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30-Minute Rustic Italian Meat Sauce

4.65 from 14 votes

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This hearty homemade tomato meat sauce is rich, rustic and meaty, full of traditional red-sauce Italian-American flavors. It’s perfect for a weeknight and it’s ready to eat in about 30 minutes! Sauce your favorite pasta shape with this thick tomato sauce, or layer it into a cheesy lasagna.

Pasta noodles covered in tomato meat sauce with a fork.

I love old-school red sauces! I was lucky to have an Italian grandma who slow-cooked Sunday sauce until the sauce was deep, dark red. That sauce made me the cook I am today, no doubt.

Unlike the way our grandmas cooked, we often want to make quick, everyday pasta sauce, which honestly does the job very well. The aroma of a garlic and herb-seasoned tomato sauce never fails to get people excited for dinner.

This is the homemade Italian meat sauce recipe I cook at home on a weekly basis without fail, sometimes in a pressure cooker if I’m really busy. It has a deep, savory flavor that you would SWEAR slow-cooked for hours on the stove!

You can pair this sauce with any shape of cooked al dente pasta you prefer — spaghetti, fettuccine, penne, fusilli or thicker shapes like rigatoni or orecchiette.

Cooked Italian meat sauce in a skillet with wood spoon.
Thick, rich and rustic pasta with meat sauce cooks in 15 minutes.

Sure, it’s not like Nana’s old-school “gravy” or ragu that simmered for hours with large hunks of fatty meat cuts, but trust me, the flavor is still amazing and deeply satisfying!

Quick and easy pasta with meat sauce

This homemade pasta sauce is more complex-tasting and robust compared to a basic marinara or fresh tomato sauce, but it’s also lighter, quicker and leaner than say, your typical Bolognese sauce.

The sauce turns out incredibly thick and delicious, even after just 15 minutes of simmering.

Canned crushed tomatoes, parsley, onion, fennel seeds, spices, garlic, and tomato paste on a tray.
Use a handful of ingredients to make a rich-tasting meat sauce for pasta.

Ingredients for the sauce:

  • Canned tomatoes: I recommend crushed tomatoes for this recipe. Whole tomatoes are also a great option — crush them up with your hands or a potato masher before adding them to the sauce.
  • Ground meat: Go for lean ground beef, pork, turkey or bulk Italian sausage meat without the casing. I often use a half-and-half combo of pork sausage and ground dark turkey meat for the tastiest sauce with a good balance of fat and lean meat.
  • Tomato paste: Tomato paste is an intense concentrate of tomatoes that thickens the sauce and adds depth.
  • Red wine: A little red wine gives the sauce a delectable tangy flavor. You can skip it, or substitute with half the amount of balsamic vinegar.
  • Onion:
  • Garlic: Use fresh garlic please! Grate it on a rasp grater, use a garlic press or finely chop.
  • Fennel seeds and dried oregano add a layer of aromatic Italian flavor.
  • Red pepper flakes: Use more or less to taste for a hit of spice.
  • Parsley or fresh basil
  • Pinch of sugar: Optional. Before adding sugar, I recommend that you taste your canned tomatoes for sweetness, as each brand and harvest date will vary from year to year. Add a up to a teaspoon of plain granulated sugar (not brown sugar) to balance the natural sweetness if your tomatoes are especially acidic.

Make the sauce, step by step

  1. To get started, you’ll need a large skillet or saute pan.

Cook the sauce with the lid partially covering the pan for about 15 minutes, until it’s thickened.

A pan with cooked tomato meat sauce.
Cooking the sauce in a wide pan helps it thicken faster.

Best types of pasta for Italian meat sauce

Meat sauce is not just for spaghetti — it’s good matched with just about any pasta shape you like. Don’t forget a generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, grana padano or pecorino Romano!

