Sunday Sauce – Even on a Saturday

This post is dedicated to my Nanny – she passed away 2 years ago this November, I wish she was around to eat some pasta with me. I love you Nannutza! 

Oh how I love making sauce. Every weekend in my house, when I was growing up, Sunday was the day Mom made sauce. My Nanny’s (grandmother) house was the same – every weekend sauce was made.  A Sunday dinner of pasta & sauce, chicken parmesan, garlic bread and salad was a must.  If we didn’t eat it at my house, we ate it at Nanny and Poppy’s house.  Friday was also a big pasta day – but we ate it with fish instead of chicken because Nanny was ‘old school’ Catholic and didn’t eat meat on Fridays.

Even after we moved from New York, Mom still made sauce most every weekend. As I got older, I too, wanted to be involved in the ‘making of the sauce’.  My Nanny taught me to make the sauce that her family made and impressed upon me the secrets of great sauce. Over the years I developed my own recipe – but the technique is the same.  That’s the secret – what you put in it makes it your own, but how you make it is how we keep the La Babarra family tradition alive and that is what we hand down.  I am now teaching my own son to make sauce and I hope that he teaches his children the same.

He listens to DEVO and makes a mean sauce ~ yup, he’s my kid!
Photo Credit: Me!

There is one thing about making sauce that I hated – stirring the sauce. I cook my sauce all day – so having to be on hand to stir sauce every 10 minutes can be kind of a PIA – but I did it because that’s what you do for great sauce.  I knew it was worth it when one of my friends, who trained in Italy as a chef, told me I made the best eggplant parmesan he’d ever tasted.  I was OVER THE MOON…Anyway – back to stirring sauce – I hate it.

So when I was in New York a couple of years ago I was chatting with my cousin about making sauce. And she told me about CROCK-POT SAUCE.  I tried it – I loved it – I will never go back to sauce on the stove if I can make sauce in the crock-pot  No stirring needed…and after the first hour of cooking – you can leave the house and have amazing sauce by nightfall…

So, my friends, I’d like to share the La Babarra’s Family Secret for AMAZING sauce –  I’ve changed what’s in it from both my Nanny’s and Mom’s recipe – but the technique is the same.

Denise’s Crockpot Sauce
(for a 3.5 quart crockpot)

Disclaimer:  I’m not much of a measure-it kind of cook.  Just use your instinct and you’ll be fine.


  • 1 small can Tomato Paste (I love Contadina)
  • 2 large cans Tomato Puree
  • 1 small can Tomato Sauce
  • 1 bunch of fresh Italian Parsley
  • Fresh Basil
  • Oregano (if you have fresh – excellent- dried is fine too)
  • Rosemary (if fresh – excellent- dried is fine too)
  • Fresh Garlic (a must)
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 large Red Onion (diced)
  • Baking Soda


The first secret to excellent sauce that has a deep rich flavor is to sauté the tomato paste, onion, garlic and olive oil on the stove for at least 5 minutes.  If you have a cast iron skillet – all the better, use that!

Sauté on medium/medium low for at least 5 minutes – stir as needed

  • 1 can Tomato Paste
  • 1 diced Red Onion
  • Fresh Garlic
  • Olive oil  – a couple Tablespoons
  • Salt/Pepper – just a bit

The paste should change to a deeper red color – do not worry if some of the paste burns around the side of the skillet – it should.  When the paste is sautéed, it takes away the sweet ‘canned’ flavor that I find so distasteful in most jarred and restaurant sauces.

Note the boy’s technique ~
Photo Credit: ME!

While the Tomato Paste is sautéing, plug in your crock-pot and add in the 2 large cans of Tomato Puree and the 1 small can of Tomato Sauce. Turn crock-pot on high – cover.

When the Tomato Paste/Onions are done, add them to the crock-pot and stir until the paste is incorporated into the puree/sauce.  Cover, keep on high and set a timer for 1 hour. You want the sauce to come to a simmer.

Photo Credit: Me!

When I have fresh herbs, I like to make a fresh pulse or Pesto to add to my sauce.  To make Pesto do the following:

In a food processor add in

  • 1 bunch of washed Italian Parsley
  • Washed fresh Basil (however much you want)
  • Fresh garlic
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Any other fresh herbs like Oregano or Rosemary

Turn the processor on and slowly add Olive Oil (probably about 2 Tbl spoons) – pulse until you have a Pesto like consistency

Fresh Herbs Pulsed to a Pesto Consistency
Photo Credit: Me!

If you have all dried herbs – no worries – just skip this step and you’ll add in the dried herbs later.

