Scratch-Made Spaghetti Sauce with Juicy Meatballs– Buh-bye Olive Garden!

One of the favorite meals served at my house is homemade spaghetti and meatballs.  My kids know I love them on days I make spaghetti from scratch, and that everything in that moment is right with the world. 🙂

    As a child, I had a dislike of spaghetti, mainly because my first introduction to it was a can of reheated Chef Boyardee SpaghettiO’s.  Then came the school cafeteria’s version of mushy spaghetti, and finally, my mom’s rendition of spaghetti using canned tomato paste and a packet of Lawry’s Spaghetti Sauce Seasoning Mix.  My love affair with spaghetti finally began when I received my first cookbook, Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, at the age of 10.  It was then that I learned how to make spaghetti from real tomatoes (albeit, canned tomatoes) and not from a reheated jar from the grocery store.

    The older I get, the more fascinated I become with the miracles of nature and how Mother Nature provides for our needs when we carefully tend to the earth.  I know, I’m sounding like a hippie here, but there’s nothing wrong with peace and love and good tomato sauce!  One of the greatest joys in my life is to tend to my garden: to plant, water, nurture, observe, and harvest the fruits of my labor.  Every summer I look upon the bushels of ripened red fruit with joy and anticipation of wonderful salads, soups, and sauces waiting to be created.  The best thing about growing tomatoes is that I can pack up a bit of this sunshine and freeze it for the gloomy winter months when not much else is in season.  

This past summer our garden had an abundant production of tomatoes, so we were fortunate to be able to freeze a lot for the winter months for marinara sauce making.  I like to also make plump moist meatballs for my spaghetti, as well as made-from-scratch pasta using just wheat flour, eggs, and water.  I realize not everyone wants or has time to make their own meatballs or pasta, but it’s worth a shot if you have nothing else to do and want to experience a culinary explosion in your mouth.  Bottled tomato sauce, processed grocery meatballs, and boxed spaghetti noodles just don’t stand a chance in the taste department when compared to freshly made ingredients. 

Below is my recipe for homemade spaghetti sauce, which tastes best using fresh tomatoes, but even frozen or canned stewed tomatoes will taste great, too!  I also included my recipe for succulent juicy meatballs, as well as what I use to make spaghetti noodles.  All these suggestions are ideas, so feel free to tweak them to fit your tastes.  For my vegetarian friends, you can substitute the meat in my recipe for mushrooms or chopped veggies like zucchini, cauliflower, bell peppers, or carrots.  I hope you give it a try and cook your loved ones a delicious homemade hearty meal!  Buon appetito!

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Made From Scratch Spaghetti Sauce with Juicy Meatballs

-about 8 servings

For the Scratch-Made Spaghetti Noodles:

  • Because my family eats quite a bit of pasta, I invested in this wonderful Philips Pasta and Noodle Maker. It is pricey, but worth it if you want to quickly create your own pasta in just 10 minutes. This machine is super simple to use and clean. All you have to do is plug it in, add the simple ingredients, and watch it knead the dough and spit out different shaped pasta (includes several different molds for different pastas). Follow the manufacturer’s recipe.
  • Flour, egg, water
  • Boil noodles until al dente, about 5 minutes for fresh noodles.
  • Be sure to reserve about 1/2 cup cooked pasta water for the marinara sauce!
Machine kneads the dough for you!
My favorite part is watching the machine spit out perfectly formed noodles!
Fresh noodles do not need a long cooking time.  Be sure to check firmness in 4-5 minutes.

