Recipes from Aunt Lena’s Cucina

Spaghetti Gravy

May 10, 2023 | Recipes

Spaghetti Gravy

Prep Time: 15 minutes | Cook Time: 2 hours

Yields about 4-6 cups (enough for a pound of pasta)

Spaghetti Gravy, or “sauce” if you’re a fancy pants chef, is a staple in Italian cuisine. So, it’s not surprising Aunt Lena has her very own take on the traditional recipe. As Aunt Lena often says, “You gotta make your own gravy!”


2-3 Tbsp. olive oil

1 very large onion, finely chopped 

2 Cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 large handful of fresh parsley, chopped 

1 Tsp. dried oregano

1/2 Cup fresh basil, chopped 

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/4 Cup of water (you may end up using less) 

1 Lb. of minced beef (optional for meat sauce variation) 

6-oz. Canned tomato paste 

1-2 Cups of stock, chicken, beef, or vegetable all work 

28-oz Canned tomato puree 

Gravy, or sauce, is like life’s blood. Without it, all the Italians would perish! No wonder this is the first thing Aunt Lena teaches us to make in her cookbook, Aunt Lena’s Cucina

A.L. believes that you have to make your own gravy in life because the store-bought kind that comes in a jar just never tastes quite right. Spaghetti gravy is just like you – different and special – not like anyone or anything else. Just like in life and happiness, you got to find it yourself. If you don’t make your own gravy, no one will do it for you. It’s a hard fact of this life, but it’s so true! 

A.L.’s Italian-American heritage is where she learned these life lessons, and the recipe for her infamous Spaghetti Gravy! This recipe is so good, it’s inspired the creation of songs, a cookbook, and even tattoos. Versatile and good with just about anything, get to makin’ this sauce! 

Cooking Directions:

  1. Put the chopped onion, garlic, and parsley in a large gravy pot with the water. Bring to a boil and continuously stir until the water has evaporated. Don’t let it burn! 
  2. Once the water has evaporated, add the olive oil. 
  3. (Optional step.) Add the beef and brown it well. 
  4. Once the meat is browned, add the tomato paste and brown while continuously stirring. 
  5. Mix in tomato puree, oregano, basil, salt, pepper, and 1 + 1/2 cups of stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about two hours. 
  6. You don’t want it too soupy and loose, but if it seems too thick, add more stock. If it is too soupy, uncover and continue to simmer. It will continue to thicken as it cooks. 
  7. Stir occasionally as it cooks. 
  8. Serve with pasta, use as a dip, spread on sandwiches, or however else you use Spaghetti Gravy! 

Notes from the Kitchen:

  • If your grocery store doesn’t carry tomato puree, make your own! Either use homegrown tomatoes, store-bought, or canned. Either chop them finely by hand. or put them in a food processor for quicker pureeing. *Do not use canned tomato sauce! 
  • Homemade stock is best, but storebought works just as well. 
  • The longer the better! Depending on your time available, extend the cooking time at a slightly lower heat to really accentuate the flavors. 
  • Add any meat for just as delicious of a result. Even fish! For vegetarian options, use vegetable stock and serve with your favorite veggies instead. 
  • It’s even better the next day! This is a great recipe for making ahead so you always have the best homemade gravy on hand and ready to go. 

This recipe is from Aunt Lena’s Cucina, Anne-Louise and Aunt Lena’s very own cookbook! A.L.’s motto when it comes to food is Eat to Live and Live to Love, and that’s the underlying message of the wonderful collection of Italian-American recipes included.

Not surprisingly, these simple-to-prepare family recipes make perfect sense in a world where everyone is concerned about nutrition and a healthy way of life. Good food, good life, and love are intertwined in every recipe. We all need food, life, and love. Who better to give us all a helping hand than Aunt Lena herself?!

Contact Anne-Louise to inquire about getting your very own copy of Aunt Lena’s Cucina.