The Dichotomous Wife

homemaking in a modern world
101 Recipe Main Dishes Recipe Sauces & Dressings

Basic Pasta Sauce — 101

This is a very basic (what I like to call “gateway”) recipe. Once you’ve mastered this sauce, you can use it in many Mediterranean-style dishes, from Spaghetti Bolognese to vegetarian lasagna — and all stops in between. It’s a great recipe for beginners to have in their kitchen arsenal, as it’s pretty straight-forward, the ingredient list is totally flexible, and it doesn’t take hours to make.

Always make sure to read all recipes through from beginning to end
(and especially my Newbie Notes at the bottom) before cooking!



  • 1 jar of “base” pasta sauce (tomato and basil is best)
  • OPTIONAL STEP: 1/2 to 1 lb of extra lean ground meat (we like extra lean ground Angus beef in ours, but pork, turkey and chicken work too)
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (I buy the pre-minced stuff from Costco — saves so much work!)
  • 1 large bell (sweet) pepper, red or green, chopped
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms (such as Cremini or Button)
  • 1 handful of baby spinach
  • fresh ground salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1-2 tbsp. butter or coconut oil (organic is preferable)



  • Large pot — with a lid
  • Spatula (a.k.a. flipper) or large cooking spoon — make sure it is plastic if you have a non-stick coating on your pots and pans
  • Paring knife
  • Cutting board (I like plastic ones because they can be sterilized in the dishwasher)
  • 1 bowl per vegetable used (so 4 for this recipe, as is)
  • 1 pair of disposable poly gloves (packages of these can be found at any dollar store)
  • 1 all metal knife (highly recommended for cutting meats without worrying about contamination — easily washed/sterilized)
  • Oven gloves or pads
  • Trivet (I like the cork ones)



Wash all vegetables thoroughly and dry them. Peel the outer yellow-brown skin off the onion. Using a cutting board and a sharp paring knife, cut off both ends of the onion and discard. Chop the onion in half first, then each half into 1/4″ to 1/2″ slices. Cut those slices into smaller pieces. (Try to make them “squarish.”) Do the same with the other half and then transfer the chopped onion pieces into a bowl. Next, chop the bell pepper to around the same size, discarding the stem, seeds and inside ribbing (anything that isn’t the same colour as the pepper). Transfer the chopped pepper into a bowl and set aside. If your mushrooms are not pre-washed and pre-chopped, do that now and set aside in yet another bowl.

Put your pot on the stove and turn the heat onto medium. Drop the butter or coconut oil on the bottom and swirl it around until melted. Put chopped onions and mushrooms into the pot. Brown your onions and mushrooms until they look cooked, making sure to move them around often with a spatula or spoon so that they heat evenly. Once done, pop the mixture into an empty bowl.

OPTIONAL STEP: If you are using meat in this sauce, now is the time to put on your poly gloves and take it out of the package using your all metal knife. Be VERY careful with how you handle raw meat — if done incorrectly, you can make yourself VERY sick through cross-contamination between surfaces. Dump it straight out of the package into the pot or pan for this recipe. When done, turn the gloves inside out and place them into the garbage. Wash your hands before handling the other ingredients, just to be on the safe side.

Brown ground beef on medium heat in a large pot until fully cooked. You will need to use your spatula or spoon to stir the meat around to make sure it comes in contact with the heat from the bottom of the pot in an even way. When the meat is completely browned, take pot off the stove and set on trivet. Drain off any grease. Put pot with cooked meat back on medium heat and add cooked onion and mushroom, as well as chopped bell pepper. Add the whole jar of pasta sauce, minced garlic, and salt and pepper. Stir well to combine. (By the way, “minced” means cut into the tiniest pieces you can manage… like really teensy tiny. You will need to remove the outer skin and ends of the garlic first, just like you did with the onion.)

