Jerri’s Spaghetti Sauce

This is a simple but flavorful spaghetti sauce that Jerri made dozens of times when I was gainfully employed selling recycling equipment and she was a piano teacher and church organist. Since my office was in a western suburb of Minneapolis, and my customers included companies from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Warroad, Minnesota, I usually called to let her know when I thought I would be home for dinner. However, I was sometimes delayed. Anyone who has commuted through the Twin Cities knows what a shower or snow flurries can do to traffic on highways in the Metro area.

Jerri thus became an expert in flexible meal scheduling. Her students began arriving when the school day ended. She usually said goodby to the last one after 6 PM. To accommodate this schedule she assembled a main dish before her first student arrived, put it in the refrigerator and popped it into the oven or put it on the burner at the appropriate time.

She made a lot of wonderful casseroles and soups and learned how to create a spaghetti sauce that seemed to improve the longer she had to wait for me. Her recipe for the sauce reveals her as not just an expert at putting a meal on the table when the family was ready to eat but also as a “make do” cook who was willing to substitute ingredients that she thought would not be rejected by her husband, son and daughter. Her judgment was nearly always good. At least she never had the kinds of disasters I produced from time to time.

Her basic recipe for spaghetti sauce consisted of the first six ingredients listed below. The final seven represent my guesses about quantities of ingredients contained in her note that said something like, “Add some salt and pepper. Anise or fennel seeds and basil if you like them. Thin with water or red wine and smooth it out with some olive oil. If you like the flavor, mushrooms can be added with the garlic.”

As you can see, you can adjust the recipe to whatever is on your spice rack and “make do” with what you have. I think that fennel or anise, basil, wine and olive oil improve the sauce, but it is edible without them.

You can “make do” with whatever you have, so there’s no excuse for not making Jerri’s spaghetti sauce.


1 lb. Italian sausage
1 or 2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 16 oz. can whole tomatoes
1/2 tsp. anise or fennel seed
1/2 tsp basil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry red wine
2 tsp. olive oil
Grated Parmesan cheese to pass (if you have some)


Remove the paper from the garlic and mince it. Clean and chop the onion into a quarter inch dice. Chop the tomatoes into bite-sized pieces, reserving the juice. Brown the sausage in a two or three quart saucepan over moderate heat. Drain the grease if necessary and add the garlic and onion and cook them for about two minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, juice, tomato sauce and paste.

Blend the fennel seed, basil, black pepper and salt in a mortar or cup and stir them into the pan. Stir in the wine and olive oil.

Reduce the heat and simmer for an hour or so. Stir occasionally and add wine, water or tomato juice if the sauce becomes too thick.

NOTES: If you include mushrooms, clean and slice them thinly and add them with the garlic.

I sometimes use a mixture of fennel and anise.

You can take this sauce off the heat when it has simmered long enough to suit your taste, then reheat it while the spaghetti is cooking.

This sauce freezes well and keeps for at least three or four months.H

Vegetarian Pasta Sauce for One

For the last few years, while the rest of our family is devouring the turkey at Thanksgiving or a leg of lamb at Easter, our vegetarian grandson has been treated to a main dish of macaroni and cheese. He likes mac and cheese, but I thought the time had come to make something a little more fancy for his plate at our holiday table.

I first thought about making vegetarian meatballs. There are dozens of recipes on line. However, since we buy the turkey and leg of lamb, I decided that I should not feel bad about buying the meatballs. The problem is finding them at the supermarket. I hated to do it, but I finally asked a clerk if the store had any.

I found out that I had been looking in the wrong frozen food section. Vegetarian meatballs are not shelved with the other vegetables where they belong. Instead, they are craftily concealed next to real meatballs made with honest-to-goodness beef and pork in packages disguised to look like packages of the real thing.

When I got home with the “Meatless Meatballs,” I read the cooking instructions on the package. The preferred method was to simmer the balls in sauce, which was just fine with me. All I had to do was to make a vegetarian sauce and cook some pasta to give Number One Grandson his special entrée for the dinner.

Of course I checked the web for vegetarian pasta sauce recipes and found dozens of them. Most called for adding vegetables. Adventurous cooks used squash, mushrooms, peppers, spinach, arugula, olives, celery, carrots and more esoteric ingredients to add different flavors.

Some of them looked quite interesting, but I was looking for something simple that I could make for one hungry teenager. There were simple recipes, but most called for puréeing the tomatoes and other ingredients to make a smooth sauce. I thought that a sauce with texture might be a better choice, so I decided to work up a vegetarian version of our regular spaghetti sauce sized for one or two servings.

Here is what I did.


1 T olive oil
1/4 cup onion
2 cloves garlic
3 or 4 Roma tomatoes
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1/4 – 1/3 tsp. fennel
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. basil
1/16 tsp. red chili flakes
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 – 1/2 cup green bell pepper
Parmesan cheese


Clean and chop a fourth cup of onion into a quarter-inch dice. Remove the paper and stem ends from the garlic cloves and mince them. Coat the bottom of a saucepan with a tablespoon of olive oil and set the pan over low heat. Put the onion and garlic into the pan and stir the vegetables every minute or so.

Wash and remove the stem ends from the tomatoes and chop them into a quarter to half-inch dice. Add the tomatoes to the pan onion once the onion is translucent. Raise the heat slightly and cook the tomatoes for two or three minutes, then add the can of tomato sauce.

Put the fennel, oregano, basil, chili flakes, black pepper and salt into a mortar and grind them to medium. Stir the spices into the sauce along with a half teaspoon of sugar. Simmer the sauce for about ten minutes.

Wash the pepper, remove the stem and white membrane and chop the pepper into a quarter-inch dice. Stir it into the sauce, bring it to a simmer and cook for four to six minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Serve with meatballs (real or meatless) if you like or as is over ravioli, tortellini or any pasta cooked to al dente. Offer Parmesan cheese at the table.

NOTES: Obviously you can easily double or triple this recipe and also adjust the seasoning to your taste. Don’t succumb to the temptation to omit the chili flakes, as they give the sauce a little zip to contrast with the blandness of the pasta. If you don’t have chili flakes, you can use hot sauce or ground cayenne pepper. You can substitute any kind of sweet pepper if you don’t have a green bell pepper on hand.