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grew up eating some form of pasta covered in red sauce at least every other week. Mom’s sauce is a thick and rich flavorful red sauce that sticks to your ribs. 

She made spaghetti and meatballs, rigatoni, mostaccioli, and lasagna with it. The only thing that ever changed with her sauce when I was a kid was the addition or omission of meat or cheese.

I love her sauce—so do the friends and family I’ve cooked for over the years. It’s one of my most requested recipes. 

My spaghetti sauce world was turned upside down many years ago when I met a new friend, Kim Gearin. She made spaghetti sauce from fresh tomatoes from her garden. It was light and fresh and had a completely different flavor profile. It was nothing like my mother’s canned tomato sauce version. 

Plus, Kim topped the sauce with only fresh parmesan cheese and fresh basil—no meat! She served it over thin pasta noodles. It was divine. I knew we’d be friends forever.  The best part about this sauce is you don’t need a recipe or the addition of meat—trust me, you won’t miss it.

I still make my mom’s sauce most of the year, but when summer’s tomato bounty is here, it’s fresh spaghetti sauce all the way! 

Here is a basic recipe for the sauce, but you can adjust it depending on how many tomatoes you have. I’ve made it without fresh thyme and basil. The dried version of these herbs is just as good. Make sure you taste the sauce as you’re making it, adding the herbs and other ingredients in small quantities to taste.

Fresh Spaghetti Sauce

Serves 4

2 tbsp. butter

1 onion, chopped

7-8 medium/large tomatoes, quartered

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp. salt

Pepper to taste

1—2 tsp. sugar

1 stem fresh basil, chopped and divided

1 sprig fresh thyme or ½ tsp. dry thyme

4 servings cooked pasta

Coarsely grated fresh parmesan cheese

In a large saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, cooking until tender; about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes. With the back of a spoon, gently push on the tomatoes, helping them break down. Add half the chopped basil and the sprig of thyme. 

Let the tomatoes simmer and release their juices. With a  fork, carefully remove any tomatoes skins that curl up and discard. Once all the tomatoes have broken down into a very loose sauce, simmer until thickened; about 20-25 minutes. 

Remove the sauce from the heat. Discard the sprig of thyme. Plate the pasta and spoon the sauce over the top. Top with the parmesan cheese and remaining basil. 

Lisa Erickson is a food columnist who loves adventure and food. You can find more recipes at or email her at

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