Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tomato Sauce with Italian Sausage (Plus the Secret to Great Tomato Sauce Revealed!)

I don't make a ton of pasta dishes with tomato sauce, but when I do I always make my own sauce. Seriously, if all you've ever had is some nonsense out of a jar, you are missing out. Pasta sauce is ridiculously simple to make. The secret is letting it simmer for a loooooong time. Like 90 minutes or more.  I simmered this one for 2 hours. It's also pretty hard to screw up. The steps are basically 1) Throw a bunch of tomatoes or tomato product in a pot. 2) Add generous amounts of your favorite Italiany things and a big splash of good red wine. 3) Simmer. 4) Simmer some more, just don't let the bottom burn.

That's dried parsley, basil, red pepper flakes, and freshly ground pepper about to be stirred into the sauce. I used a good Californian Cabernet Sauvignon for the wine.

This particular sauce is thick, complex, and a bit spicy with the addition of red pepper flakes and hot Italian sausage. If you'd like it milder you could just sub sweet Italian or leave it out for a vegetarian version. The recipe makes a big batch too, 10 -14 servings and can easily be frozen and reheated. The original version that it's based on has almost 1000 5-star reviews on

Serve this over some al dente pasta with some crusty bread, and the rest of the wine, and you've got comfort food at its best. 

I just have one plea to make. Please, please, please don't overcook your pasta. Pasta should not be cooked until it's pale and mushy and falls apart when a fork gets anywhere near it. It should hold its shape and have some chewiness left in it. This is going to mean checking your pasta 4-6 minutes before the box says it's done and tasting it to find out. Or if you have access to fresh pasta it's going to mean the briefest of cooking times, like a few minutes max. I personally love fettuccine noodles, but you could also go with the more traditional spaghetti or maybe penne. Ok, I've said my piece about pasta.

Oh yeah, one more thing. You should add water based on how long you let this simmer. Mine was fine with 1 cup for a 2 hour simmer, but you may need more depending on how quickly your sauce reduces and the length of time you let it simmer for. Just give it a stir once and a while, and if you see its way too thick and sticking to the bottom like crazy, add a little more water.

Tomato Sauce with Italian Sausage
Serves 10-14
Adapted from Sharlene W~s recipe


1 1/2 lbs hot Italian sausage
1 medium onion, chopped
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 15 ounce cans stewed tomatoes
2 8 ounce cans tomato sauce
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup water
3 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
salt, to taste (probably in the neighborhood of 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon depending on how much added salt there is in your tomato product)
1/4 cup good red wine (Cabernet recommended)
parmesan, for topping


1. Remove the sausage from its casings and cook in a large pot. Break the sausage into smaller bite-size pieces as you cook.

2. Add the onions and saute until translucent.

3. Add the garlic and saute for a minute or until fragrant.

4. Add everything else and bring just to a boil. Simmer the sauce for a long time (if you have to get dinner on the table sooner, go for at least 30 minutes). Stir occasionally and add water as needed.

5. Enjoy over pasta with some parmesan!

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