Pasta noodles covered in tomato meat sauce with a fork.
  • Cascatelli, fusilli, bowties or any curly-edged pasta shapes because the ridges and curls grab onto all the chunky bits in the sauce.
  • Pasta with ridges (“rigate”) such as rigatoni and penne.
  • Flat long noodles like pappardelle, fettuccine and tagliatelle.
  • Tube-shaped pasta like ziti, mostaccioli or long bucatini.
  • Cup shaped pasta: Shells, orecchiette or casarecce.
  • Meat sauce is also fantastic as a sauce for lasagna or stuffed shells.

How to store and freeze meat sauce

  • Cool the sauce down completely before packing into an airtight container — this helps prevent condensation.
  • Try to keep the sauce and pasta separate if storing in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Meat sauce keeps refrigerated up to 5 days.
  • Freeze up to 1 month.
  • Defrost overnight in the refrigerator. To heat the sauce, transfer to a saucepan and simmer on medium heat for 10 minutes, or until heated through.

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Pasta noodles covered in tomato meat sauce with a fork.

30-Minute Rustic Italian Meat Sauce

Karen Tedesco
This hearty homemade tomato meat sauce is rich, rustic and meaty, full of traditional red-sauce Italian-American flavors. It's perfect for a weeknight and it's ready to eat in about 30 minutes! Sauce your favorite pasta shape with this thick tomato sauce, or layer it into a cheesy lasagna.
Print Pin Text
4.65 from 14 votes
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Course Pasta, Sauces
Cuisine Italian
Servings 6 servings

Equipment

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds (680 g) ground meat: beef, pork, turkey, Italian sausage or a combination
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) pressed or grated garlic cloves, from 3-4 cloves
  • ½ – 1 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) dry red wine
  • 1 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons (30 g) tomato paste
  • 1 pound (450 g) dried pasta
  • ¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
  • Freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

Instructions 

  • In a medium bowl, use a fork to combine the meat with 1 teaspoon salt and the fennel seed.
  • Heat the oil in a large (10-12-inch) saute pan or deep skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, stirring frequently so it doesn't brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and crushed red pepper until aromatic, about 30 seconds.
  • Add the meat to the pan and turn the heat up to medium-high. Cook until the meat is lightly browned no longer pink inside, stirring and breaking it up with a wooden spoon, about 10 minutes. Pour in the wine, stir it in and let it bubble for about 10 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste and 1½ teaspoons salt.
  • Bring the sauce to a simmer, then lower the heat to medium-low and partially cover the pan. Cook 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened. Taste the sauce for seasoning and add more salt, chili or black pepper to your liking.
  • While the sauce cooks, bring a large pot of water (4-5 quarts) to a boil. Add three tablespoons salt.
  • Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain well and add to the pan with the sauce. Toss until coated, then transfer to large serving bowl. Serve with parsley and cheese sprinkled over the top.

Karen’s Notes and Tips

  • Red wine gives the sauce a delectable tangy flavor. You can skip it, or substitute with half the amount of balsamic vinegar.
  • Cool the sauce down completely before packing into an airtight container — this helps prevent condensation.
  • Try to keep the sauce and pasta separate if storing in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Meat sauce keeps refrigerated up to 5 days and frozen up to 1 month.
  • Defrost overnight in the refrigerator. To heat the sauce, transfer to a saucepan and simmer on medium heat for 10 minutes, or until heated through.

Nutrition

Calories: 676kcal | Carbohydrates: 61g | Protein: 30g | Fat: 33g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Sodium: 134mg | Potassium: 596mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 441IU | Vitamin C: 7mg | Calcium: 56mg | Iron: 4mg
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Hey, I’m Karen

Creator of Familystyle Food

I’m a food obsessed super-taster and professionally trained cook ALL about making cooking fun and doable, with easy to follow tested recipes and incredibly tasty food! Read more about me here.

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6 Comments

  1. This looks amazing!!! Please tell me where you got that wavy lasagna from.

  2. 5 stars
    Love this recipe! Lasagna is one of my favorite comfort meals in the winter, but I rarely ever make it because it is so time consuming. But this! This is all the comforting goodness I crave with none of the work! Definitely making this as soon as it turns cold!

    1. Thanks Jenni! For me it’s comfort food rain or shine 😉

    1. Hi Anna – yes, therapeutic is exactly right 😉