Friday, December 13, 2013

spaghetti sauce


photo by jonathan canlas 

it was the fall of 1994. i was a freshman in high school in pikeville, nc. my friend told me about a cooking contest being held THAT night at her 4-H meeting. i came home from school and told my mom i wanted to cook something to enter into the contest. 

and she let me. 

i don’t remember if i asked for help, but my mother was wise enough to allow me to do it on my own.

spaghetti sauce. i would make homemade spaghetti sauce…canned tomatoes, mushrooms, green peppers (i can still see that i chopped them far too big), no meat, onions, garlic, dried basil and overcooked spaghetti noodles. i think my mom also drove me where i needed to be that night. mind you, i am the oldest of 6 children and our youngest sibling could only have been 3 or 4 years old at the time. my dad was an air force pilot and often TDY or deployed. yet she dropped everything that evening to take me. writing this i realize that’s only something i can fully appreciate now with 6 children of my own. thank you mom.

we walked into the gymnasium and i placed my offering on the table. there were only four savory entries that night. my cold, rubbery spaghetti dish received honorable mention.

and i was thrilled! i think ignorance must have been bliss. but i felt content. i wasn't an outgoing teenager. i was awkward. and painfully shy. but all of those insecurities seemed to evaporate when i was in the kitchen. 

even in my adult years, i've used food as a sort of crutch. i would take something from the kitchen to a new family in the neighborhood or to a woman who seemed like someone with whom i'd like to be friends. food has this magic power of breaking down barriers. and it made me courageous.

i used to give this sauce as neighbor gifts around Christmas. lots of people were always asking for the recipe, but i never wrote it down till now. and here’s a tip… the longer this sauce simmers, the more time flavors have to develop. i like to start this in the morning right after kids leave for school and let it simmer all day. then by the time they come home from school the house smells great. at least of couple of the kids will walk in from school and yell, “yay! spaghetti for dinner!” warms a mother’s heart I tell you.

spaghetti sauce
makes 4 quarts

2 lbs ground beef
3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T plus 2 tsp dried oregano
1 T  plus 2 tsp onion powder
1 T plus 1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper flakes
2 ½ tsp black pepper
2 lbs carrots, peeled and diced small
1 large onion
1 #10 can whole tomatoes, drained very well
1 #10 can diced tomatoes, drained very well
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
4 cloves garlic, crushed

in the largest pot or dutch oven you have (I use a 5-quart dutch oven), heat olive oil on medium high heat. when the oil starts to shimmer, add the ground beef. break it up with the back of a large wooden spoon. sprinkle beef with 1 T each of dried oregano, onion powder and salt. add red pepper flakes and 1 tsp black pepper.  continue to break up the beef into small pieces and stir to combine with all the seasoning.

cook for 4-6 minutes till beef if browned evenly. if your pan doesn’t seem hot enough, turn up the heat a bit.

add carrots and onions to the pot and season with 1 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of black pepper. stir to combine and let cook for another 4-5 minutes till vegetable are softened. stir occasionally. if the pan seems too dry, add a little more olive oil.

meanwhile, in a blender or food processor, blend the whole tomatoes in batches till smooth. add them to the pot along with drained diced tomatoes. add 2 tsp oregano, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp black pepper, parmesan cheese and garlic.

bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and let simmer for at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours.

this recipe is great for a super large crowd and also great for freezing. before you portion it out to freeze, bring the sauce to room temperature to avoid the growth of any bacteria. i like to divide it into four quarts and freeze it in gallon freezer bags laid flat on a cookie sheet (remove the cookie sheet once they're frozen) to take up less space.

p.s. to receive a couple extra "if i were..." menu ideas and secret recipes every month that i only share via email click here. 


  1. Thank goodness you finally wrote it down! The story is fabulous too...what a treasure you are!!!

  2. Thank you so much! I am so excited to try this. :) We LOVE spaghetti and I heard that yours was AMAZING!!! :)

    1. makes a ton, so be ready to share or freeze some for another day :)

  3. Looks delicious! Definitely trying this soon. xx

    1. every time i see a comment from you sarah, i feel all warm and fuzzy inside. merry christmas my friend :)

  4. Callie, what you're doing is awesome! And i've been looking for a good homemade spaghetti sauce recipe--can't wait to try this!

    1. Linnea! Hi! Thanks for the vote of support :) Let me know how it turns out. Merry Christmas!!! Tell Bobert I said hi too :)

  5. This spaghetti sauce was fantastic! I halved the recipe, added some green pepper and substituted TVP for the ground beef since I'm a vegetarian. It was a big hit at our house! :)

    1. I'm so glad you liked it! And way to go with the substitutions :) I feel a little better when our kids eat this since it is chock full of veggies. Thanks Holly!