The Best Traditional Italian Pasta Sauce

16 cups
3 hr 20 min

Today I’m going to share my traditional Italian pasta sauce and how I learned how to make it.

My mom used to make what I lovingly call Swedish Spaghetti Sauce. It was basically canned tomato sauce with some garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Occasionally she would add ground beef to it and serve it over spaghetti noodles.

She was a basic cook. I’m sure that she thought that she was a terrific cook but as I got older and really “learned” to cook, what my Mom put on our table was a nod to her upbringing on a Wisconsin farm.

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Becoming a Good Cook

I learned how to be a good cook by trying recipes in cookbooks and magazines.

My favorite was Southern Living Magazine and every year they published a cookbook with a compilation of all of the recipes from the magazines. I never made a recipe that was extremely good. Southern Living has its own test kitchens and a recipe never made the magazine if it didn’t pass their rigorous standards.

However, I never learned how to make great Italian Sauce from Southern Living.

photo of traditional Italian pasta sauce or marinara

My youngest brother met his wife in college and married her soon after that. She is Italian and her family originated in southern Italy. The Abruzzo and Calabria regions to be exact. Both regions are known for their red sauce. Abruzzo is also known for its meats, especially pork which is the base of the sauce. I believe she still has family there.

My SIL Kim however, was raised in Chicago in an area called Little Italy. She learned how to cook from her Grandmother, her mother, and her aunts in their Italian kitchen.

They make true Italian cuisine.

My red sauce will never be as good as my SIL Kim’s but I feel like each time I make it, it gets better.

The truth is that neither of us actually uses a recipe so I had to keep track of how much I was using of everything to share it in recipe form with you. In full disclosure, my sauce never tastes the same twice and I’m always on a quest for the perfect sauce

The Recipe for Classic Marinara Sauce

Classic tomato sauce which is also called Salsa al Pomodoro or marinara sauce is what I make.

photo of the spices on top of the tomato puree in a stock pot. The making of traditional Italian pasta sauce

In my written recipe I have measurements for canned tomatoes from the grocery store as the main ingredients. In reality, I often make the sauce with fresh tomatoes from my garden or preserved tomato sauce or whole tomatoes that I have stocked in my pantry.

I grow San Marzano tomatoes which I then make into my own homemade tomato puree for my sauce in the summertime. They are a meaty plum tomato that is perfect for sauce.

In the summer I also always use fresh herbs from my garden. I put my fresh basil leaves and oregano stems in whole and then pull them out at the end with my bay leaves.

What’s In My Kitchen

The Key to Great Sauce

I think the key to great sauce is first the pork bones. It adds so much depth to the flavor of the sauce. If you don’t eat meat, you can just leave it out.

browned pork bones with onions for flavor of the traditional Italian pasta sauce

The other is the process of cooking it on low heat and putting it in the refrigerator overnight, it just really makes all the flavors come together.

What can you add to your Sauce?

I sometimes add some type of meat to my basic sauce when I’m preparing it for a meal. Sometimes I will add ground beef to make a meat sauce which is called a bolognese sauce. Handy loves meatballs so I always have them on hand in the freezer to add to my homemade sauce. Occasionally I will add Italian sausage to the sauce.

I always have freshly grated parmesan cheese to put on top of our pasta and sauce.

The Origin Of Marinara Sauce

The exact location of Marinara Sauce’s creation seems to be lost to time, but it was likely first developed in the southern region of Italy, in either Naples or Sicily, after tomatoes first appeared in Europe via explorers from the New World in the 16th century

Other Non-Tomato-Based Popular Italian Sauces

Easy homemade Alfredo Sauce over pasta in a bowl with chicken for serving

Aglio e Olio is olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flake sauce over spaghetti pasta that the girls and I enjoy but “Handy”, not so much.

We also really like a pesto sauce over pasta which is olive oil, basil, and pine nuts. Another girl’s night fav.

We are also big fans of Alfredo Sauce over pasta which is a heavy cream and cheese sauce that is so yummy!

