Spaghetti Bolognese

store bought sauce on the left, homemade sauce on the right


When I think of comfort food, my mom’s spaghetti sauce is always one of the first images that comes to mind. It has a rich meaty flavor that can only come from simmering on a stove for hours – or so I’ve always assumed. Then I began to wonder if you could replicate the same flavor by adding jarred spaghetti sauce to a pan of browned meat, and simmering it for only 30 minutes or so. Would the results be anywhere close to the rich tomatoey goodness of my mom’s sauce? See below for my mom’s original recipe and our taste comparison!

Since I included Bolognese sauce in this title, I probably need to add a few notes about bolognese, but feel free to skip this stuff and get right to the recipe! I decided to call this Bolognese because spaghetti sauce can mean so many different things and I wanted to make it clear that this is a very rich and meaty sauce. Does it really conform to the standards of a traditional bolognese sauce? Maybe not, but it does have some of the hallmarks. Wikipedia listed a few definitions of what bolognese really is, but mainly it seems to be any meat sauce that is cooked for several hours and served over pasta. Many bolognese sauces uses milk to tenderize the meat and mellow out the tomatoes, but milk or cream are apparently not always included. Personally, I’ve never had success with tomato sauces that include milk; it always seems to end up curdled by the end of cooking. My mom’s recipe gets around this by including cream of tomato soup in the ingredients. The soup provides that mellowing influence without any risk of curdling. When she first gave me the recipe, I was skeptical about adding tomato soup to the sauce, but it really does take this sauce to the next level. Try it out and let me know what you think!

Mom’s Spaghetti Bolognese 

My mom always makes this with ground beef. I prefer the flavor of Italian sausage, but either one makes for a very tasty, hearty sauce. I have cut the original recipe in half because it makes so much sauce, but this is a great recipe to double and freeze the leftovers! The recipe below uses a slow cooker,however,  you can easily make this on the stove top by browning the meat in a dutch oven or large pot and then adding the rest of the ingredients straight to the pot. Just simmer over low heat for about 2 hours.

Serves 6


1 pound italian sausage or ground beef

1 medium onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 1-pound can whole tomatoes

1 8-ounce can tomato sauce

1 6-ounce can tomato paste

1 can cream of tomato soup

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons dried basil

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For serving:

Freshly grated Parmesan

1 pound spaghetti noodles, cooked

1. In a large skillet, cook the meat, onion and garlic over medium heat until the meat is browned and the onion is softened, about 6 minutes. Transfer the meat mixture to a large crock pot with a slotted spoon, letting any extra fat drain off.

2. Using a food processor, blender, or stick blender, puree the whole tomatoes until they are smooth. Add the pureed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, soup, parsley, oregano, basil, pepper and salt to the crock pot. Stir to combine all the ingredients well. Cook on low heat for 6 hours or high heat for 3-4 hours.

3. Serve sauce over the cooked spaghetti and sprinkle with the fresh parmesan.


For the comparison to this homemade sauce, I bought a 24 ounce jar of Newman’s Own Tomato Basil pasta sauce and added it to a pan with 1/2 pound cooked Italian sausage. I then simmered the sauce with the sausage for 30 minutes to let the flavors blend and mellow a bit and served it over spaghetti noodles.

There was really no comparison in this taste test. The homemade sauce was rich and meaty with a mellow tomato flavor that complemented the sausage perfectly. The store bought sauce, by contrast, was stridently tomatoey and cloyingly sweet. The sweet tomato flavor really overpowered the sausage and did not lend itself to a meaty sauce.

The homemade sauce is obviously quite time consuming since it has to simmer for hours, but this experiment proved to me that the simmering is necessary to achieve a truly rich bolognese sauce. Also, the actual hands-on cooking time for the homemade sauce is surprisingly small. It takes only about 10 minutes to brown the meat and stir the ingredients into the pot. Not bad considering the results! Both sauces were fairly similar in cost. It cost about $11 to make 3 pounds of homemade sauce and $5 for 1 1/2 pounds of store bought sauce with sausage added. Pretty close!

Bottom Line: Homemade bolognese sauce does require few hours of simmering, but the results are definitely worth the extra effort. The sauce was rich, meaty and flavorful while it’s store bought counterpart was overly sweet and tomatoey without the underlying richness.