Everyone needs a go-to weeknight dinner that is stupid easy, beloved by all, and done in 30 minutes flat. Behold: Homemade Spaghetti Sauce! We are actually doctoring up a jar of store bought marinara and turning it into a meat sauce. It’s such an easy and delicious way to get dinner done fast. My whole family loves this meal, adults down to the toddlers. Serve with One Hour French Bread!
Table of Contents
- Easy Spaghetti sauce
- Easy Spaghetti sauce ingredients
- How to make easy spaghetti sauce from a jar
- Plate your pasta
- What to serve with Spaghetti sauce
- How to store leftovers
- Can you freeze Spaghetti sauce?
- Want more Italian? Try these!
- More super easy 30 minute dinners you’ll love
- Easy Spaghetti Sauce Recipe Recipe
One time in high school, my brother hosted a double date at our house. He used a marker to draw plates and silverware on a paper tablecloth, and guests had to eat spaghetti served right on the table. With their hands tied behind their backs. They called it “Pighetti.” He even made them wear “pig noses” made from an egg carton.
Of course it devolved into a classic knock-down-drag-out food fight: fistfuls of Pighetti flying all over the kitchen and smashed into hair and faces. (probably while Beastie Boys “Sabotage” played in the background. It was the 90s, after all.)
Most of my memories about this event are tied to my parents exclaiming every few months, for YEARS afterward, that they had found yet another spot of crusted-red-sauce in a corner of the room.
I checked in with my mom about this old story, because I was pretty young when it happened and fuzzy on the details. I’m sitting here, kind of mourning the fact that I will never be as cool as my mom was, to let something so memorable (but SO MESSY) happen on my watch, but she just clarified on our group text:
“I come home from my college night class, and I see one of the kids in the front yard with his head under the hose, rinsing his hair, and it’s February. Mom-alarm-bells started ringing!” Ah, okay, so I’m not a terribly boring mother: she wasn’t even there. Of course.
Spaghetti (the normal kind, not Pighetti) was a weekly meal around our house growing up. I hated it. Sorry to throw you under the bus here Mom, but ground beef mixed with a cheap jar of marinara, tossed in the pot with some overcooked spaghetti noodles was just not doin it for me. (7-year-old me was super judgy, guys.)
No judgment now, though; no judgment to any mom who’s trying to get dinner done. (I’m the youngest of five and like I mentioned before, my mom was working on her degree when I was growing up. Props to getting anything on the table that was not frozen pizza!)
Life has turned around so much that now I’m in the exact same situation: I’m busy, my kids love spaghetti, it’s cheap and easy, and I always have the stuff to make it. We probably have it once every couple weeks. (Mom, it turns out I AM YOU!!! Aren’t we all slowly morphing into our parents? haha.) We definitely skip the part where you throw it across the room and get it in your hair though, PLEASE do not tell my children about this family legend!
I’ve found a few easy tricks to take my most-hated childhood meal into something truly amazing, a dinner that everyone in the family looks forward too, including yours truly. This recipe is SO much better than the mixed-up-in-the-pot version. And yes, we are starting with a jar of marinara from the store.
I’ve got another completely from-scratch spaghetti sauce recipe (also known as “Bolognese Sauce,”) comin at you next week. (update: it’s live!) But for now: the weeknight version. It will stop you in your tracks!
Easy Spaghetti sauce
I’ve got some rules when it comes to spaghetti sauce. There are some pretty crap red sauce recipes out there, don’t be fooled into thinking that because it’s got tomatoes that it’s going to taste good. Here are the bare minimum steps for making a killer sauce, lickity split.
- Use an onion. I know, I know, by definition chopping an onion is hard and makes you cry (I would know. ALL THE TEARS, EVERY TIME.) But it amps up your flavor so much that I just can’t skip it. If you really don’t have time, use a bunch of minced onion from your spice cabinet. (Like, at least 1/4 cup. Toast them lightly in the olive oil and continue with the recipe.)
- Garlic is a must. Fresh is best, of course, but I cheat on this all the time with good results. The jar of garlic sitting in your fridge will do just fine. Use a bunch. Like a couple tablespoons.
- You must add spices. Those jars of spaghetti sauce sold at the store are made for the wimpiest of wimps when it comes to flavor. Italian seasoning covers almost all our bases here, but also crushed red pepper, black pepper, and of course salt.
- The reason I like to start with a jar of marinara sauce instead of a can of whole or diced tomatoes is because the jar of sauce is already cooked down. It is thicker and infused with levels of flavor, unlike a can of naked, watery tomatoes. We can turn naked watery tomatoes into something fantastic, (just wait to you try my Bolognese Sauce you guys!!) but it takes a little time and TLC. But this is a Tuesday night recipe, people! Soccer practice is in 45 minutes! Grab that jar of spaghetti sauce, go go go!!
