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Ultimate Hearty Italian Sausage Meat Sauce

by | Jul 16, 2021 | Recipes

This Italian Sausage Meat Sauce is a rich, hearty sauce of Italian sweet sausage, crushed tomatoes, and a hint of crushed red pepper. It’s the perfect meat sauce to layer in a lasagna or serve over a bed of your favorite pasta.

Photo of a bowl of pasta in foreground with spices and table setting in background.

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Are you looking for a meat sauce that doesn’t require hours and hours on the stovetop to develop a deep, rich meaty flavor? If you said yes, then you’ve come to just the right place! My Italian Sausage Meat Sauce is not only easy to prepare and full of flavor, but it’s got a touch of heavy cream to give it a velvety smooth mouthfeel that adds to its richness.

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INGREDIENTS    SWAPS    TIPS & TRICKS    HOW-TO    RECIPE

From Jarred Sauce to Homemade

I started out making a bolognese that got better and better over the years as I tweaked and refined the ingredients list and ratios of everything. But, I always wanted a richer, meatier flavor without having to add more meat (because I was cheap-ha!).

As luck would have it, it took just one instance where I didn’t have any my usual ingredients on hand that lead to finding my holy grail. Lacking any ground beef  in the house, I decided to give it a go with some Italian sausage I had on hand.

I hadn’t ever considered using sausage before (not sure why lol). I wondered if the sausage would give the tomato sauce the deeper meaty flavor that I’d been searching for every time I made bolognese.

Turns out, the Italian sausage does impart a richer, meatier flavor to the tomatoes the longer it cooks! So, from that point forward, I started making different various with whatever I had on hand in the kitchen. I finally came across a combination that was too good to not write down the ingredients and measurements.

Photo of a large pot of italian sausage meat sauce with jars of seasonings and a wooden spoon on a spoon rest in the background.

A Flavorful Timesaver That Everyone Loves

These days, my bolognese takes a back seat and this Italian Sausage Meat Sauce is my go-to sauce any time we want pasta or lasagna. This recipe is a resourceful timesaver for any home cook because it’s pretty flexible and still always yields delicious results.

  • You can make this Italian Sausage Meat Sauce with fresh or canned tomatoes.
  • It’s great to make ahead of time as the flavor gets better over time.
  • It reheats very well (even in the microwave), making it excellent for meal prep.
  • It takes just over an hour to make (including prep time), so it’s very quick compared to a typical meat sauce.
  • And, best of all, it freezes beautifully so you can make a big batch and freeze portions of it for later use.

So far, this sauce has been a hit with everyone who’s tried it—including members of my family who are picky eaters or known for criticizing other people’s cooking. As if that wasn’t enough proof to me that I needed to share this recipe with you, I realized I had a winner on my hands when this conversation happened:

Me:  I’m really tired and don’t have the energy to make sauce from scratch tonight. Will you be ok if I just use the jarred stuff?

Picky Italian-American BF:  Sure, but I like your version better.

Gonna try out this recipe?

Leave a star rating or review in the comments to let me know what you think!

Ingredients For Ultimate Hearty Italian Sausage Meat Sauce

  • Italian Sausage – I like to use the sweet kind in this recipe and then add crushed red pepper on my own so that I can control the heat level.
  • Canned Crushed Tomatoes – The crushed tomatoes provide some texture to this Sausage Meat Sauce. I typically use canned tomatoes in this recipe most of the year, even though it’s also easy to make with fresh tomatoes.
  • Canned Tomato Sauce – The tomato sauce brings a sweeter, deeper tomato flavor to the pot that complements the crushed tomatoes.
  • Onion – I like to use sweet onions in this sauce, but you can use any you have on hand.
  • Red Bell Pepper – I prefer to use red bell peppers over green ones. I think that green bell peppers bring too much of a grassy taste to the dish, whereas red peppers lend their natural sweetness to help balance out the acidity of the tomatoes.
  • Reduced Sodium Beef Broth – Using beef broth amps up the meaty flavor in this Sausage Meat Sauce. Make sure to use the reduced sodium kind though so that the sauce isn’t overly salty.
  • Italian Seasoning – A small amount does the trick to impart big flavor.
  • Dried Basil – Basil brings a sweetness to pasta sauce that I like to noticeably taste, so I like to add extra dried basil to this sauce.
  • Dried Oregano – While the Italian seasoning includes oregano, it’s another element that I like to amplify in my pasta sauces.
  • Garlic Powder – I’m a big lover of garlic, so this meat sauce always gets a touch. It’s a complementary element that enhances the balance between sweet and savory.
  • Crushed Red Pepper – I like to bring a little heat to the party, just enough to get a sense of it, but not enough to overpower.
  • Heavy Cream – A touch of heavy cream brings an added richness to this Sausage Meat Sauce that puts it over the top for me. It helps mellow the acidity of the canned tomato sauce and crushed tomatoes, and it gives the sauce a velvety smooth consistency.

Pin this recipe to make later!

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Ingredient Swaps & Variations

  • Hot Italian Sausage – If you like some heat, I would use the hot sausage and still keep the added crushed red pepper in the sauce.
  • Fresh Garlic – Swap out the garlic powder for fresh garlic if you’re a true garlic lover.
  • Fresh Herbs – If you love an herby pasta sauce, swap out the dried herbs for fresh ones.
  • Half and Half – You can easily use half and half in place of heavy cream and still bring a good deal of creaminess to this sauce.

Recipe Tips & Tricks

Adjust the Heat – If you don’t like heat, leave out the crushed red pepper. However, if you like a noticeably spicy sauce, then I recommend doubling or tripling the amount of crushed red pepper called for in the full recipe below.