After 1 hour has elapsed, the crock-pot sauce should be simmering – the sauce needs to be hot and bubbly for the next step.


This is the second most important step that needs to be done in order to achieve a rich deep sauce.  Add in a pinch of Baking Soda.

The Fizz of a Baking Soda Pinch
Photo Credit: Me!

Stir the Baking Soda until all the fizz dissipates.

Stir Until the Fizz is Gone ~
Photo Credit: Me!

Baking Soda will neutralize the acidity in the tomatoes, allowing the sauce’s flavor to mellow and lose the sweet ‘canned’ taste I mentioned above.   Lower the crock-pot temperature to low and start getting ready to add the herbs.  Note: some people use a pinch of Sugar instead of Baking Soda, I do not because I want to lose the sweet flavor, not add to it.

Add into the sauce:

  • Oregano
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Rosemary
  • ¾ cup of the Pesto*

I like to bruise dry herbs in to a mortar & pestle first but it’s not necessary

(*If you did not make a pesto, add in the dried Parsley, Basil and Fresh Garlic instead)

That’s Pretty Much the Whole Shebang ~ Now Stir, Cover and GO!
Photo Credit: Me!

Mix it all together, make sure the temperature is on Low, cover and go about your day.  I like to check in after about 4-5 hours. Give it a stir, take a taste and re-spice as needed with any or all of the herbs above.  During the last hour, I also like to add some Parmesan cheese as it will thicken the sauce.

For those that like sausage or meatballs – you can add raw sausage at the beginning but make sure that the sausages are FULLY cooked after 5 hours before tasting the sauce.  Cooked meatballs should be added about 4 hours after the sauce has cooked and then cook with the sauce for the next few hours. This sauce can cook anywhere from 5 – 8 hours.

Done ~
Photo Credit: Me!


About Rutabaga the Mercenary Researcher

I'm a research librarian for Public Television, story teller, bike commuter, baker, music fiend, lover of reading & books, mother, wife, friend - and many more descriptive adjectives and nouns.
This entry was posted in Childhood, Cooking, Eating, Family, Food, Italian, Recipes, Secrets and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Sunday Sauce – Even on a Saturday

  1. Yummy yummy in my tummy! I do usually add a bit of sugar to my tomato sauce to counteract the acidity a little, but baking soda sounds much better – neutralise it! Who knew? I must try that, and I must try doing it in a crock pot too. My crock pot rarely gets used, so this is a good excuse to get it out. Eggplant parmesan is one of my favourite dishes, it’s never really taken off as a popular dish in the UK, not sure why – I don’t even know what we would call it here seeing as we don’t call them eggplants, I haven’t seen “Aubergine parmesan” on any restaurant menus.

  2. iRuniBreathe says:

    Yum!! Thanks for the suggestions. Crock-pot brilliance!

  3. Carrie Rubin says:

    This looks yummy. I have a pasta sauce I make that my whole family loves, so much so that they’ll rarely order spaghetti in a restaurant anymore. They think the sauce in restaurants is bland (hey, score one for Mom…). But I only simmer mine for 45 minutes. I couldn’t take an all day thing. But the crockpot is a wonderful idea. I use my slow cooker a lot–mostly for soups. Thanks for the great recipe!

    • Yay for a great sauce recipe! That is so cool – I love that there is so much variety in food and ways to make it. I feel like your kids do about ordering in an Italian restaurant (I find the sauce to be too ‘tinnie’ tasting – and that’s not how to spell tinnie but I don’t care). Is your sauce a fresca type? I’d love the recipe if you share.

  4. Reblogged this on The Mercenary Researcher and commented:

    Friends – my muse has dried up a bit lately – so I’m doing a reblog-a-thog! I’ll be back soon… I feel the mush starting to break up in my brain! I miss you all and sorry for not visiting too many blogs – and welcome to all my new subscribers ~


  5. Kylie says:

    Yet ANOTHER use for baking soda!

  6. Pasta and pasta sauce are my jam!! This looks so delicious and I’ll definitely be trying it 🙂

  7. I love to see how other people cook. Your sauce looks fantastic! I can’t believe it never occured to me to make pasta sauce in the crock pot. Dur.

  8. unfetteredbs says:

    with this post you gave me a growling stomach. I love my crockpot so I’ll have to give this a try. Although– you could have just had us all over instead of torturing us with this delightfully delicious post. First Weebles with potatoes and now this? What is a dieting gal to do?

  9. Guess what I am doing tomorrow? That looks FANTASTIC. Thanks for sharing!

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