Turn the heat to “simmer” and put the lid on the pot. You can leave this to simmer for an hour, but make sure to check on it about every 10 to 15 minutes and give it a good stir. At the 45 minute mark, add the baby spinach. Stir to combine and pop the lid back on for the last 15 minutes. Remove from heat and spoon over cooked pasta. OPTIONAL: Garnish with grated parmesan cheese and fresh basil leaves. Makes about 4 servings.


Newbie Notes
  • Using a jar of store-bought pasta sauce as your base makes this recipe more economical and speeds things up considerably! (Honestly, only the purists make their sauce from scratch.)
  • Skip the meat and use coconut oil in place of butter for a perfectly yummy vegetarian/vegan pasta sauce.
  • Cool sauce to room temperature and you can portion it off into freezer bags for future use. Make sure to squeeze all the air out before sealing and lay it flat in the freezer — it takes up less space and thaws faster this way.
  • Use a piece of lemon or lemon-based dish soap to get the garlic smell off your fingers. I’ve heard that rubbing them on stainless steel will also work, but I’ve never tried it. (See why I buy the pre-minced stuff?)
  • You can add other ingredients such as diced celery, cubed tomatoes, or sliced carrots to make a veggie version more hearty.
  • You will know that ground meat is cooked through when it’s no longer pink.
  • Drain off any grease into an old soup can or Mason jar if you used a fattier ground meat. (Using a good quality, extra lean meat eliminates this step.) DO NOT put grease down your sink or toilet! (It’ll cause a major clog.) And be careful not to burn yourself!
  • Putting a lid on a simmering pot keeps the contents from drying out due to loss of moisture through the steam escaping.
  • If you find this sauce is too liquid for your tastes, then leave the lid off for the last 15 minutes or so. There’s a trade-off though: now you’re stuck babysitting your pot. Keep a direct eye on it and stir often — to make sure you don’t reduce it by too much and inadvertently burn your sauce.
  • Want to sound all fancy-pants? With the meat included, it is known as a Bolognese-style Sauce. Put it on spaghetti — it becomes Spaghetti Bolognese.
  • Wipe any spilled or dripped grease off the outside of your pots or pans before putting them on the stove to prevent smoke or potential fire. Over-heated fat is one of the top reasons for kitchen fires. No joke. Besides, who’s in love with the sound of their smoke detector going off?
  • I always use poly gloves and have an open plastic bag ready to receive the packaging (wrapper, tray, and absorbent pad) so that raw meat NEVER touches the countertop or my bare hands. Granted, I do operate on the paranoid end of meat handling — but better safe than sorry, I always say!
  •  If raw meat or its juices get onto your countertop by accident, use an antibacterial kitchen spray and paper towel to clean up the mess. Spray the surface and wipe away the meat or drips with the paper towel. Carefully discard in the garbage. Then, spray the surface again and leave for 10 minutes. This is called “dwell time” and will give the product enough time to do its work properly. Wipe your surface clean with a fresh paper towel and you’re good to go.
  • NEVER set a hot pot on your countertop — it will damage the surface or at the very least leave a heat ring that you can’t remove. Always use a heat-proof trivet of some kind.
  • NEVER add water to hot grease — it can spit back causing severe burns. If grease ever does catch fire, DO NOT POUR WATER ON IT. Instead, cover flaming pot or pan with a lid if possible to do so safely — anything metal will do in a pinch, such as another pan or large cookie sheet. The goal is to cut off all oxygen from the fire. If it is more severe, use a properly rated fire extinguisher. For smaller, smoldering situations (e.g., grease gets on stove element and is starting to smoke) smother it with baking soda.
  • NEVER cut or chop anything on your countertop either. Always use a cutting board — that’s what they’re for! (Oh, and never use glass cutting boards for, well, cutting. They will dull your knives over time.)
  • NEVER leave a pot or pan unattended on the stove while food is cooking. You need to be in the kitchen in case of the unexpected! Until the heat is safely turned off, remain vigilant — especially if you have small children or pets.
  • Source: My mom!


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