For the Marinara Sauce:

  • 12 fresh medium to large garden tomatoes, about 8 pounds, or the equivalent in canned stewed tomatoes.
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 pound lean ground beef (optional– I use a little beef to make the flavor richer)
  • 1 large onion, small diced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 8-10 cloves garlic, minced (you can add more or less, but I really love garlic and hate vampires!)
  • Bunch of fresh basil leaves (about 12 leaves), or 2 tsp dried basil if fresh is unavailable.
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp Organic Better Than Bouillon Chicken flavor
  • 1-2 tbsp Kosher salt (more or less to your liking)
  • 1 tsp freshly ground pepper (more or less to your liking)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder (optional– again, I really love garlic! I find that this gives extra umph to leftover spaghetti sauce.)
  • 1–6 oz can of tomato paste (to thicken sauce)
  • 1/2 cup of cooked pasta water (to thicken sauce)
You can use fresh, canned, or stewed tomatoes. I’m using the stewed home-grown tomatoes I saved in my freezer.

Marinara Instructions:

1.  Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and carefully add fresh tomatoes into the water. Boil for 30 seconds and remove.  Place tomatoes into an ice-water bath.  This will allow the skins and stems to be easily removed.  Place stewed tomatoes into a food processor and pulse the tomatoes just until they become smaller chunks, but be careful not to overprocess into a watery sauce.

If you are using canned tomatoes, you can process them as well, or break up the big chunks with a wooden spoon.

2.  Heat oil in a large heavy pot.  I like this Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven because it evenly distributes heat and allows me to simmer my marinara sauce over a long period of time beautifully.  However, any heavy-bottomed pot will work.  

3.  Brown ground beef if using.  Add diced onion and shallot to the pot and saute until tender and translucent. Add minced garlic and saute until fragrant and tender.

4.  If using mushrooms and bell peppers, add those now and cook for another 2 minutes.  Add soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, chicken bouillon,tomatoes, basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, brown sugar, salt, and pepper, can of tomato paste, cooked pasta water.

When you boil your pasta, don’t throw out all the cooked pasta water!  This is like liquid gold–adds body and helps thicken the marinara sauce.

5.  Bring to a generous simmer for 5 minutes, give the pot an occasional stir.  Then, lower the heat to a steady simmer, stirring the pot occasionally for at least an hour.  If I’m making seriously good marinara, I will simmer for 2 or more hours.  In order to prevent evaporation of the sauce, I tend to cover the pot (leave a small opening between the lid and the pot for steam release) for the first hour, and then remove the lid during the second hour and just allow to gently simmer uncovered.

6.  Prepare meatballs while you are waiting on sauce.

For the Juicy Meatballs:

-makes 15-20 meatballs, depending on the size you want.  Mine are around 2″ in diameter.

  • 2 pounds ground beef –You can also use pork, veal, chicken, or turkey.
  • 1 cup Italian bread crumbs, or Italian panko bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp kosher salt (season to your liking)
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Red chili flakes (optional)
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp dried parsley or basil

Meatball Instructions:

1.  In a large bowl, combine all ingredients.  Mix gently with your hands, making sure not to overdo the mixing (meatballs will be tough).

2.  Roll into desired size balls.  I make mine about 2″ in diameter.  You can make them smaller, but not too small.

3.  Place meatballs on a foil-lined baking sheet.

4.  Bake at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes, until a little golden brown but not thoroughly cooked.

5.  Remove meatballs from the baking sheet and gently plop them into the simmering marinara sauce to further cook them during the last 20 minutes of simmering the sauce.  The baking allows the meatballs to hold their shape and gives them a nice color, while the simmering in the sauce creates a nice moistness to the meatballs.  

After this detailed labor of love, you can now spoon that lovely marinara sauce over hot spaghetti noodles (even better if homemade), top it with a meatball or two, garnish with freshly torn basil leaves and a sprinkling of ground Parmesan cheese, and send it off with a kiss!  I hope you enjoy this recipe.  I know it requires time and preparation, but it will be worth the effort, especially since leftovers taste even better, and the sauce and meatballs freeze well.  Wishing everyone a happy week!

Even pandas love homemade spaghetti!
My 4 food critics
Spaghetti tastes best when slurped!
Complete delicious meal served with garlic bread and fresh salad

4 thoughts on “Scratch-Made Spaghetti Sauce with Juicy Meatballs– Buh-bye Olive Garden!

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