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Tomato paste (Recipe: my own meat sauce)

First published in September 2006, this updated pantry ingredient post features new photos, links, and a few tweaks to the recipe. Please enjoy some fun facts about cooking with tomato paste, and the recipe for my "house special" meat sauce. In Rhode Island, we call it gravy, and we make it all year round.


My mother, like many "let's have TV dinners" cooks in the 1960s, made spaghetti sauce with Spatini, which I think was mostly a packet of salt mixed with a few flavor enhancers.

I don't blame her. After all, it was the Age of Convenience Foods, and my mother worked and didn't have a lot of time to cook. Her mother never cooked pasta, or made sauce, either, so my mother really didn't have a role model.

My own spaghetti role model was Patty, my freshman-year Italian-American roommate, who taught me to make her grandmother's sauce with canned tomatoes, onions, peppers, oregano and tomato paste. It was the perfect college meal; pasta was cheap, and the ingredients for sauce were cheap, too. And it was so easy to make the real thing.

Bye bye, Spatini.

Tomato paste is a concentrate made from paste tomatoes that have a high pectin content. When they're cooked down, they're put through a strainer to remove skins and seeds, and reduced further until almost all of the moisture has evaporated. Usually a recipe will call for a tablespoon or two, just enough to enrich a beef stew, for instance, or to deepen the flavor of a sauce made with fresh tomatoes.


For the occasional spoonful, the tomato paste tube is perfect. If you can't find the tube in your grocery store, buy the 6-ounce can. Remove any leftovers and transfer to another container, then store in the fridge or freezer.

When cooking any tomato products or other highly acidic foods, avoid unenameled cast iron and other reactive pots. One time, years ago, I made tomato sauce in an aluminum stock pot. I let it cool in the pot instead of removing it instantly, and — you guessed it — the pot reacted with the tomatoes and turned my sauce into a foul-smelling, bubbly science experiment.


My own meat sauce

From the pantry, you'll need: onion, garlic, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, thyme, bay leaf, Dijon mustard, wine you'd be happy to drink.

Makes enough for two or more pounds of pasta.


1 lb extra lean ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
3-6 cloves garlic, minced
2 boxes Pomi tomatoes (or 64 oz canned tomatoes)
1 4.5-oz tube tomato paste
2 Tbsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried thyme leaf
1 large bay leaf
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/4 bottle dry red wine
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Kosher salt, to taste
Pinch of sugar, if necessary


In a 4-5 quart nonreactive stockpot (I use stainless steel), brown beef thoroughly. Add onion and green pepper, and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes. Drain off the fat. Add all remaining ingredients and cook, partially covered, over lowest heat for 2-1/2 to 3 hours. Stir occasionally.

In an emergency (is there such a thing as a pasta emergency? Sure!) this can be made in the microwave. It will be won't have that long-simmered taste, but it will be fine, especially if you're going to use it in a lasagna or other recipe where it will be cooked again. In a full-size microwave oven, cook meat, pepper and onion for 5-6 minutes on high, until meat is browned. Drain off fat. Add remaining ingredients and cook, covered, for 15 minutes on medium-high power. Stir. Cook 12 minutes more on high, and it will be done.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
One-one-one spaghetti sauce
Pasta with clams and vegetable sauce
Tex-Mex penne
Linguine with tomato-olive sauce
Whole wheat penne pasta with sausage, fennel, tomato and olives

Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Ann's slow cooker pulled pork, from Andrea Meyers
Braised short ribs, from Cooking On the Side
Pasta with Greek cinnamon-tomato sauce, from Gimme Some Oven
Baked beans in tomato sauce, from Simply Recipes
Pasta with Zinfandel tomato sauce and ricotta, from Evil Shenanigans

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


This recipe looks so flavorful :-)

Yum! I think there is nothing like homemade sauce that's been simmered for a few hours.

My mother stored spaghetti sauce in her cast iron skillet and ended up at the doctor's - iron leached into the sauce, causing black stools, scaring both her and the doc till I figured it out!
When I was a kid, she always made her sauce from her own recipe, but tried Chef Boyardee one time. My father and I praised it so much, she never made scratch sauce again. I wish I had her old recipe!

CJ, it's the sauce I've been making since my college days, and it's still delicious.

Kalyn, I agree. I envy my friends with Italian grandmothers!

Deb, that's a mistake you make only once, using a reactive pan with an acid-based sauce. I did it once, and the sauce turned green in the pot!

Looks and sounds delicious.

I could eat spaghetti and sauce every single day! I am SO craving this -ughhhh

Haven't left a comment in a long time, due to extra-chaotic life, but wanted to stop by and say hello!

I really enjoy your
remaking of posts from the past, very nice move for the blog

and, of course, a homemade, slow cooked tomato sauce, is a thing of pure beauty! ;-)

Paz, it's yummy.

Carol, I used to eat a lot more pasta than I do now, so when I have this, it's a real treat.

Sally, nice to see you here. Thanks, I'm enjoying updating those old posts, too. And, really, who doesn't love a good tomato sauce?!

I am always learning something in your pantry, Lydia! Spatine? Wow, I'm not sure we could buy that in the Midwest. My mother rarely made spaghetti, unless it came from a Kraft package. But my father made homemade sauce and paste and used it in very garlicky dishes. Usually that was on Italian Night, which we had at least once every winter.

Mimi, my mother only made "spaghetti sauce" from a packet, though she did add meatballs. I think we had Italian night just about as often as you did.

Ha ha ha you know that we grew up with the same mom. I loved when she used jarred sauce cause it was good! I love your recipe and never thought to add mustard and vinegar to my sauce. This sounds fabulous and full of flavor. I'll definitely try this. My only change (suggestion)? Use ground lamb instead of ground beef; I find that ground beef is dryer, has less flavor and gets that weird hard, crumbly texture rather than staying tender. Or is that just me? I sometimes just cube the lamb for my sauce.

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