Make the Sauce Smoother – Replace the canned crushed tomatoes with pureed tomatoes. Or, use the crushed tomatoes and blend them up in a standard blender or in the pot using an immersion blender. You could also do the blending after the sauce is fully cooked if you like.

Make it Chunkier – Replace the canned crushed tomatoes with diced tomatoes.

Photo of a bowl of pasta topped with italian sausage meat sauce and shredded cheese.

Recipe Notes

Storage – Store leftover Italian Sausage Meat Sauce in an airtight glass or plastic container in the fridge. Leftover sauce will last up to 7 days.

Freezing – This sauce freezes wonderfully. Freeze in an airtight container or ziploc bag. Frozen sauce will last up to 3 months.

Reheating – Leftover sauce from this recipe reheats well both on the stove top and in the microwave.

Servings & Nutrition – One serving of this Italian Sausage Meat Sauce is 1/2 cup. This recipe makes 14 servings. Each serving has approximately 152 calories, 7 g of carbohydrates, 8 g of protein, 11 g of fat, and 4 g of sugar. For the full recipe and additional nutritional information, please see the recipe card below.

How to Make Italian Sausage Meat Sauce

Step 1. Combine Italian seasoning, dried basil, dried oregano, and crushed red pepper into a small bowl. Then, set aside.

Step 2. In a large pot over high heat, add Italian sausage and cook until brown. Break sausage up into bite-sized pieces or smaller.

Step 3. Add onions and bell pepper to pot and cook until the onions are clear.

Step 4. Sprinkle ½ of seasoning mix over the meat and veggies. Then, stir to evenly coat the mixture. Let the spices cook a few minutes while stirring—this will allow the spices to bloom in the fat of the cooked sausage. Then, add in the tomato sauce and stir the mixture to combine well. Continue cooking a few minutes while stirring.

Step 5. Reduce heat to medium high. Then, add in the crushed tomatoes, beef broth, and remaining seasoning mixture. Stir to combine and cover the pot with a lid. Bring sauce to a boil and continue cooking about 10 minutes.

Step 6. Reduce heat to low and remove lid. Then add in heavy cream, stirring well to thoroughly combine. Continue simmering another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Macro photo of bowl of pasta topped with italian sausage meat sauce, fresh basil, and shredded parmesan cheese.

If you make this recipe, tag me in your photos on Instagram—I love seeing what you guys decided to make!

Frequently Asked Questions

I want to use fresh tomatoes instead of canned. How many tomatoes will I need for this sauce?

If you’ll be using beefsteak tomatoes, I would suggest 3-4 large sized tomatoes. If you’ll be using Roma (“plum”) tomatoes, I would suggest 8-10 medium to large sized tomatoes. Dice them into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch cubes and remove as much of the seeds as possible before adding the tomatoes into your sauce.

I’ve seen lots of recipes that add sugar to the sauce. How come yours doesn’t?

The simple answer is because I don’t like it in my sauce. When I relied on the jarred stuff, the one I always gravitated to had less sugar. I didn’t even realize this until I started looking at the labels. So when I started making my own sauce, I just left it out completely and ended up liking the sauce even better. If you my sauce is too acidic for your taste, I suggest adding white sugar to the sauce in increments of 1/4 teaspoon until you reach a balance of acidity and sweetness more to your liking.

Other Recipes You May Enjoy

macro shot of bowl of pasta topped with italian sausage meat sauce, fresh basil, and shredded parmesan cheese

Italian Sausage Meat Sauce

Yield: 7 cups
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 55 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes

This rich, hearty sauce of Italian sweet sausage and crushed tomatoes has just a hint of crushed red pepper. It’s the perfect meat sauce to layer in a lasagna or serve over a bed of your favorite pasta.

Ingredients

  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 1 small red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 1/4 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 8 oz reduced sodium beef broth
  • 1 8 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 lb Italian sausage
  • 1/4 c heavy cream

Instructions

1. Combine Italian seasoning, dried basil, dried oregano, and crushed red pepper into a small bowl. Then, set aside.

2. In a large pot over high heat, add Italian sausage and cook until brown (approximately 5-7 minutes). Break sausage up into bite sized pieces or smaller.

3. Add onions and bell pepper to pot and cook until the onions are clear (approx. 5-7 mins).

4. Sprinkle ½ of seasoning mix over the meat and veggies. Then stir to evenly coat the mixture. Let the spices cook 2-3 minutes while stirring.

5. Add in tomato sauce and stir mixture to combine well. Continue cooking 2-3 minutes while stirring.

6. Reduce heat to medium high. Then, add in the crushed tomatoes, beef broth, and remaining seasoning mixture. Stir to combine and cover the pot with a lid. Bring sauce to a boil and cook for 15 minutes.

7. Reduce heat to low and remove lid. Then add in heavy cream, stirring well to thoroughly combine. Continue simmering another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 14 Serving Size: 1/2 cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 152Total Fat: 11gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 23mgSodium: 426mgCarbohydrates: 7gFiber: 1gSugar: 4gProtein: 8g

This nutrition data is provided and calculated by Nutritionix. Please keep in mind that your specific nutritional values may vary based on the brand of ingredients you use to make this recipe.

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Hey there! I’m Krystal, the sassy-mouthed, self-taught, home cook behind the content here at Sweet, Savory & Sassy. I have a deep love for sharing food with people and showing folks just how easy it really is to make dishes that will bring a little extra joy to those you love. There’s nothing like making something special for friends and family and seeing their face light up in delight during that first bite!
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