Serves a Crowd

My Italian Grandma DiLaura's Tomato and Meat Sauce

February  9, 2011
5 Ratings
  • Serves 12-14
Author Notes

My grandmother made this sauce for every pasta dish she ever prepared. People are often surprised by how simple the recipe is. No garlic, no olive oil, you don't even chop the onion. It's all about the tomato sauce and flavoring it with a few simple additions -- exactly how good northern Italian cooking is done. —cdilaura

What You'll Need
  • 28 ounces canned tomato sauce
  • 36 ounces tomato paste
  • 8 cups water {each can filled once}
  • 1 pound ground beef, browned
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 whole medium yellow onion, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  1. In a large heavy bottomed pot add the tomato sauce and paste. Fill each can used with water and add to the sauce with basil and salt & pepper and stir. If you are adjusting the quantity of this recipe, adjust the water by the number of cans you use.
  2. Brown the ground beef, drain off the fat and set aside to add after sauce cooks 1 hour.
  3. Bring the pot to a boil on medium-high heat and then turn down to a slow simmer {caution: do not let the sauce boil too long or it will burn}. Sauce will cook 2-3 hours total until thick. Stir occasionally.
  4. After 1 hour, add browned ground beef and whole peeled onion to the sauce.
  5. In the last hour of cooking add 1 teaspoon of baking soda to eliminate some acidity and stir.
  6. When ready to serve, remove whole onion and cut in half or quarters to share. The onion will be extremely tender and sweet and was often fought over at our dinner table!

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • thirschfeld
  • dymnyno
  • cdilaura
  • ljc
Some people were born with a silver spoon in their mouth, mine was wooden. With an Italian heritage on one side and a Lebanese heritage on the other, good food was never hard to find. I grew up with Sunday dinners at Grandma’s, big pots of sauce simmering away on the stove all day and hand cut pasta drying on the rack in the basement. The perfume of lemon, garlic, garden grown herbs and other fresh ingredients always scented our family kitchens. So it is no surprise that my love for fresh, hand-prepared food is something I now love to share with new and old friends. Because of that, I put on my apron, sharpened my knives and started a blog and NYC supper club called 8.ate@eight to continue spreading the good food love.

6 Reviews

ljc August 12, 2012
The baking soda was a trick I learned from my grandmother. Sometimes just a pinch is all you need, when you get a can of tomato thats too acidic. Nice recipe, very similar to my own families sauce, simple ingredients, less is more.
ellent124 May 25, 2011
Can't wait to try! I too have memories of the fresh pasta drying in the extra bedroom that was added off the kitchen. Sadly, my grandma died not quite 25 years ago and we all miss getting together at their house. This and the ricotta gnocchi will bring back lots of happy memories. Thanks.
cdilaura May 25, 2011
I love reliving those memories through food. Let me know how it turns out!
thirschfeld February 14, 2011
is that really 36 ounces of tomato paste or 3 six ounce cans of tomato paste?
cdilaura February 14, 2011
It really is that much -- we use 3 12-oz cans or you can do 6 6-oz cans, whatever you have. We always make a full pot of sauce to serve with the gnocchi and then jar and/or freeze some to have homemade sauce on hand, but you could easily cut the recipe in half if you don't want to make extra. If you do so, for every can of sauce and paste you use, then you need equal amounts of water. So just adjust accordingly for smaller servings.
dymnyno February 14, 2011
I have read about the addition of a whole peeled onion a few times, and tried it myself. It really adds a lot of flavor to the canned tomato sauce. Thanks for sharing!