Here’s a quick and easy homemade spaghetti sauce recipe that you can make in time for tonight’s dinner. This spaghetti sauce uses cans of tomatoes, herbs, and can be made with or without beef or other meats.
Unlike a marinara sauce which is traditionally meatless, you have more culinary options with spaghetti sauce. This opens the door for you to be flexible with the recipe, making it as thick as you’d like with additional ingredients or keeping it simple.
This Italian recipe will make approximately 40 ounces or 5 cups of sauce. That’s a fairly small batch of tomato sauce, equivalent to a jar of sauce in the store. It’s enough to serve with a full pound of spaghetti with some left over.Skip the Tips and Jump to the Recipe.
What is Spaghetti Sauce
Do a quick search online and you’ll find such a range of spaghetti sauce definitions that it would make your head spin. Let me clear up the confusion.
Spaghetti sauce is an Italian sauce which typically includes either ground beef or a combination of ground beef and pork/bacon. Meat is not required however, and you could easily turn this into a vegetable filled spaghetti sauce.
As the name of the recipe implies, it is commonly used over spaghetti noodles. It is a heavy sauce, meaning it is thicker in texture than a fresh tomato sauce.
However the fact is that spaghetti sauce is called many things. I’ve seen in many of my older Italian cookbooks recipe names such as:
- spaghetti sauce home style
- spaghetti sauce with meatballs
- meat sauce
- chopped meat sauce for spaghetti
- sausage spaghetti sauce (obviously using sausage instead of ground beef)
However, once you start adding in bacon, chopped carrots and celery, you’re no longer making a spaghetti sauce but a Bolognese sauce. The two are very different.
Spaghetti sauce uses a simple blend of herbs and spices, making the flavor stronger and more complex. Complex isn’t a bad thing, but for those who like simple sauces this one may not be for you. Check out my large batch recipe for simple meatless marinara recipe here. If you’re looking for a small batch of meatless sauce, check out my recipe for using tomato paste to make marinara.
Herbs for Spaghetti Sauce
Herbs used in spaghetti sauce are based on regional cuisines and personal tastes. The most common herbs used in spaghetti sauce are parsley, basil, oregano and whole bay leaf. If you want to add a hint of sausage without using sausage, add in 1/2 teaspoon of fennel seed when adding in the tomatoes.
If you prefer not to have a bunch of dried herb jars, you can buy some premade spaghetti seasoning herbs online at places like Amazon. Just check the ingredients to make sure the herbs are what you expect.
Spaghetti sauce also uses chopped onions and garlic that are sautéed in olive oil before we even get to adding the tomatoes.
Canned Tomatoes for Homemade Spaghetti Sauce
When making spaghetti sauce, you can use either tomato puree, canned tomatoes, chopped tomatoes, or whole canned tomatoes. You can also use tomato paste to help thicken your spaghetti sauce if needed.
We all know how many types of canned tomatoes there are and rarely do I ever have exactly what I need. Allow yourself to be flexible and use what you have. If you have tomato sauce vs tomato puree, then use that. If you don’t have chopped tomatoes, then use 3 cans of tomato puree.
However, in this recipe we’re using a can of tomatoes and two cans of tomato puree.
If you only have canned chopped tomatoes you can place them in a blender, just expect them to be a little watery and need to cook down, thus extending the cooking time required. Or put them through a sieve to drain some of the excess liquid.
How to Make this Easy Homemade Spaghetti Sauce
This easy homemade spaghetti sauce recipe is perfect for making ahead or the day of. You can freeze it and reheat when you need it.
To make this recipe, follow the instructions below and remember there is no single perfect way to make spaghetti sauce. If you like oregano use it, if you don’t like it, don’t use it. If you don’t like onion, don’t use it (but I strongly recommend it). Not a fan of garlic? Cut back on the cloves.
You get the idea, making a good homemade spaghetti sauce should be fun and easy. I know you’ll love this recipe.Jump to Recipe Card
Chop and saute the onions, garlic, and meat
First, heat a large sauce pan with 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the ground beef, 1/2 medium or 1 small whole chopped onion and 2 cloves of chopped garlic. Make sure the onions are chopped very fine as this will aid in the speed of the cooking.
Cook over medium heat while constantly stirring the meat to prevent uneven cooking. Make sure the onions and garlic don’t brown or burn. If the garlic does begin to brown, remove immediately and replace.
This should take about 10 minutes. Don’t move onto the next step until all the meat is fully cooked.
Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper
Once the meat is cooked and the onions are tender, add in a 16 oz can of chopped tomatoes and two 12 oz cans of tomato puree.
Also add in a dash (1/4 teaspoon) of salt and 1/8th teaspoon of black pepper.
Add herbs to the Spaghetti Sauce
At this point, add in the parsley, basil, oregano, and a bay leaf. Notice the order I wrote these herbs. It’s based off of the most to the least.
Add 1 Tablespoon parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of basil, and 1/4 teaspoon oregano.
Oregano is a very strong herb and some individuals may prefer the sauce without it. If you’re unfamiliar with oregano and the effect it can have on a sauce, consider the fact it is the herb that gives pizza sauce it’s characteristic aroma and flavor.
The bay leaf adds a bit of depth to the sauce, although it is not always required. My Italian family never used bay leaf in pasta sauces, but my husband’s Italian family did. So either way is okay. 🙂
How Long to Cook the Spaghetti Sauce
Hours of monitoring the stove are not required for a quick and easy homemade spaghetti sauce.
As with any tomato sauce, the longer it cooks, the greater the flavors can blend together and become more robust.
Once the tomatoes and seasonings are added, bring the sauce to a boil, stirring constantly making sure the bottom doesn’t burn.
Reduce to low heat or simmer and cook uncovered for an hour, stirring on occasion.
Easy Homemade Spaghetti Sauce Variations
There is no one way for making an Italian spaghetti sauce at home. Everyone has their own take on the most popular sauce associated with the words, “Italian spaghetti”. Here are some ideas for ways you can make the sauce your own.
Add in other meats
Spaghetti sauce is not limited to ground beef. For additional flavor, cook up a slice of bacon in the oil along with the beef. If you do this, reduce the oil by a Tablespoon since the bacon will add a good dose of its own fat. Other meats can also be chopped veal and pre-cooked Italian sausage.
Use vegetables in this homemade spaghetti sauce
- Mushrooms – About 15 minutes before the sauce is ready, add in a 1/2 a can of sliced mushrooms. Some people really like this additional ingredient.
- Green bell pepper – Cut the bell pepper into small diced cubes – about 1/4 inch wide. Add about 1/4 of a cup when sautéing the onions.
- Grated carrots – Adding 1/2 cup of grated carrots help reduce the acidity of the sauce and add a little sweetness to it as well.
Add a splash of wine
Adding wine gives the spaghetti sauce some extra depth. However, make sure the wine is fresh, meaning not opened for more than a day or two. Otherwise, you may end up adding wine that is more like vinegar and we don’t want to do that!
As a guide, add 3 ounces of white or red wine. If you are partial to a sweeter sauce, add in some sweeter wine, not dry. This is helpful to counter the bitter taste of any tomato paste if it was used to thicken the sauce.
If however, you don’t need to sweeten the sauce, I suggest adding some semi-dry or dry wine like a merlot.
Use the Spaghetti Sauce for more than Spaghetti
Although the name suggests this sauce should only be used for Spaghetti, the truth is you can use this sauce for any pasta shape or type you choose.
Okay, let’s get to the recipe below. I hope you enjoy this sauce – let me know how you end up making it your own!
Easy Homemade Spaghetti Sauce
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound ground beef thawed
- 1 small onion chopped finely 1/2 of a medium onion
- 2-3 cloves garlic chopped or minced
- 1 Tablespoon parsley dried or fresh
- 1/2 teaspoon basil dried or fresh
- 1/4 teaspoon oregano dried or fresh
- 1 or 2 bay leaves
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper optional
- 1 16 oz can of chopped tomatoes
- 2 12 oz cans of tomato puree
- 3 Tablespoons tomato paste -if needed optional (use for thickening if needed)
- Heat olive oil over medium heat in large saucepan.
- Add ground beef and any other meats, along with chopped onions and garlic and cook over low/medium heat for 7 to 9 minutes until meat is fully cooked and onions are tender. Stir constantly and don't let the onions or garlic burn.
- Add in the cans of tomato along with the juices.
- Add in the herbs and seasonings and stir.
- Reduce heat to simmer or low and cook uncovered for an hour. Stir occasionally.
- If using mushrooms, add in at the last 10 minutes.
- If the sauce is too runny, increase the heat to a low boil and stir frequently.
- Add 3 Tablespoons tomato paste to also thicken the sauce.
- Use with any type of pasta.
- Top your pasta with grated Italian cheese such as Romano or Parmesan.
Original post from October 2016, updated January 26, 2023.