Something I’ve never tried by sounds so delicious is Cacio e Pepe and which is pecorino cheese, black pepper, and butter mixed with spaghetti. I’ve heard it referred to as stripped-down mac-n-cheese.

Puttanesca sauce does have tomatoes in it but it’s not the main ingredient. It also has capers and anchovies along with olives, garlic, and chili flakes. I made it once and I absolutely loved it but the rest of my family, not so much. It is very salty with the capers, anchovies, and olives, which is probably why I love it.

Different types of Pasta

Pasta is nothing more than flour, water, and egg!

photo of spaghetti pasta noodles.

There are so over 300 different types of pasta, however, the ones that I keep in my pantry are spaghetti, linguini, fettucini, elbow noodles, rotini noodles, and egg noodles.

In my freezer, I always have ravioli and tortellini. For me, it adds a nice twist to an average spaghetti dinner. I also love to throw tortellini in soups.

I occasionally make homemade pasta and I’ve also made my own ravioli. You can find my pasta dough recipe HERE. Some Sunday afternoon soon, I will make pasta again because there is nothing like homemade pasta topped with homemade sauce.

Traditional Italian Recipes

Italian food is by far my absolute favorite. When “Handy” and I go out to dinner which isn’t often, I like to go to an Italian restaurant.

If you don’t know by now, I love pasta!

Many Italian dishes include seafood which I don’t have the opportunity to make with my meat and potatoes husband.

That being said, I keep experimenting.

spaghetti with traditional italian pasta sauce plated with garlic bread

In Conclusion

There are a few things that I think every cook needs to have in their back pocket.

One is a roasted chicken and the other is a traditional Italian pasta sauce.

Like all of my cooking, I use my sense of taste and smell to guide me.

My recipe is a guide for you, make it your own.

Peace and Love,

white plate with cheesy manicotti and a side salad
served easy homemade Alfredo sauce in a bowl with bread on the table
table set with bowl of roasted cherry tomato & pesto pasta
Favorite Summer Pasta Salad with a yummy tomato topping over cheesy pasta
lazy day ham & pea pasta recipe plated on a white plate with a slice of French buttered bread
Easy Shrimp Alfredo with Angel Hair Pasta in a bowl on a floral napkin on the table

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The Best Traditional Italian Pasta Sauce
Recipe details
  • 16  cups
  • Prep time: 20 Minutes Cook time: 3 Hours Total time: 3 hr 20 min
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  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 pounds pork bones or country ribs
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 4 tbsp crushed garlic
  • 3 (28 oz) cans of tomato puree
  • 3 (28 oz) cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 (18 oz) can of tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley (finely chopped) or 2 tsp. dried parsley
  • 2 tbsp fresh oregano (finely chopped) or 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil (finely chopped) or 2 tsp. dried basil
  • 1 tbsp Redmond Real Sea Salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a large stock pot and heat over medium-high heat.
Add the pork bones or ribs and brown on all sides, remove bones and set aside
Add another tablespoon of olive oil and add chopped onions. Stir until onions are tender and translucent. Add the minced garlic and sauté (while stirring) for one more minute.
Add the bones back into the onion/garlic mixture and then add all of the canned tomatoes, wine, and spices. Stir all together to combine well and incorporate the onion/garlic mixture and bones.
Let come to a boil on medium heat and then turn it down to low heat. Let this simmer for about 3 hours. You could be done at this point but I take the pot off the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Then place it into the refrigerator overnight. The next morning take the pot out and return to the stove and bring it back to a boil and then turn to low heat and simmer again for at least 3 hours. I remove the bones from the sauce with tongs. Any meat will just fall off the bone and I leave that in the sauce. This is the point that you can adjust the spices if you like. I typically will add a little more salt, oregano, and basil.
Cool and then put into containers or freezer bags in increments appropriate for your family for dinner. We use 3 large ladles for each dinner serving for the two of us.
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