Momma’s Spaghetti Sauce (Plus 15 Common Pasta Mistakes)

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Pasta is a beautiful thing. Quick and inexpensive to make, it’s a quintessential, classic meal.

Now, I don’t doubt that you already have a delicious pasta sauce recipe, or perhaps you really do love jarred sauce (Some of them are really good!), but nothing compares to a homemade sauce. There are so many misconceptions about making pasta and sauce though.

Pasta sauce should have a rich tomato flavor with subtle undertones of spices and herbs. It shouldn’t be overly acidic or sweet. I’ve been working on this recipe for over a year, and now my “former spaghetti-hating” daughter requests spaghetti at least once a week.

This sauce is easy to make. Although, it does take some time, it freezes beautifully for a quick and easy weeknight dinner. And it tastes even better the next day for leftovers or an easy lunch!

But as easy as spaghetti is to whip up for a quick dinner, it’s also easy to make mistakes while preparing it. Following are 15 cooking mistakes and their respective fixes that will take your pasta from yum to va-va-voom!

  1. Not adding enough garlic – Add plenty of garlic, because garlic.
  2. Overcooking or undercooking the onions – Sweat the onions well. Sautéing them just until translucent and soft (don’t overdo it) brings out the sweetness in the onions.
  3. Overcooking the garlic – Add the garlic when the onions are just about done. Garlic really only takes a couple of minutes to cook. Overdo it and you’ll end up with a bitter garlic taste in your final dish, and no one wants that, right?
  4. Not adding herbs at the right stage – When it comes to herbs, timing is everything. If they’re dried, toss them in while sauteeing the onions and garlic. This gives them time releases their natural oils, making them more fragrant and flavorful. If they’re fresh, they can be added toward the end.
  5. Just throwing tomato paste into the sauce – Sautee the tomato paste for a minute before mixing it in. This helps to remove the tinny can taste and deepen the sweet tomato flavor.
  6. Using the wrong tomatoes – Use San Marzano tomatoes, which are grown in the rich volcanic soil in Italy, giving them a sweeter and richer flavor. The difference is truly remarkable.
  7. Not draining the beef – Allow beef (or any meat you add) to drain. Unless you want an oil slick on top of your sauce, this is an imperative step you don’t want to skip.
  8. Throwing the beef into a dry pan – While we’re talking about the meat, add a little olive oil before throwing it in the pot. Doing this adds a ton of flavor to the meat. And you’ll be draining it anyway, right? So there won’t be extra oil.
  9. Not adding butter – Adding just a pat of butter at the end, creates a smooth, silky finish. Never thought of spaghetti sauce as “smooth and silky?” That’s because you didn’t add butter.
  10. Not salting the pasta water – Pasta has very little flavor on its own, which is why you should salt your pasta water. How much salt? One to two tablespoons per pound of pasta should do the trick.
  11. Adding oil to the pasta water – Skip the oil, otherwise, the sauce won’t stick to the noodles. Just stir a few times to keep your pasta from sticking. Trust me on this one.
  12. Rinsing the pasta – Stop that! Rinsing your pasta will remove the starch that helps the sauce stick to the noodles.
  13. Not adding pasta water to your sauce – Add 2-4 tbsp of pasta water to your sauce. This little addition adds a great body and smoothness to your final dish. This will also help to thicken up your sauce, creating more noodle-coating capability.
  14. Not allowing the pasta to finish cooking in the sauce – Drain the pasta about 1-2 minutes before it’s done and allow it to finish in the sauce.
  15. Overdoing the herbs – Go easy on the herbs. Too many herbs and spices can easily overpower the delicate tomato flavor.


  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 Vidalia onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, Minced
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • ½ tsp basil
  • 2 6 oz cans tomato paste
  • 2 cups water
  • 28 oz can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1½ tbsp butter
  • 1 package spaghetti
  • 2 tbsp water used to boil pasta
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive Oil
  1. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to pan over median heat
  2. Season beef with salt and pepper
  3. Cook beef until no longer pink
  4. Place beef on a plate lined with paper towels and set aside, reserve 1 tbsp of oil
  5. Sprinkle onion with salt and sautee
  6. Add garlic when onion is translucent
  7. Add basil and oregano
  8. Sautee onion, garlic and herbs for 2 minutes
  9. Move onion mix to one side of the pan and put tomato paste in other side, stirring tomato paste constantly for 1 min
  10. Add beef and mix everything together
  11. Add 2 cups water
  12. Add tomatoes
  13. Add sugar
  14. Turn heat to medium low and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally
  15. Add pasta water
  16. Add butter
  17. Enjoy!





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