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Family-Favorite Pasta Sauce

This hearty Italian-style meat sauce has a sweetness that I really love. It’s the recipe I use for spaghetti, lasagna and gnocci, which I bake with mozzarella and Parmesan on top. —Jody L Bober, St Clairsville, Ohio
  • Total Time
    Prep: 30 min. Cook: 1-3/4 hours
  • Makes
    8 servings


  • 1 pound bulk Italian sausage
  • 1 large sweet onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 can (6 ounces) Italian tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
  • Hot cooked pasta of your choice


  • In a large saucepan, cook the sausage, onion and garlic in oil over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain.
  • Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, water, parsley, brown sugar, vinegar and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 1-1/2 hours or until flavors are blended. Serve with pasta.
    Freeze option: Freeze cooled sauce in freezer containers. To use, partially thaw in refrigerator overnight. Heat through in a saucepan, stirring occasionally and adding a little water if necessary.
Nutrition Facts
3/4 cup (calculated without pasta): 169 calories, 9g fat (3g saturated fat), 23mg cholesterol, 884mg sodium, 13g carbohydrate (7g sugars, 3g fiber), 8g protein.

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Average Rating:
  • Max
    Jul 31, 2019

    A very tweak-able recipe, which is great.

  • palmrus
    May 12, 2018

    I honestly don't believe Frank would use Johnsonville Sausage.

  • dschultz01
    Sep 18, 2017

    Good, tasty sauce, but mine came out way too thick. It needed more liquid. It was more like a sloppy joe filling than a pasta sauce, and I only simmered it for an hour. I replaced some of the sausage with beef, and also added in some chopped peppers. Might try this again but increase the water a bit, or substitute some beef broth.

  • habenaroman
    Feb 28, 2015

    Very good, versatile. Especially liked the addition of balsamic vinegar.

  • vmesenbr
    Dec 25, 2014

    I love the flavor of this pasta sauce! I use it in my lasagna.

  • devonitz1
    Sep 12, 2014

    Very good! The brown sugar and balsamic vinegar make it very flavorful. This is a great recipe as written and is a good base for variations. I make this all the time and have settled on this variation as our favorite: I use hot Italian sausage, casings removed and browned (I do not use oil since not needed for this type of sausage). The hot Italian sausage gives it a little more kick (but only use if you like spicy). I add one finely diced carrot and one finely diced celery stalk with the onions and garlic. If I have fresh mushrooms, I slice them and add with other vegetables. In place of water, I used half beef or reduced sodium chicken broth and half red wine. I put the wine and broth in before all the tomatoes and sauce and let it reduce down in the meat and veges. Then I add the tomatoes, sauce and seasoning. I like sauce, so I use one 28oz can of crushed tomatoes, two 14.5oz cans diced tomatoes with seasonings, one 6oz can tomato paste, and one 8oz can of tomato sauce. I add more seasoning sometimes using packaged spaghetti sauce seasoning mix (usually two packets). I use dried parsley since I rarely have fresh on hand. I still add the basil and Italian seasonings even if I use the packaged seasoning mix. It just seems that more seasoning is needed for the quantity of sauce. Sometimes I double the brown sugar and balsamic since I essentially doubled the sauce with adding both crushed and diced tomatoes. This is the only sauce I make now - the brown sugar and balsamic vinegar really make a difference in the flavor (along with the red wine!). Using the crushed tomatoes in addition to the diced tomatoes makes it both chunky and saucy!

  • dianec713
    Sep 11, 2014

    Very good. I'm not a huge sausage lover, but this recipe is delicious. I did rinse the meat after browning and added a couple of fresh chopped tomatoes. Will make this again.

  • MissMarieL
    Sep 7, 2014

    Substitute for turkey Italian sausage. Company worthy.

  • lmmanda
    Jul 15, 2014

    This was a really good sauce. I substituted turkey Italian sausage like several other reviewers did.

  • joedebfry
    Jul 13, 2014

    I used turkey Italian sausage but otherwise followed the recipe. I made this ahead and froze it to serve to the grandkids. All the kids loved it! Personally, I prefer an unsweetened sauce, so I gave it a 4-star rating. I'll certainly make it again for the grandkids, though.