- Italian sausage is so much better than simple ground beef for a quick sauce. It is made from pork, which is nice and fatty, providing tons of flavor. Plus it is already seasoned with Italian flavors, so it packs a double punch.
- A tip from my mother-in-law Kris: For even more added flavor, once your sauce is simmering, search your fridge to see if you have any briny condiments you could add: green olives, Kalamata olives, pepperoncinis, pimientos, etc. This is her best tip for bringing in tons of flavor with almost no effort. More on this in the how-to section below!
Easy Spaghetti sauce ingredients
The list is pretty short, since the whole point is to doctor something pre-made into something tastier: still quick, still easy, but SO much better. This is just an overview, the full ingredient amounts and instructions are in the recipe card below.
- olive oil
- garlic (fresh or from the jar is fine)
- jar of marinara sauce
- crushed or diced tomatoes
- Italian sausage
- balsamic vinegar
- beef base
- spaghetti noodles, for serving
How to make easy spaghetti sauce from a jar
I like to start out by getting all my chopping out of the way. Chopping stuff is usually the hurdle for me that stands between my idea of an “easy dinner” and a hard one.
But chopping garlic is pretty quick. Here’s how I do it. I hate garlic presses, I feel like they don’t work as well as a knife. Just crush with the side, peel, and chop.
If seeing pictures of pressing and chopping garlic is stressing you out, turn away. Shield thine eyes. Grab a jar of minced garlic from your fridge and call it good.
The one that’s harder to fake is an onion. But I can usually handle it as long as I have my trusty goggles. I’ll spare you the photo of them on my face and the raccoon eyes I have for an hour afterward.
Goggles really do help with the tears! Make sure they seal to your face.
Heat up some olive oil and sauté your onions for a few minutes. Add in the spices now so they have time to get all toasty before adding in the liquid. Sautéing in oil is a great trick to bring out the flavor of dried herbs.
Add in your garlic for a minute, then your Italian sausage. I like to use mild Italian sausage, which has a little heat to it but not too much. You could also use Sweet Italian sausage, it has nothing spicy but instead sweet basil added to it.
Break up the sausage and cook fully. At this point you can take a minute to drain if it’s looking really fatty. I usually don’t bother if it’s just a little bit. Fat=flavor, sing it with me now!
Now it’s time to add in our sauce. I love using Rao’s Marinara, but really any brand will do because we’re doctoring it up so much. We are also adding in a 15-ounce can of crushed tomatoes, or petite diced tomatoes will do if you can’t find that size can. (It’s hard to find a 15-ounce can of crushed tomatoes, and that’s weird y’all. What is with you, tomato industry?? Why can’t you provide me with every possible tomato iteration in every possible size?)
Add about a cup of water to your spaghetti sauce jar to clean it out, then add it to the sauce. Add in a bit of balsamic vinegar and some Better Than Bouillon Beef Base to amp up that beefy flavor (since we are using sausage made of pork). I love Better Than Bouillon, it is my secret flavor amplifier for so many recipes!
At this point, do a fridge rummage if you like. This tip is from my mother-in-law Kris, who is a fantastic and intuitive cook. When she makes any spaghetti sauce recipe, she always goes through the condiments in her fridge to see if she can add something for more flavor. Anything briny or Italian-ish:
- Kalamata olives
- Green olives
- Pepperoncinis, or any pickled pepper (Roasted red pepper would be good)
There is no need to open a new jar of anything. But if you have something already in your fridge, it can be a fun add-in, even on top of the balsamic called for in the recipe (though you could also replace it).
Kris likes to add a little bit of the vinegary brine (somewhere between 2-4 tablespoons) and maybe also a bit of chopped up whatever-it-is. A few tablespoons chopped up green olives (don’t use black olives, they’re not vinegary enough), chopped anchovies, chopped pimientos, etc. This adds a fun twist and extra flavor! Try it out, it’s so good.
Once you have all the ingredients in, it’s up to you how long you want to simmer. 10 minutes is fine, 20 minutes it better, an hour is best but I rarely do this. The longer you simmer, the more flavorful it will be. If you are simmering a long time, be sure to add a bit more water every half hour or so, to keep it from getting too thick.
Plate your pasta
Now it’s time to make your spaghetti. This amount of sauce goes perfectly with 1 pound of pasta, which is what you need for about 8 servings. Boil your pasta in well-salted water. It should taste as salty as the ocean, dip your finger in.
Once your pasta is cooked, it’s time for an important decision: to pre-sauce the noodles, or not to pre-sauce the noodles?
When my sister was a teenager, she and a new friend made dinner for the family one night, and he was a vegetarian (I think that was the first vegetarian I ever met, actually! Small town wonder!) So obviously he made marinara sauce with no meat. And served the pasta separate from the sauce, like in a whole different bowl. The entire family could not stop talking about this. A meal, with no meat?? The noodles, without the sauce?? What’s next, flying pigs? (FLYING PIGHETTI???)
