Spicy Tomato Sauce

I’m not sure if making this sauce made me miss my mom or if I was missing my mom and made this sauce.

How can I miss someone who lives 10 minutes away? Who I had seen just the day before and spoken to only moments earlier?

I guess she’s just that great ❤

My mama prepared the majority of weeknight meals during my elementary school years. While I may give my dad major props in the kitchen now, I can’t forget about the spaghetti and meatballs, chicken cutlets, beef stew, and roast chicken that defined my meals as a kid. Mom’s food was straightforward and no nonsense – she wasn’t one to spend an hour or more slaving over a hot stove. Mom thought in very simple terms about health and well-being. Every meal had a protein, a whole grain (or staahch, as she would say in her waning Boston tongue), and a veggie. No, we weren’t eating kale and chia seeds at dinner but we also weren’t eating Hamburger Helper and Spaghettio’s.

Okay, I had the occassional Spaghettio. And Lucky Charm. And Lunchable. What kid didn’t beg for these?

Mom showed me the ways of a balanced diet and she may be surprised to hear that I learned much of my way of thinking around food from her. Yes, Dad is my fellow foodie in the family but she shaped my plate during those very formative years. I look at a banana and dream about matching it with chocolate almond butter or mashing it onto a sprouted wheat bagel with chia seeds and jam. Mom? On more than one occasion she has handed me a banana and said, “Here, potassium”. While these are very different approaches to food, the appreciation for real ingredients is shared. (I also have no doubt that she is the one to blame for the raging sweet tooth that my brother and I have to contend with.)

She comes from a large Italian family and so it is no surprise that some of her best dishes are rooted in her Italian-American childhood. Spaghetti and meatballs was one of my favorite meals growing up and, with a bit of a makeover, I recreated my childhood on a single plate last night.

The moment that the garlic and onion hit the sizzling olive oil, I was whipped back to the days when I would be running around the kitchen table while Mom, wrapped in a checkered apron, wooden spoon in hand, filled our home with these comforting aromas. I actually have no idea how she made her sauce or her meatballs but, honestly, the recipe does not matter nearly as much as the sentiment.

(That is a dessert plate, not a dinner plate. I love my pasta but I love saving room for dessert – key lime gelato, no less – more.)

Now I’ll warn you – this isn’t a recipe for sauce and meatballs. I only made the sauce from scratch. The meatballs? Well….they are pre-made.

Wait! Don’t run away yet. These are pre-cooked organic chicken meatballs flavored with spinach, garlic, and fontina cheese. Low in sodium and bursting with flavor, they saved me a ton of work for a Monday night and were absolutely delicious in this sauce. Would I have preferred the homemade variety? Of course. For a meal for one, though, rolling out meatballs by hand seemed unnecessary and exhausting.

This sauce is spicy and sweet, exactly how I like it. The basics of tomato sauce hold true for any kind you may want to make (tomatoes, olive oil, onions, and garlic) and it is the seasonings and  special extras that really make it your own.

Spicy Tomato Sauce

makes about 3 cups


  • 1 14.5 oz can  no salt added diced tomatoes
  • 1 14.5 oz can no salt added tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon basil (fresh would be great but I didn’t have any!)
  • salt and pepper (be cautious – the sauce will reduce while simmering and you will want to adjust the seasonings later)


  • Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet. When very hot, add the onion garlic and cook for about 3 minutes or until the onions begin to turn translucent.
  • Add the diced tomatoes, the red pepper flakes and the basil. Stir well.
  • Add the salt and pepper.
  • Simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Most of the liquid will be gone at this point and it’s time to add the can of tomato sauce.
  • Add the can of tomato sauce, stir well, and taste for seasoning. Adjust to your liking! Simmer for another 15 minutes or so.
  • If using the pre-made meatballs, add with the can of tomato sauce and allow them to heat and absorb the surrounding flavors.

Serve this sauce over your favorite whole wheat or whole grain pasta. I am partial to fresh whole wheat pasta but I find that the Whole Food’s brand dry whole wheat linguine is fantastic! Soft and supple the way you expect pasta to be but with the added goodness of whole grains.

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4 Comments to “Spicy Tomato Sauce”

  1. That looks delicious where ever you got the meatballs. The fresh basil on top, oh my.

  2. How Sweet!!!!! I didn’t think anyone remembered when I cooked. It’s nice to be remembered.

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