Simmered all day, this Sunday Tomato Sauce Recipe is pure comfort but worth the wait. Pair with your favorite pasta, meatball or other Sunday supper favorite.
I think everyone has one of those deeply nostalgic meals. The kind that fell to the wayside because it was too labor intensive, or you moved away and didn’t get to experience the joy of that person’s cooking as much, or that person is no longer here and try as you may, it just isn’t quite the same without their special touch.
This sauce is that recipe for me. It was my dad’s recipe that his mom passed down to him that she got from working in an Italian restaurant. There is definitely Italian in our family heritage, but my dad’s mom was…Irish. Like, last name Maher type of Irish.
I alluded to the massive meatball making operation that would accompany the sauce making in my healthier meatball recipe, Turkey Italian Meatballs. For the TLDR version, my dad would wake up around 4:00 AM on Sauce Sunday (which happened about once a quarter or once every 4 months or so) and get to prepping his sauce ingredients.
He would gather up his stash of tin can lids (?) and scatter them over the stovetop burner. Apparently that helped to diffuse the heat so there wouldn’t be burnt bits on the bottom of the sauce pot once it was set to simmer all day. He’d throw his cauldron sized pot on the burner and rummage through the drawers to find the good can opener.
The ingredient list here is pretty basic, but I think the all-day simmer + the sweet family memories really make this recipe something that will always bring up good vibes for me.
The original recipe called for 10 cans of tomato puree, 5 cans of tomato paste, 5 onions, bay leaves, oregano, chopped garlic, salt, and pepper. Additional, but not required (but definitely added that little bit of heartiness) were assorted meats that were cooked in the sauce throughout the day. He would cook:
- Ground beef sprinkled in
- Homemade meatballs
- Pork neck
I don’t think I’ve had pork neck since, or whose idea that was, but I guess it was a crowd favorite because it always made its way back to each sauce making session.
I refuse to acknowledge the sauce vs. gravy argument here. I know by a technicality it’s a gravy if there was meat present, but we didn’t call it gravy growing up. We called it sauce. So, sauce it shall be here on my corner of the internet. Were you a gravy or sauce family?
If you’re a household of adults, diced or minced onions would be perfectly acceptable here. If you have young kids who don’t love the idea of chunks of onion in their sauce (or if you had my dad’s palate), may I suggest blending up the onion here. It imparts that necessary flavor while perfectly melding in with the tomatoes and herbs.
When you’re finished simmering for the day, retrieve all the meats you cooked. A slotted spoon works wonderfully here for that. We would pull the saucy meatballs out of the cauldron onto a flat baking sheet and freeze them so they could also be kept for a future meal and not freeze into one large meatball lump.
I made this recipe by dividing all the ingredients by 5, to size it down for a reasonable amount for myself. I still have some in my freezer, but not nearly the amount my dad would put away in the basement freezer. The quart and pint containers from Chinese food takeout always got saved for the sauce making day when they would be repurposed as a sauce holding vessel.
Store in an airtight container. This sauce recipe freezes well in glass or plastic containers and can be thawed/reheated in a saucepan when desired.
A basic saucepan or sauce pot will do here, especially if you aren't simmering all day. Also, use a plastic or wooden utensil to stir the bottom of the pot so you don't scratch the pot if you're using nonstick, like I am here.
The smells from an all day simmer filled the house with a deep warmth that I didn’t know I would miss so badly when I went off to college, moved in with my boyfriend at the time, bought a house and moved further away from my parents. My mom and dad watched their kids grow up and move out, one by one, until it was just the two of them that remained in the house.
This sauce recipe was the first that I had pulled from the archives after my dad died. I grew tired of the “barely getting by” recipes of stir fry and turkey taco salads that I cycled through when I didn’t have the desire to cook anything elaborate. I finally got to a place where the thought of missing him didn’t make me melt into a pile of tears, but instead drew me to want to remember him in a tangible way that wasn’t just a photo or video.
Photo & Video Disasters
As I was filming the video for this recipe on my DSLR camera, I walked away and the electric burner got a little too hot too fast and the sauce in my shallow pan started bubbling like volcanoes do before they get ready to erupt.
I film by the windows, so my white sheer curtains were beautifully speckled with red tomato sauce. As I attempted to quickly shut off the burner and move the pan from the heat, my very heavy and rather expensive camera several feet up on a tripod launched itself onto the floor.
At a time in my life when it would have been easy to break down into tears, trying to replicate a sauce recipe that my late father made all throughout our childhood, I inspected the camera for damage. Upon finding only a crack on the plastic of the lens and the articulating LCD screen unable to fully pop back into place after a catastrophic fall, I couldn’t help but laugh. It’s what my dad would’ve done.
- 1 onion, diced or blended
- 2 large cans tomato puree (24 ounces total)
- 1 small can tomato paste (6 ounces)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Dice or blend onion, depending on texture preference.
- In a medium sized stockpot, combine tomato puree, tomato paste, onion, bay leaves, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper.
- Simmer on low, stirring occasionally. I recommend simmering for at least 30 minutes.
- Remove from heat. Serve with meatballs or pasta.
- Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days or freezer for up to 4 months.
Optional: Cook pork, sausage, meatballs, ground beef in the sauce and retrieve cooked proteins before portioning into containers.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 8
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 45Total Fat: .2gCarbohydrates: 9.6gProtein: 1.7g