The Inspired Cook

Homemade spaghetti sauce, that’s amoré

Do you have a favorite ethnic food? I certainly do. Other than good ol’ down-home, country cooking, my favorite types of food are Italian and Tex-Mex. In fact, these cuisines have been my favorites since I was a teenager.

I simply adore the seasonings that comprise their flavor profiles. You may have noticed that I frequently incorporate them into my food creations.

My passion for Italian food began in 1968, when my aunt Merle first prepared a delectable spaghetti dinner for my family. To accompany it, she served a green salad drizzled with Italian dressing and toast made of thickly sliced French bread slathered with butter and sprinkled with garlic salt.

Yum! I can taste it now!

Almost every time we went to Dallas to visit her and my uncle, my sister Beckie and I would request this meal. As a dutifully devoted aunt, Merle always granted our wishes.

In time, she shared her recipe with my mom. From then on whenever Beckie and I hungered for spaghetti, Momma would satisfy our cravings by preparing a big batch.

Not long ago, I asked Merle where she found her recipe and if she would share it with me as I had not found it in my late mom’s recipe box. I was saddened to learn that Merle never had written it down. Since she hadn’t made it in decades, she couldn’t recall the specific measurements of the ingredients.

As for where she obtained the recipe, she said, “I’m pretty sure it was printed on the back of a spice can, but I added more spices and hamburger meat to it. And, then later on, I used Italian sausage instead of hamburger.”

Aha! I inherited my recipe-tweaking gene from her!

Recently, I decided to create my own spaghetti sauce. While formulating my recipe, I studied about 10 others. Of those, most were cooked in a Dutch oven on a stovetop, but a few were prepared in a slow cooker. I opted for the latter.

Many listed red wine and balsamic vinegar as ingredients. I also used them to see if they improved the overall taste.

I chose canned San Marzano whole plum tomatoes with basil leaves, which are imported from Italy, because numerous chefs on TV won’t use any other canned tomatoes in their sauces.

Overall, I was very satisfied with the results of my first-ever pot of homemade spaghetti sauce. Although I initially served it over spaghetti, I used most of it to sauce up several dishes that were not pasta—impastas, so to speak.

Today I’m sharing with you my spaghetti sauce recipe inspired by my love of Italian food. In addition, I’m including one of my impastas, Italian meatloaf inspired by a recipe Beckie gave me. Although she doesn’t remember where she obtained it, I’ve been making my tweaked version for at least 20 years. I hope you love it as much as my family does.

Slow-Cooked Spaghetti Sauce


2 (28-oz.) cans whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes with basil leaves

2/3 c. red wine (I used Merlot.)

1 t. finely ground sea salt

1/2 t. black pepper

1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil

5 t. jarred minced garlic

2 c. chopped yellow onion

Pinch cayenne pepper

1 T. dried oregano

1 1/2 t. dried basil

1 bay leaf

1 T. dried parsley

1 T. balsamic vinegar

4 T. coconut palm sugar or 2 T. sugar


Coat the inside of a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker’s crock insert with cooking spray; set aside.

Into a large bowl, add tomatoes. Using your hands, tear tomatoes into pieces. Remove cores and discard; set aside.

Into a skillet, add oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent; add the garlic. Sauté for one minute, stirring constantly.

When done, transfer onion mixture to crock. Add remaining ingredients; stir. Cover crock with lid and cook for 6 to 8 hours on Low. Remove and discard bay leaf before serving.

Yield: about 8 cups of sauce

Italian Meatloaf


2 lbs. ground meat, 80/20 blend

1/2 c. oatmeal

1/2 c. milk (I used skim.)

4 oz. shredded Mozzarella cheese

1/2 t. finely ground sea salt

1/8 t. black pepper

1/4 t. garlic powder

1 t. dried oregano

1 egg

3 T. dehydrated minced onion (You can substitute 1/2 c. of chopped onion.)

1/2 c. chopped green bell pepper

3/4 c. marinara sauce (I used my homemade recipe.)


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 9- by 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray; set aside. Tear off a sheet about two-feet long of waxed paper, plastic wrap, or parchment paper. Lay it on the top of counter or table.

Into a large mixing bowl, add oatmeal, milk, egg, seasonings, onion, and bell pepper, stirring well to combine. Add in meat. Using gloved hands, blend meat into oatmeal mixture, being careful not to over-mix.

Onto prepared paper or plastic wrap, place meat mixture and spread it out into a large rectangle, measuring about 10 to 11 inches in width. The thickness should be about half an inch.

Sprinkle on shredded cheese to within one inch of all sides. Roll up in jellyroll fashion, starting at a narrow end. Lift up paper or plastic wrap to help to roll it. Press seam to seal. Push to close openings at each end, pressing to seal.

Carefully transfer meatloaf to prepared pan, placing it with seamed side down. Pour on sauce, spreading it just to the edges. Place into oven and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 170 degrees F. when tested with a meat thermometer.

Allow meatloaf to rest about 10 minutes before cutting. Serve with additional marinara sauce, which has been heated.

Yield: 8-10 servings

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