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Aug 30, 2009 08:31 PM

Help with Old School Spaghetti Sauce with Meat/Meatballs

Hi all,

So, I was in the mood for a really good spaghetti with meat sauce. NOT an authentic Italian ragu/bolognese, which is light on the tomatoes, but a rich, meaty tomato-based sauce. Based on a prior thread on this board (, I ended up making this recipe for Vita Greco's Gravy Recipe:

It's good, but I'm not liking the lingering flavor of tomato paste in the sauce, which I can taste, even after following the recipe exactly and simmering for over 3 hours. I'm wondering if the combination of crushed tomatoes and tomato paste, without actual tomatoes, is what I'm not liking about the final result. Anyhow, I'd love to hear tips and tricks on making a really great meaty/tomatoey sauce for pasta.


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  1. "I'm wondering if the combination of crushed tomatoes and tomato paste, without actual tomatoes, is what I'm not liking about the final result."

    I don't understand what you mean here. Crushed tomatoes are tomatoes. Funny, I've used Vita Greco's recipe for years (I have her little homemade cookbook - La Dolce Vita), however I add a chopped onion and I don't use tomato paste or tomato sauce. I found the result to taste the most like my mother's sauce(she passed away many years ago). Try it without the paste and add more canned tomatoes. If you like a chunkier sauce, by all means add a can of diced or hand-crushed whole tomatoes.

    2 Replies
    1. re: lynnlato

      Most crushed tomatoes are canned with added puree, which is what I meant when I talked about the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste. My final sauce has a tinny tomato paste flavor, that I think comes from both the crushed tomatoes with added puree and from the tomato paste. I don't think I've ever made a sauce before that only called for crushed tomatoes, rather than some combination of whole tomatoes in the mix. In any event, I did use a can of whole peeled tomatoes in juice instead of the tomato sauce called for in the recipe, so I did have some whole tomato pieces in the mix. I also added a chopped onion at the garlic/tomato paste step of the recipe. If I make this recipe again, I will omit the paste and probably sub two cans of whole tomatoes for two of the three crushed tomato cans.

      1. re: DanaB

        I've used whole tomatoes, then just used a, forgive my typing , I sliced my right index finger tip today, and used a chef's shears to "chop" the tomatoes while in the pot, or even the can.

        But I've gotta say, you need the tomato paste to give the sauce the extra body, not to mention that in the sauce I make, it helps to deglaze for when the actual tomatoes go in. Otherwise, the sauce has no body. I use a CI Cook's country recipe which replicates the GIANT meatballs they serve in the Northeast, which is heavily southern Italian, with a great marinara, not a ragu, although when done oven - frying the meatballs, you put them in the sauce for 15 mins or so. I've had them on the stove for hours while I picked up my M&D at the airport for an hour or more (LA traffic) since it's my Dad's favorite dinner. LMK if you want it & I'll copy & paste.

    2. Vita's recipe looks pretty good. (The pork neck bones are key. I've never used lamb but it could be interesting.) I always deglaze the pans used for frying whatever meats with red wine -- that may help round out the flavor. Also, try cooking the paste in the pan used for meatballs for a few minutes over low heat (most of the fat poured off), then deglaze.

      For the sauce I like to use half crushed tomatoes and half whole tomatoes, broken up.


      1 Reply
      1. re: carbonaraboy

        I thought the lamb shank was a little odd, too, but I went for it. I like to follow recipes closely the first time I make them to give them a fair shot :-) I didn't end up shredding the lamb meat into the final sauce, however, as it still had a pretty assertive taste after the 3+ hours of simmering. I did add the pork from the pork neckbones.

        Thanks for everyone else's comments! While I did saute the tomato paste for a minute or two with the garlic prior to adding it to the sauce, perhaps I didn't saute it long enough. In any event, next time I make meat sauce, I will try it with a combo of whole tomatoes and crushed, and will try to get San Marzanos. I'm still up in the air on the tomato paste, though :-) I also like the idea of deglazing the saute pan with wine. Thanks all!

      2. My recipe is on the link provided above, it's pretty darn good if I say so myself.

        Why not cut the tomato paste amount down a bit, and make sure you saute it for a good five minutes. It takes most of the raw, overpowering flavor out of the paste.

        1. That metallic aftertaste has plagued my sauce every time I use chopped tomatoes. I find the best way forward is to forget them (all together--but you don't have to go that far) for sauce. Buy San Marzano (variety not brand) whole plum tomatoes from Italy. Ideally without citric acid added, but that can be really hard to find here in the States. Open the can into a bowl and then get in there with your hand and crush. Otherwise a passapomodoro (ricer) works well, but with more mess. I think tomato paste can be a culprit as well sometimes. Try pushing your garlic and/or onions to the side once they have cooked, and add a few tablespoons of the tomato paste--half of what you normally might use (you can freeze it) and toasting the paste in the pan for a minute to soften the flavor a little. Then add the rest of the tomatoes.

          2 Replies
          1. re: fayehess

            I was going to suggest buying san marzano tomatoes as well. Their flavor is far better than any other canned tomato I have tried. In a pinch I use organic canned tomatoes, but they're not quite as good. Also, I've found that tomato paste in a tube is also tastier than that in a can. I follow Lidia Bastianich's tip to "roast the paste" in a small section of the pan before adding it to the rest of the sauce. Good Luck!

            1. re: fayehess

              Yes, I only use san marzano tomatoes too.

            2. I'd make just one addition: after cooking the tomato paste for a few minutes, add a paste canful of red wine and cook that in before adding the tomatoes. :)