Nana’s Red Sauce Recipe

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nana's red sauce recipe

Our nana was a second-generation Italian American who lived in Billerica, Massachusetts. Whenever you walked through her door, the aromas of this red sauce filled your nose with anticipation. Every time, no matter what time of day. She could be making meatballs, sausages, lasagna, or manicotti. Anyway, this sauce was the gravy, the glue that held everything together—sometimes, it held the family together, too! It’s a simple sauce, but you can’t just throw everything in a pot. That would make a stew or a fresh Pomodoro sauce. To make this classic, slow-simmered red sauce recipe, you have to build layers of flavor one by one. Follow these steps and you’ll always have a great sauce to hold together whatever dish you are making.

  • Author: Wicked
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour
  • Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Yield: 6 to 8 cups 1x



For Nana’s Red Sauce

  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 white onion
  • 9 cloves garlic
  • Fresh oregano
  • Crushed red chilies
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • 2 cans (28 ounces each) San Marzano canned plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 can of water
  • 1 small can (6 ounces) of tomato paste
  • Olive oil
  • Fresh basil


  1. Rough dice the red pepper and onion, don’t worry about this too much, as it will all get blended later.
  2. Heat a large saucepot over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions and bell pepper in a little oil, for about 4 minutes.
  3. While that cooks, thinly slice the garlic, then add to the pot with a little fresh diced oregano, crushed red chillies and season with a little salt and pepper. Stir through to combine thoroughly.
  4. Add the canned tomatoes, ½ a can of water, and the whole can of tomato paste. Stir it up and keep the heat nice and low, using a wooden spoon to break up the tomatoes to release the juices. Cover with lid and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently (every 5 minutes). The sauce will reduce down and thicken over 45 minutes – 1 hour (1 hour 30 minutes, depending on the juiciness of your tomatoes).
  5. To make this red sauce recipe more smooth, take off the heat and use an immersion blender in the pot, to blend to desired consistency. Add salt to taste and finish with a swirl of olive oil and coarse chopped basil leaf for a burst of freshness.

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