Homemade “No Recipe” Pasta Sauce

I’m excited to introduce you today’s guest blogger and longtime family friend, John Rafanelli. In 1994 when my family first moved from Denver, CO to Federal Way, WA John rode his bike to our house and was the first to greet my family. For years our family had the pleasure of enjoying weekends at their cabin eating yummy homemade Italian food. Enjoy his Chunky Homemade “no recipe” Pasta Sauce!

Guest Blogger: John Rafanelli

Growing up we had always used some sort of canned sauce.  Early in my childhood it was Hunts tomato paste that my mother did something to in order to make spaghetti sauce.  Later in my teen years it was various bottled brands like Ragu, Prego, Newman’s Own, or basically whatever was on sale.   While I enjoyed these, I found myself amazed at how salty they were.   For some reason I always enjoyed the pasta sauces at my relatives’ house, which made sense because they were Italian and made their sauces from scratch.  This is no slam on my mother, God bless her!

Next time you are in the store grab some of the pasta jars and look at the labels.  Unless you are going for one of the $8 or more bottles, chances are it is chalked full of salt.  Most store carried sauces have between 18-24% of your daily sodium in one cup, and as a guy who likes to lay it on thick, I would leave the dinner table feeling like a shriveled up prune (and later would feel like a bloated watermelon after holding extra water).   I never considered making my own sauce because my wife likes store-bought sauce,  never thought I had the time, and never had the motivation.  I never looked up any recipes, but thought about how much I love chunky salsa (and pasta sauces), loved copious amounts of vegetables, and love experimenting adding things together that I like individually to make something great (this can be a dangerous habit).

To start off the sauce, I always use Nina San Marzano tomatoes from Costco (comes in a 6 pound 10 oz. can) but you can use any large can of San Marzano tomatoes.  The reason I chose these as the base for my sauce is that they come packed in almost no sodium.  While sodium was my basis for choosing them, they also have a great taste!  I open the can up and then blend them up until liquefied.  I add them to my pot and use that as my starting point.  You could stop and just reduce this all day and I am sure you would have a wonderful tomato sauce, but I like to make things chunky to add to the texture and flavor.

In my sauce I use the following, which can be found with a trip to almost any grocery store from Walmart to Publix.


  • 2-3 large thinly sliced, diced carrots
  • 4-5 various large onions – red, yellow, white — diced
  • 1-2 bunches of scallions/green onions –diced
  • 1 lb or more of mushrooms – diced
  • 1 green zucchini – diced
  • 2 small or 1 medium yellow zucchini/squash – diced
  • 2 green peppers – diced
  • 3-4 tablespoons of minced garlic
  • 1-2 jalapenos for a kick
  • 1-2 bunches of diced kale (optional, have done a few times)
  • 1 eggplant diced (optional, some people don’t like eggplant, but I have used a couple times)
  • ½ to 1 cup sun dried tomatoes (optional)
  • 1 cup jarred pasta sauce (my wife will add salt to hers if I don’t, plus 20% daily sodium over a huge batch is way better than per cup.  It can add a little flavor and sodium at the same time).

As the picture shows, I have all of my vegetables out and ready.   These ingredients were chosen because I know they are often used in many commercialized sauces, but also have their own tasty components.   The Tupperware has some leftover sauce from the week that I decided to use as part of the base.  Dicing takes a while, but simmering takes the longest.  Thus, I would recommend preparing this in the morning.

Once everything is in the stock pot, it may be over half full (sometimes it would be almost totally full when I had some large vegetables like eggplant diced up in it).  You can choose to spice it up a few different ways, but this is how I do mine:

  • 2-3 tbsp (estimated? I just pour out of the open pour around the pot) Italian seasoning
  • A couple sprinkles of cinnamon
  • A little lemon pepper
  • ~1 bayleaf in a tea infuser stuck in the top of the pot.

Turn on the pot to low, cover it, and let it sit all day.  The aromas really start to waft around the house after about 6 hours and will continue all day.  I don’t like my sauce soupy or watery so I uncover for a few hours to let the water boil off and leave a more condensed sauce.  I have let it reduce overnight before, but am always wary about keeping my stove going unattended.   If you used an infuser, make sure to take it out before serving.  I usually end up with about 4 ½ or ¾ gallon servings that I load into gallon freezer bags.

I have truly enjoyed learning to make my own sauce.   I never had any formal training in it, recipes to follow, or guidance, but learned (or Italian instinct) what goes into an amazing sauce.  It is a labor of love getting all of the ingredients prepared, but the aromas and taste that follow all of that work and simmering are worth it.  Even when frozen, this sauce maintains its flavor and is desirable.  You put in about 45 minutes of prep work but end up with 4 large servings of sauce you can save for later.

Key Ingredients:

  • 1 Large can San Marzano Tomatoes (I use a 6lb 10oz can from Costco – Nina brand).
  • Garlic – Minced or whole (I use pre-chopped garlic from Costco – Kirkland Signature)
  • Italian seasoning mix (Contains rosemary, basil, and oregano).


  • Blender
  • Large stock pot
  • Tea Infuser (optional)

Prep time: 30-45 minutes

Cook time: Simmer 8-10 hours or more depending on preferred consistency

Optional ingredients on the recipe are up to you and not limited to:

  • Carrots
  • Green peppers or colored peppers
  • Jalapenos – gives a nice kick with 2, including seeds.
  • Zucchini
  • Eggplant
  • Onions (scallion/green onion or all colors)
  • Mushrooms
  • Kale
  • Jarred pasta sauce –for flavor/salt or you can just add salt to your recipe
  • Cinnamon added to sauce
  • Lemon pepper added to sauce
  • Whole bay leaf or pieces in infuser (I use pieces of leaves and infuse it)

Alternate endings to the sauce:

When you defrost and reheat each bag you can add some heavy whipping cream, or half and half if you are calorie/fat conscious, to make it a little creamier and change the sauce up.  Can be useful to do depending on your dish!  If you don’t like it you always have a few extra bags of sauce!  I wouldn’t do this on the whole batch.


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