(“He don’t eat no meat?? That’s okay, I make you lamb.” Name that movie!!)
Anyway, sauced, or un-sauced, only you can make this pivotal decision. If you don’t mix it together, be sure to drizzle the noodles with olive oil so the pasta doesn’t stick to itself.
What to serve with Spaghetti sauce
Here’s my favorite way to do a spaghetti meal:
- Spaghetti sauce with noodles,
- The Best Garlic Bread of Your Life made from One Hour French Bread (or an Italian loaf from the store),
- and a Caesar salad. I’m legit obsessed with the Caesar salad kit from Costco, have you tried it? It’s amazing. Salad kits are my favorite way to speed up dinner time! Any green salad would go great with this meal though, you need something light and fresh and green and crunchy as a foil to all those carbs. Apple Gorgonzola Salad would be perfect, or this Green Salad with Feta and Beets.
This is my favorite combo for a meal that is easy, brainless, and that anyone with a heartbeat absolutely LOVES.
Here are some other things to serve with your spaghetti:
- Zucchini Noodles (Without a Spiralizer) >> a perfect low calorie, low carb alternative to pasta. Eric and I do this all the time, zoodles for us, real noodles for the kids.
- Olive Garden Style Breadsticks >> This makes any pasta meal 100x better in my opinion
- Garlic and Rosemary Skillet Bread >> basically a deep dish garlic bread, it’s amazing!
- Restaurant-Style Olive Oil and Balsamic Bread Dip >> a quintessential Italian appetizer
- Avocado and Grapefruit Salad >> perfect combo of unique flavors, change it up!
- Oven Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Browned Butter >> my FAVORITE way to eat asparagus
- Broccoli with Feta and Fried Almonds >> this recipe cured my dislike of broccoli, no joke
- Copycat Olive Garden Salad from Good Life Eats
- Lemon Herb Marinated Grilled Vegetables from Savory Nothings
How to store leftovers
Let the leftover sauce cool and then place it in an air tight container. In this case, glass is best because you don’t run the risk of staining the tupperware, but I am definitely not grown up enough to have reached this level of Adult. Trust me, any air tight container will work. I know because mine are all stained orange. Don’t judge.
Spaghetti will last in the refrigerator for 4-6 days. To serve, warm in a saucepan over medium heat until hot, adding a little water if it is thick. You can also warm it up in the microwave, but be sure to use a cover so you don’t end up with Mt. Vesuvius 2.0.
Can you freeze Spaghetti sauce?
Spaghetti sauce was practically made to be frozen: everything in it freezes, thaws, and rewarms beautifully. Let the sauce come to room temperature, add to a ziplock freezer bag of the appropriate size, label, and freeze. Spaghetti sauce will easily last 4-6 months in the freezer. You could even double the recipe and freeze it in portions that you like and have an even EASIER dinner in the future! (I do this all the time!)
To use after freezing, put the ziplock bag into the refrigerator and let thaw overnight. Once it’s no longer frozen, add to a saucepan and warm over medium heat, or microwave it with a cover. OR tempt fate, toss the whole thing into the pan frozen (cut the ziplock), add some water so it doesn’t scorch, and cook on medium low until it’s hot :) who has time to thaw??
The best way to thicken up any Spaghetti sauce recipe is to let it cook at a low simmer for a while. This recipe is meant to be quick and easy, so we’re keeping it under 30 minutes. For richer, thicker, more authentic sauce, check out my favorite Bolognese Sauce Recipe!
It should last about 4-6 days in the refrigerator. If you think you won’t be able to use it up before then, just add it to a freezer ziplock bag, label it, and stick it in the freezer. It will last in there for 4-6 months and reheats really well.
You’re in luck because that’s what this WHOLE recipe is about. The basic rules are: you must add spices, an onion, Italian sausage, and an acidic brine (like pepperoncini juice or anchovies) to increase flavor. Full instructions and extra ingredients are in the recipe card down below, and a brief how-to with the “why” for each of those rules, plus tips and tricks, are in the post above.
Want more Italian? Try these!
- This Bolognese Sauce Will Knock Your Sock Off >> the big brother of easy spaghetti sauce, in all it’s deep, delicious glory. This recipe will be published by the end of the week! (update! It’s live!)
- Italian Wedding Soup >> this hearty soup has it all: meatballs, greens, and tiny pasta 😍
- Best Chicken Parmesan (Ultra Crispy) >> Chicken Parm has no business being soggy. This version is the crispiest!!
