Marian’s Sauce

Marian's Pasta SauceMy mother-in-law is known in our family for her amazing sauce*.  We have spent many a Sunday having dinner at their house eating her delicious sauce, jam-packed with meatballs and sausage over a bowl of pasta. Heck, my brother has been known to drive over an hour to visit on a day when this is on the menu.

Over the years she has taught first my wife and later my daughter how to make this, and yesterday it was my turn.  I have to admit that I didn’t learn very much on the cooking front from my mom.  My obsession with cooking is something I have picked up later in life after mom was gone, and have mostly learned from reading recipes.  Combine that with a math and computer science background and you’ll understand why I approach cooking as a science rather than the art.

Well let me tell you, my mother-in-law is an artist.  It was great getting directions like “Add enough water so it’s not too thick” and “Add bread crumbs until it is dry enough” and my favorite “Smell it to tell when it is ready”.  All the while I was thinking to myself ‘How am I ever going to repeat this?’  Some of the blogs I read talk about this process of taking a recipe that their mother or grandmother know by heart and putting it on paper, but this was certainly a first for me.

How did it turn out you ask?  Amazing!  I don’t think it was quite up to her standards, but the meatballs had the same wonderful flavor and the sauce the same combination of sweetness from the tomato and richness from the meat.   I’m now looking forward to a day (soon!) when my daughter moves back into the area and we can make this together – maybe with mom/Grandma looking over our shoulders fine-tuning our work!

* When I was growing up we probably would have called this spaghetti sauce, but since we eat it with other types of pasta (mostly ziti) that name just doesn’t apply anymore.

Marian’s Sauce


  • 1 lb Italian sausage (we like hot chicken sausage for this)
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ c grated Romano cheese (estimate)
  • 2 TBS parsley (estimate)
  • ¾ c Italian bread crumbs (estimate)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Olive Oil (generous 4-5 TBS, estimate)
  • Tomato Puree (28 oz can)
  • Tomato Paste (12 oz can)
  • Water (4-6 cups, estimate)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste


  1. Mix the tomato puree and tomato paste in a large sauce pan.  Salt and Pepper to taste. Add water until the consistency is that of a thin tomato soup.  You don’t want the sauce too thick at this point as it will cook down some.  Set this over low heat.
  2. Cut the Italian sausage links into thirds and set aside
  3. Make the meatballs: a) Combine the ground beef, garlic, eggs, cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. b) Slowly add bread crumbs until the mixture is dry enough to make meatballs that will stick together.  In my case this was ½ – ¾ cup of bread crumbs. c) Roll the mixture into golf ball sized meatballs.  1 lb of meat should produce approximately 15 meatballs.
  4. Add a generous amount of olive oil to a large non-stick frying pan and cook the sausage until it is well browned on all sides.  Remove the sausage and set aside.
  5. Add the meatballs to the frying pan in batches of 6-7.  You need room to be able to turn the meatballs as they cook.  Brown these on all sides and set aside with the sausage.
  6. Once all the meat is done turn the heat up on the sauce until it reaches a slow boil.  Add the sausage and meatballs and simmer for at least an hour (and longer is better).  You’ll know the sauce is ready when the oil from the meat forms a sheen on top.
  7. Serve with your favorite pasta and more grated cheese.


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2 thoughts on “Marian’s Sauce

  1. Laurie

    Always my favorite to have! Sounds like a special lesson! Funny – Lisa & I never got taught! Maybe we need to move closer too!

  2. Kathy

    Wasn’t bad for a rookie with not an ounce of Italian blood! Actually now I am going to expect he’ll keep an inventory on hand.


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