Spaghetti is one of my ultimate comfort foods: a sweet and spicy tomato sauce with meat and noodles.
When I was a sophomore in college, I moved into an off-campus apartment and had to make my own food. I was lost; although I’d helped my mom a lot with baking (I was great at making cookies and homemade biscuits), I had rarely done the simple things like spaghetti. I asked a friend, who taught me to go to the store, buy spaghetti noodles and a jar of spaghetti sauce, and follow the instructions on the packages. The problem was, store-bought spaghetti didn’t taste anything like my mom’s spaghetti.
I learned how to make spaghetti when I went home for Christmas, and I learned its story at the same time. It turns out, my mom was taught to make spaghetti by her father, and it was spicy! It definitely wasn’t sweet, like marinara sauce. And I love the spice in their spaghetti sauce.
My mom changed my grandpa’s recipe, and I’ve adapted my mom’s, so none of them are the same. But this recipe is inspired by my grandfather, Milton Hintze, and my mom, Elizabeth Thompson.
Sometimes I wonder why our spaghetti includes allspice and chili powder. My sister remembers the story: when Grandpa was traveling back to the US from his mission in Australia, an Italian lady on the boat taught him to make this sauce.
My Grandpa served sour cream with spaghetti when I was really young. That is so Oklahoma! So I’ve marked this as “American” cuisine and am not even pretending it’s Italian. It’s just our family recipe (and we’re not even remotely Italian).
Preheat your pasta water so it’s ready when you need it.
Preheat a deep 12″ skillet. I use cast iron whenever I am going to brown meat because it does such a good job of browning meat.
Add the Italian sausage and crumble (If you want, you can add chopped onion after crumbling the sausage. If I add chopped onion, 2 of 4 people in my family won’t eat it, so I use onion powder instead).
Once the sausage is brown, drain any grease and then add your tomato sauce and diced tomatoes.
Add your spices. I’ve started crushing whole allspice in a mortar and pestle, because I think it gives a better flavor. Also, I ran out of allspice powder and want to use the berries. But the powder is fine.
Crush the dried spice leaves in your hand before putting them in the pot. When you crush any spice leaves, you release the flavors and aroma so it can incorporate better. That’s something my mom taught me when she first taught me to make spaghetti.
Chop the fresh basil and add that, too. Don’t leave chopped basil exposed to the air any longer than you must; it will oxidize.
Stir well, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer the sauce with the lid slightly ajar. This will keep it from spattering but allow the steam to escape so the meat sauce can reduce a bit. My grandpa would simmer his sauce all day, and my mom would serve it as soon as the spices were in. I just let it simmer while the pasta is cooking.
On weeknights I usually come home before my husband and when I make this meal I can hold dinner at this point until he is about 10 minutes away (Life360 tells me how far away he is).
Taste your sauce and add salt if it needs it, or make any other adjustments.
Your pasta water should be boiling. If it’s not, wait for it to come to a boil. Then add about 3 Tbsp French grey salt to pasta water and stir to dissolve. You can use whatever salt you have on hand, but I like French grey salt for pasta water.
Add thin spaghetti to salted water.
Cook pasta according to directions, stirring periodically. I really prefer the thin type of spaghetti, but it is totally fine to use normal spaghetti noodles.
Drain the thin spaghetti.
Serve. I serve my noodles and meat sauce separately. Every Italian pasta book I read or pasta cooking show I watch says to always mix sauce and pasta before serving. However, I grew up not doing that with spaghetti, and at this point it just seems normal to put the meat sauce on top of the spaghetti, like sauce on rice, instead of mixing them together. I guess that’s another thing that makes my spaghetti with meat sauce “not Italian.” Oh, well; it tastes good. I also put parmesan cheese on the table so diners can add it to their plates.
You can make some Parmesan toast if you are feeling ambitious. It is a nice touch and mostly staples and leftovers. Preheat your broiler when you start the sausage. Place bread slices onto a foil-lined half sheet pan.
Defrost 1/2 stick butter for 45 seconds and stir in 2 cloves of minced garlic. When your sauce is ready, spread garlic butter over the bread. Grate Parmesan cheese on top of the bread.
Pop it into the broiler when the pasta has about 5 minutes left on the timer. Keep an eye on it and rotate it periodically, then pull it out when the cheese is melted and golden brown but before the crust begins to burn.
This sauce is a versatile recipe and works in a lot of recipes. Here are some other things you can do:
- Omit sausage and use this sauce in meatball sandwiches. Serve with rolls, meatballs, and mozzarella.
- Use ground beef instead of sausage.
- Cook meatballs separately and serve them with the spaghetti and sauce.
- Use this sauce in lasagna recipes. Lasagna made with this meat sauce is so good!
Grandpa Hintze’s Spaghetti
In case you are wondering: my grandpa’s spaghetti uses tomato sauce, garlic powder, allspice, and chili powder. My mom usually uses ground beef and adds the oregano, onion powder, and basil. I swapped in sausage, adjusted amounts, and try to swap in fresh basil when I have that on hand.