Home Made Spaghetti Sauce
A number of months ago, I posted a photo of a few jars of spaghetti sauce on Facebook and Twitter, just as I was getting ready to put them in the freezer. I promised the many friends who posted questions about the recipe that I would write a blog on the topic after the election. So here goes.
First, some terminology.
In my family, it isn’t called spaghetti sauce (despite the title of this blog). It’s called sauce or Noni Sauce. Noni was my Grandmother on the Italian side of my family. She lived to 98 or 101, depending on whom in the family you ask. When I asked her how to make her sauce, she said she couldn’t tell me how to make it; instead she needed to show me how to make it. So I’ve re-created the “show me” part in this blog.
One of the things I learned from Noni is that at any moment, 20 people might stop by. And as an Italian woman, I would be expected to feed them. Now, this has never happened to me. But if it does, I’m prepared.
A word about the recipe: There is nothing you can do to ruin home made sauce. It may turn out different from the last time you made it, but it will always be better than sauce from the store. So don’t get too worked up about an exact recipe.
Most of the flavoring in sauce comes from the Italian Sausage. If you have a brand you like, go with that. If not, experiment over time and you will find one you like. In this case, I used a store brand. Sometimes I use sausage we make from the Carno family sausage recipe. Either way, you are going to get good sauce.
Step 1: Assemble the ingredients. The French call it mise en place, meaning everything in its place. I just call it creating order and process, so that you aren’t running around in the middle of the recipe wondering if you have everything.
You will also want to think about the cooking vessel. My favorite method by far is the slow cooker. You can make your sauce in the morning and it will be ready for dinner.
A rough recipe might look like this:
White or yellow onions
Step 2: Break down the onions.
There are many ways to do this. If you like chunky onions in your finished sauce, just chop them up.
If you don’t like that texture in the finished product, or if you have family members who say they don’t like onions, you can hide them (but still keep all of the flavor) by blending them in a blender, food processor, or with an immersion blender. Or you can chop some and blend some. In this recipe, I used two yellow onions.
Step 3: Start cooking the aromatics
Coat the bottom of your pan with olive oil and add the onions. For this batch I’m started the process in a pot on the stove as opposed to my preferred slow cooker. The day I made this batch of sauce, the slow cooker was occupied with applesauce I’d cooked overnight. So I started the sauce in the pot on the stove and transferred it to the slow cooker after I jarred the applesauce.
Add the garlic. For this recipe I used 5 cloves of garlic, pushed through a garlic press. Noni would just smash the garlic cloves with a mallet. You can do the same thing with the flat part of a knife and the heel of your hand. You can also chop the garlic with a sharp knife. If you have the ginormous jar of chopped garlic from Costco, by all means grab a spoonful or two.
Next add the Italian Seasoning. Some Italian cooks add various spices separately. I find that a palm full of the mixed seasoning works well. Add the tomato paste. For this batch, I used 2 small cans. If you only have one, that’s fine. You won’t ruin it. Mix this all up so that the tomato paste is incorporated in with the onions and the herbs have some contact with the pan, releasing their oils.
Step 4: Incorporate ground sausage
As Noni said, the flavor in the sauce comes from the flavor in the sausage. If you like spicy sauce, use spicy sausage. If not, use sweet Italian sausage. For your sauce to have the right flavors though, you must use Italian sausage. For this batch, I used 2 one-pound “tubes” of hot Italian sausage. I like to use a masher to break up the sausage. This makes a consistent, meaty sauce. If you like bigger chunks of meat, break it up with a spoon, spatula or your hands. If you want to cook the sauce with sausage links, those will be added later.
Step 5: Add the canned tomatoes
All else being equal, crushed tomatoes have the best texture for the sauce I make. But, any kind of tomatoes will work. I simply break them all down to a crushed consistency. For this batch, I had one can of crushed tomatoes and had some plum tomatoes I found on sale at Trader Joe’s. Although you can use a blender or food processor for this task, I prefer an immersion blender, so I can “trap” each tomato individually and give it a couple of busts of the blender.
I like an end product that is not as smooth as tomato sauce. If you like a smoother sauce, by all means, use tomato sauce. For this size batch, I’d use 4-5 cans large cans of canned tomatoes. If I’m at Costco, I will grab one of the ginormous cans of crushed tomatoes and that’s good for a big batch.
If you choose to make your sauce with sausage links instead of ground sausage, add those links now. I like to use links if I’m looking for that nice, soft, sauce-infused sausage as a side dish. Either way, your sauce will get the flavor.
You now have a big pot of sauce.
Step 6: A note about salt, sugar and baking soda
Many cooks add sugar to balance the acid in the tomatoes. Noni didn’t add sugar, so I don’t add sugar. If you want to add sugar, knock yourself out. But just don’t call it Noni sauce.
Another way to reduce the acid in sauce is to add baking soda. It creates a chemical reaction that doesn’t change the taste of the sauce, but balances the acid. For this batch I used a teaspoon, maybe two.
I have salt in the ingredient list, but I wait until closer to dinnertime to decide whether or not to add salt, and how much. Why? All sausage recipes are different and some have more salt than others. Even if you use the same brand of sausage each time, one lot might be more or less salty. You can always add more salt; you can’t remove it.
Step 7: Cook on low all day
If you are cooking your sauce in a pot on the stove, you must do it on a very low flame —and stir it frequently to make sure it doesn’t stick or burn. My stove has a true simmer setting that is half the heat of a standard low setting. For this batch, I transferred the sauce to my slow cooker after I jarred the applesauce. Cooking all day means about 8 hours.
Taste after 6 hours to determine if your sauce needs salt. Add a little at a time and let it cook in for 10 minutes or more before you taste again.
Step 8: Jar up the extras
It takes almost as much work to make a small batch as it does to make a large batch of sauce. So eat what you will for dinner that night and jar up the rest. I never learned to actually can (yes, I’ll get to it!), so I just freeze my Ball jars. If you are freezing anything in a glass jar, you must leave some headspace. That is the amount of the jar that is not filled with sauce. I leave about an inch unfilled per quart jar. I’ve never had a broken jar. Leave the jars out to cool a bit before you put them in the freezer.
If 20 people stop by unannounced, I am able to feed them!
Finally, this is a budget friendly way to feed your family. For 6 quarts of sauce, I spent $16, or less than $3 per quart. Compare that to premium store bought sauce with meat that can be around $10 per jar.
Have fun with this and I’d love to hear how it works for you. I’m not a professional, just a home cook committed to keeping some of our family traditions alive.