We are a household that loves pasta. While browsing through the Serious Eats website, we came across this slow-cooked tomato sauce recipe by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. Truthfully, we were a bit intimated as it requires 4+ hours of cooking in the oven. We decided to give it a try the following weekend since all of Kenji's recipes have been absolutely wonderful and delicious.
For our version of the recipe, we've made a few changes from Kenji's:
- We occasionally make this a meat sauce and will first brown 2lbs of ground beef, then transfer to a container until the very end when we mix it together.
- We omit the fish sauce because I'm not a fan of fish/seafood (I'm sorry!)
- We use 4 28oz cans of no-salt added crushed/diced tomatoes instead of whole-peeled tomatoes that we crush ourselves.
- Instead of reserving 3 cups of the hand crushed tomatoes for the end and getting another dish dirty, we set aside 1 28oz can for the end.
- Additionally, we blend all of the veggies together instead of scooping them out for extra nutrition and taste.
If you want to make this sauce vegetarian, omit the ground beef. If you want to make this sauce vegan, omit the butter and use slightly more olive oil.
Our favorite is to pair this sauce with rigatoni and freshly grated parmesan cheese. Once you're done with dinner, you can freeze the leftover sauce for later. While it does take some time to cook away in the oven, it's pretty hands off during that time and well worth the wait! Love that the dish only requires one pot!
More of a pesto person, be sure to check out our delicious basil pesto recipe!
Best Tomatoes for Spaghetti Sauce
A vast majority of the time we make this sauce at home, we will use no salt added canned tomatoes. Frankly, I alternate between whole peeled, diced, and crushed since in the end I will blend it all together. The original recipe by Kenji calls for San Marzano and I do occasionally use those as well, but find their often much more expensive and the difference in taste isn't noticeable to me. In short, use whatever canned tomatoes you have as they're packaged at the peak of the season and have tons of flavor.
If it's summer and you have plenty of fresh tomatoes, I like to use Roma tomatoes. For a full batch, you'll need about 7lbs (which is equivalent to 4 28oz cans). If you have other tomatoes that need to be used up, such as cherry or grape or anything else you have, feel free to throw it in there.
Tips for Freezing Spaghetti Sauce
We always have leftover spaghetti sauce when we make this recipe and always freeze the leftover sauce in our 1-cup Souper Cubes trays and 2T/1oz Souper Cubes trays.
If we're going to cook up a pound of dry pasta, we find that 3 cups of spaghetti sauce is plenty for us. We like to typically freeze one 2T/1oz tray's worth of spaghetti sauce for our toddler. If we're eating a meal that isn't toddler friendly, I'll make a small batch of pasta for him and reheat 4T worth of sauce for his meal. Easy dish that comes together in less than 10 minutes.
To freeze in Souper Cubes:
- Use your No Mess ladle or serving spoon to scoop the sauce into your Souper Cubes tray.
- Once the sauce has cooled, place lid on top of Souper Cubes tray.
- Label dry lid with either masking tape or a water-based paint marker.
- Freeze overnight or until solid.
- To maximize freeze space, transfer up to 8 frozen cups to a gallon size freezer bag.
How to Reheat Spaghetti Sauce
There's essentially two ways to reheat your spaghetti sauce. If you remember to thaw it overnight in the fridge, then it will reduce the cooking time.
Reheating Frozen Spaghetti Sauce:
- For anything less than 2 cups: I almost always use the microwave to reheat spaghetti sauce. I transfer the frozen cubes from the bag or tray to a microwave-safe bowl, cover, and microwave. For each cup of frozen sauce, it takes about 3.5 minutes to reheat in our microwave
- For 2+ cup portions: I almost always use a small pot to reheat the frozen spaghetti sauce. Transfer frozen cubes to a small pot with a small splash of water. Turn heat to medium-low and cover with lid. Once the sauce has melted, raise heat to medium-high until it simmers. Then serve with fresh pasta.
Let's get started!
Gather and Prep Ingredients
Preheat the oven to 325°F as you're prepping the ingredients. Take out all but one of the oven racks (you'll want the rack on the lowest setting so there's room for the pot).
Optional: Brown Ground Beef
If you're going to use ground beef (really you can use any type of ground meat that you like or have at home), I prefer to buy the 85% lean ground beef. Once the beef is cooked through, I drain the fat out and put the beef in a container that I leave in the fridge. You only need to add the beef for the last 15 minutes.
Make Infused Oil
The garlic cooks pretty quickly so you'll want to make sure your tomatoes are ready ahead of time so the garlic doesn't burn. I recommend cooking the garlic and spices for no more than 30-40 seconds on a medium heat.
Add canned tomatoes and vegetables
You're going to only use 3 28oz cans of crushed tomatoes at this point. Bring to a simmer, then take off heat.
This picture is a bit old but I now cut the onion and carrots into smaller pieces so that it's easy to blend it all together in the end. Extra flavor and extra nutrition - win win.
Place Pot in Oven
Our favorite is using our Lodge dutch oven pot since we can use it on the stovetop and in the oven. We cooked this sauce in the oven for 4 hours.
Blend vegetables and remaining tomatoes together, then add beef
Make sure to blend the vegetables and remaining tomatoes into the sauce before you add the ground beef (if using). Simmer for 20 minutes on stovetop with lid on.
If you have leftover basil, I like to add finely chopped basil as I simmer the sauce for extra flavor.
Top with grated parmesan cheese
Our favorite pasta to pair this sauce with is rigatoni, though we've also made this with spaghetti and loved it.
Freeze leftover sauce in Souper Cubes®
Typically, this recipe will yield 11-12 cups of sauce (depending on how long you slow-cook it in the oven). We tend to use 3 cups of sauce for a bag of dry pasta.