- The Best Baked Ziti >> a huge crowd favorite, in all its cheesy mozzarella glory
- Pizza Dough Recipe for Beginners >> super easy and has a ton of tips and tricks in the recipe to help you get it right
- Easy Homemade Pizza Sauce Recipe >> honestly only takes a few minutes to put together and is way better than store bought
- Zuppa Toscana Recipe (Potato, Sausage, Kale Soup) >> I could eat this soup for days. So good!
- Spicy Arrabbiata Sauce from Gimme Some Oven
- Chicken Cacciatore from Cafe Delites
More super easy 30 minute dinners you’ll love
- Easy Cheesy Ravioli Lasagna >> hearty, no-brainer dinner that starts with frozen ravioli
- Easy Stromboli Sandwich (Dinner or Quick Appetizer!) >> hard to go wrong with rolled up pizza dipped in marinara!
- Homemade Mac and Cheese with Velveeta >> kinda like the blue-box, but even better
- Lemon Chicken in Basil Cream Sauce >> bright. lemony flavor that’s super easy to throw together
- Creamy Tuscan Salmon (30 Minute Dinner!) >> restaurant quality on your dinner table in less than 30 minutes!
- 20 Minute Broccoli Lemon Pasta Skillet >> one of my favorites for a super busy night!
- 30 Minute Pesto Penne with Chicken and Cherry Tomatoes >> I’m telling you, the creamy pesto sauce in this is amazing
Easy Spaghetti Sauce Recipe
For the Sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning, or more to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 6 cloves garlic, smashed and minced (about 2 tablespoons)
- 1 pound mild Italian sausage, bulk (or remove casings)
- 28 ounce can marinara sauce, I like Rao's sauce, but any brand will do
- 15 ounce can crushed tomatoes, or petite diced tomatoes, with juice
- 1 cup water
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Better Than Bouillon Beef Base
- 1 pound dry spaghetti noodles
- water, to boil
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt, to season water
- fresh basil or parsley, to garnish (optional)
- parmesan cheese, grated (optional)
- In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add 1 chopped onion and all the spices: 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning, 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.
- Saute the onions and spices for about 5 minutes, until the onion starts to turn translucent.
- Smash, peel, and mince 6 cloves of garlic. It should be 1-2 tablespoons. You can use pre chopped garlic from a jar for this recipe, if you need to make life easier (I do this probably half the time.)
- Add the garlic to the pan with the onions, adding a bit more oil first if the pan is getting dry. You don't want scorched garlic. Saute for about 1 minute until the garlic is fragrant.
- Add 1 pound Italian sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Continue cooking for 3-5 minutes until the sausage is fully cooked. (At this point, you can drain some of the grease if it is looking really fatty, but I usually don't if there is a moderate amount. Fat=flavor.)
- Add the 28 ounce can of marinara sauce and a 15 ounce can of crushed tomatoes (or petite diced tomatoes works fine, don't drain, just dump it all in.) Turn the heat up to medium high to bring to a simmer.
- Add 1 cup water to your empty jar of sauce and shake it around to clean the jar. Then pour the water into the can to clean that too. Then add it to the spaghetti sauce.
- Add 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and and 1 teaspoon Better Than Bouillon Beef Base.
- Once the sauce starts to bubble, lower the heat to medium or medium low, enough heat to keep a low simmer going. Continue simmering for about 10-30 minutes, whatever you have time for.
- The longer you cook, the thicker your sauce will become as liquid is cooked off. Add water (1/4 cup at a time) every half hour or so if you want to simmer longer. The longer you cook, the more flavorful your sauce will become! But it is also super delicious with just a 10 minute simmer. That's what I usually have time for!
- About 10 minutes before you want to eat, make your spaghetti. In a different large pot, add a few quarts of water. Add salt until it tastes like the ocean (taste it!) I usually do about 2 tablespoons. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then add 16 ounces dry spaghetti noodles, and stir well. Stir every little while to make sure the noodles aren't sticking, for about 8-9 minutes, until the pasta is al dente. Don't over cook it!
- Drain the pasta and toss with a little olive oil. Plate the pasta and top with the spaghetti sauce. Garnish with fresh basil or parsley and grated Parmesan cheese. (You can also add the pasta right into the pot with the sauce if you want to serve it mixed. I usually let guests (my children😂) choose their own sauce amount.)
- Serve this with One Hour French Bread! Or bread from the store, toasted with lots of butter and sprinkled with salt and garlic powder. Yum! One more serving suggestion: a Caesar salad kit, from Costco preferably. The perfect easy meal!
Slow Cooker Instructions
- Follow recipe as stated through cooking the sausage. Add all the onions and sausage to a crock pot, along with the rest of the ingredients (marinara sauce, can of tomatoes, water, balsamic vinegar, beef base) stir, and cook on high for 3 hours or on low for 5-7 hours as needed. Cook the noodles in a pot on the stove when ready to serve.