is much is this recipe that is about using every bit of a food product. Those Parmesan rinds we tuck in the freezer after finishing the block are best used here. By the end of the simmer, they will be floppy little things to fish out of the pot, but will have deposited a great deal of yumminess along the way.

Dried spice, long cook – fresh herbs, at the end, usually

I use the fennel seeds early on in the dish for good long-simmered flavor, but the fresh basil goes in at the end for its best use. In general, this is a good rule – spices such as seeds, roots, bark, etc., work well in long cooking, while fresh herbs add their best flavor at the end. Of course, don’t be afraid to break the rules if need be!

Cheese lovers all!

I also add a little more grated Parmesan at the last just to enhance the background notes from the rind. This is not essential, but my family loves cheese, and I’m for any extra flavor I can coax.

The anchovies are recommended, but optional if you want to make this vegetarian. The sauce will still be fantastic, as I’ve made it that way when I haven’t had anchovies in the house!

And don’t forget to taste several times at the end of cooking to correct the seasoning with additional salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, and perhaps another tiny splash of wine (one for the cook as well).

You can add different spices and herbs to make it your own. Do you love summer savory or oregano? Add them fresh at the end, or a tiny bit of dried at the beginning. Anise seeds are a great substitute if you don’t have fennel seeds on hand, and lots of fresh parsley at the end add a lovely note.

Finished sauce
The sauce is done. Remove it from the pan, and see all that lovely crust all over the top of the sides? Put the pan back on a slow burner and add some water. Deglaze this with a spatula and the water, and add it back to the sauce if you like. Flavor you don’t want to waste!

My Sunday Pasta Sauce

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 large sweet onion, small dice

1 bulb fennel, small dice

2 ribs celery, small dice

1/4 cup tomato paste

5 or 6 anchovy filets, minced (optional)

1 tsp. fennel seeds, crushed

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 small red pepper, small dice

8 ounces chopped or sliced mushrooms

1/2 tsp. or more crushed red pepper flakes

1 cup dry red wine

3 cartons or bottles strained tomatoes (750 g. or so each)

1 large bay leaf

1 tsp. sugar

Salt and pepper

Parmesan rind, optional 

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, optional

1/4 cup fresh basil, minced

Heat a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium high. I use my enameled cast-iron kitchen workhorse here.

Add the onion, fennel, and celery, and sauté until they have softened.

Clear out a little spot in the middle of the pan and add the tomato paste, anchovies, and crushed fennel seeds. Stir this constantly in the middle of the pot for a minute or so, then incorporate the rest of the aromatics into this. Cook for several minutes.

Add the garlic, red pepper, mushrooms, and crushed red pepper flakes, and sauté for a few more minutes.

Deglaze with the red wine. Then add the strained tomatoes, about a full strained tomato carton of water, and the bay leaf. Mix well.

Sprinkle in sugar, salt and pepper, and drop in the Parmesan rind if you have it.

pasta sauce cooking
It looks a bit thin at the beginning, but as it cooks and reduces, the flavor intensifies and you end up with luscious sauce, better than any jarred version because it is yours!

Bring the whole thing to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to the lowest simmer, or place in the oven at 250 degrees.

Cook for at least three hours, or longer, stirring every now and then to prevent sticking if on top of the burner. The sauce will get thick and rich and the house will smell like home. In the crockpot, set on low for eight hours, so make it in the morning and let it simmer all day to serve at evening meal.

Add the fresh basil  and freshly grated Parmesan, and you are ready to serve up spaghetti and pasta sauce, or any other creation you desire.

Vegan alternative: To make this vegan, simply eliminate the Parmesan and rind.

You will have plenty for your meal, and leftovers, and some for the freezer. Smart you!

A perfect lasagne – use this sauce in a wild mushroom and three cheese lasagne!


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16 Comments Add yours

  1. eponine3 says:

    Absolutely marvelous! I grew up with pasta three times a week (twice with red sauce) because of my Italian father. Mom learned from my grandmother, and I learned from Mom. It’s hard to go wrong with these amazing ingredients, and you are right — the slow cooking is essential.
    Enjoy your Sunday dinner!

    1. What lovely memories! Enjoy your Sunday too. Buon appetito!

  2. This sounds divine, I love the addition of Parmesan and Parmesan rind at the end and the fact that the sauce continues to improve over time, especially freezing!

    1. That last piece of lasagna is always the best!

  3. This sounds amazing! I’m not sure I’d add the anchovies, I know it’s good for flavoring but I can’t get past something with them, for some reason. I love the idea of adding the parmesan rind! Can’t wait to try this.

    1. You will be the star of the day!

  4. Sheryl says:

    I don’t make recipes that require slow-cooking often enough. This sauce sounds wonderful.

    1. Thank you so much Sheryl!

  5. oh yes long slow cooking makes the best dishes. but sadly i don’t like tomatoes so this is not the sauce for me:( i prefer white sauces, or anything without tomatoes. i must be odd!:-) cheers sherry

    1. Enjoy all the rest of the million vegetables out there! I’m also aware that there are quite a few folks allergic or sensitive to tomatoes, so white sauces are their friends too!

  6. I do fill the emptied tomato bottles with water to clean out every drop of tomato and don’t waste anything too 🙂
    Is simple too good 🙂
    Perfect sauce and so versatile! 🙂

    1. Thank you so much! You know, these little things become habits quickly, little tricks to get as much flavor as possible. I remember my mom making a gravy with what looked like nothing in the bottom of a pan! She would also unwrap a stick of butter and use the wrapper to cover the green beans. That tiny bit of butter was all that was needed.

      1. Very true! Little tricks but wonderful and delicious results 😉

  7. Such a beautiful colour you got for this delicious sauce.I totally loved the list of ingredients used here.

    1. Thank you so much for saying so! The color really is delightful.

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