Spaghetti Sauce…Also, Gluten Free Meatballs

There you go, plain and simple.

Spaghetti sauce.

Conjures up a plate of steaming pasta, a deep red sauce, some cheese-snow sprinkled on top, perhaps a meatball or three.


I think we know someone with their own wonderful special sauce, some takes all day, some are handed down from your mother-in-laws cousins grandma in Sicily.

We are not that unique in that spaghetti is a favorite around our house too! I have made it many ways, usually with homegrown tomatoes I stashed in the freezer. Sometimes I add a jar of marinara to kick-start it. Sometimes I use sweet Italian sausage in the meatballs. sometimes its a marinara sauce, sometimes a meat sauce. Some days its watery, other days it’s chunky. It’s rarely the same twice. And really, who measures? Once i have a list of the ingredients, its pretty much eyeballing everything. (Which is probably why it never comes out the same twice running.)

But…but…but...this recipe that I made yesterday is by far our favorite and I wanted to write it down before I forget it, as I will… sooner or later.

And I am going to share a couple of secrets with you! (and with future me!)

One is the burn.

Burn it!

The actual recipe, as close as someone who doesn’t measure can get it, is below. Here are my notes:

Lets start with the base. In a large dutch oven I pour some olive oil to heat, add diced onions and let it saute. Then the garlic and spices. Saute! After a few minutes, add about 1 tablespoon of tomato paste. I like to get the tubes of it, like at Trader Joes. That way I can use just a bit at a time without wondering what to do with the rest of the can. Put that blob of tomato paste into the bottom of the pan, stir it around and continue the saute. Let it turn brown, then add the wine and let it all simmer a minute.

Now I add the cans of crushed tomatoes, V8 juice as a flavorful way to thin the sauce out, salt and pepper, a couple pinches of sugar, Worcestershire, ( just a few drips), and let it all heat up.

If I am adding meat, like I did last night, I fry it up in its own skillet, chopping it up fine and adding it to the sauce as it simmers. This makes it ‘meat sauce’. If you want marinara, just don’t add cooked hamburger meat to it.

Then I make the meatballs, brown them in that same skillet and add them to the sauce to finish cooking.

But the main secret is in the burn. Which is why this really wouldn’t work in a non-stick skillet. If the sauce burns a bit to the bottom of the pan, it will add a smokey, earthy flavor to the sauce that just cannot be duplicated any other way. It goes from spaghetti sauce to awesome sauce!

So you’ve browned the tomato paste in the dutch oven,  then just let it simmer on a low heat enough to make a bit of burn on the bottom of the pan. You might not like the clean up, but flavor-magnifico! You can feel it sticking if you stir with a wooden spoon. Its all good.

Now for the other secret:

Potato flakes…shhh!

Instead of bread crumbs in the meatballs, and lets face it, you need something in those meatballs or they are dry and rubbery, instead of bread crumbs, the usual standby,  you can use potato flakes, the kind you can make mashed potatoes with. Try to buy the ones with only potatoes and salt as the ingredients. Not the red box one with about 30 ingredients in it just to make flippen mashed potatoes!

The potato flakes hold the meat together a bit like bread crumbs. I’d like to thank the staff at Americas Test Kitchen for that neat trick! With an egg and some buttermilk for moisture, and cheese for softness and flavor, these meatballs can’t be beat.

Gluten Free Meatballs

  • 2  pounds ground beef/divided
  • 1/2 pound sweet italian sausage
  • 1/4 cup dried potato flakes
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup or so of buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan or Romano Cheese
  • some fresh or dried onions
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic chopped, or garlic powder
  • italian seasoning
  • salt/pepper

Take out 1/2 pound the hamburger to fry up in a skillet (I used non stick for this), chopping it up fine as it cooks. You can add seasonings to it, s/p, even dried onions if you want. Once it is cooked, drain the grease. You are going to add this meat to the spaghetti sauce you are about to make. The rest of the meat is used to make meat balls. You can use the same skillet for the meatballs.

In a large mixing bowl add the rest of the raw hamburger and the Italian sausage along with the rest of the ingredients and, ew,  dig in with your hands and mix and mix and mix. Then gently shape into balls to fry in the same skillet the hamburger cooked in. Just wipe the pan out a bit, add a little oil and put in the meatballs. It took 2 batches for me to cook them all. Set them aside to put into the sauce to continue cooking.(Unless your sauce is ready, then carefully drop them in). You just need to brown them. They finish up cooking in the sauce.

I DID use a nonstick skillet for this part. I really did not want to leave half the meatballs in the bottom of the skillet. Cast iron would be my second choice. Stainless pans my last for this kind of thing. Stainless is a sticker! A stinker-sticker!

Same goes for eggs. Nonstick-cast iron-stainless, in that order.

Anyway, now for the sauce:

  • 2 cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 3-4 or 10 garlic cloves, up to you.
  • 1 tablespoon size blob of tomato paste
  • italian seasoning of choice
  • red wine, a couple of glugs
  • pinches of sugar
  • Worcestershire, a few dribbles
  • salt and pepper.
  • cooked hamburger and meatballs
  • V8 type juice, about 1/2 cup or so, who measures?

Well, as stated above, heat up some olive oil or oil of choice in a dutch oven and proceed to saute the diced onion.

After about 5 minutes of that, add the garlic and seasoning. 1 moment later, add the tomato paste and let it make a ‘fond’ on the bottom of the pot.

Add the red wine and let it bubble joyfully until thickened. You do not need to burn the wine. I’m not that crazy.

Pour in the crushed tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, a bit of V8 juice-perhaps 1/2 cup of more, salt and pepper, pinches of sugar, cooked hamburger and, if ready, the meatballs.

Simmer, simmer, simmer. Stir once in a while, but also let it hot and smokey on the bottom, just a bit. I simmered maybe an hour. If it seems to get too thick, you can add a little more vegetable juice or even chicken stock. That thins it out while adding a bit of flavor. It just depends on how thick you like your sauce.

Meanwhile I was heating up the pasta water, which as you know, takes forever! Longer than any water ever.

Cook your pasta, drain, top with meatballs and sauce, sprinkle some Parmesan snow on top, while singing “On top of spagheeeeteee, all covered with cheese, I lost my poor meatball, when somebody sneeeeezed”.


Sometimes my sauce comes out a bit too watery, and I get complaints. Usually when I use my own tomatoes, which, while the flavor can’t be beat, and no matter how much I cook the tomatoes down, they are watery. Until I learned that after cooking, and adding onions and stuff to it, including hamburger or sausage, I put it in a blender and pulse a few times. That takes care of that!

BUT NOT THIS SAUCE! This sauce stands alone. It is thick, flavorful and hearty. Hubby and I ate the sauce with meatballs, sans pasta, with a side of salad. But you can use your favorite pasta, gluten-free or gluten filled, or zucchini noodles or whatever you want.

Enjoy! (I hope you made some garlic bread to go with that plate of spaghetti!)



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