This meaty lasagna tomato sauce from scratch is the same sauce I use for Italian lasagna with bechamel. It's such a delicious lasagna tomato sauce, I thought to make this a standalone recipe itself.
I'm obsessed with this slow-simmered sauce, so much so that I've started using it as a pasta sauce. This sauce is chunkier than my homemade ragu sauce (also delish!).
What You Will Love
This homemade tomato sauce is the best red sauce for a classic lasagna recipe. You only need about 15 minutes of hands-on time to chop the vegetables and prepare the sauce. The rest of the time it's slow cooking. There's an option in the recipe card to use a slow cooker, which is great for making ahead or on busy days when you don't have extra time.
- Ground beef: I prefer lean ground beef with about 90% to 95% fat content.
- Veggies: I use finely diced carrots, celery, onion, and minced fresh garlic cloves (not shown in the ingredients).
- Olives: Use any kind of olive you have on hand. For this recipe, I use kalamata olives.
- Blended tomatoes: Use blended and strained tomatoes, also known as passata. I buy canned or boxed passata to save time, but you can blend fresh tomatoes and strain them from scratch if you want. Substitute crushed tomatoes or plain tomato sauce. Many of the store-bought passata brands use san marzano tomatoes. Tomato paste is not a substitute.
See the recipe card at the bottom of the post for quantities.
Steps 1, 2, & 3: Dice the vegetables. Sautee the veggies and meat.
Steps 4, 5, & 6: Add the remaining ingredients. Cover and cook on low for two hours.
How To Make Lasagna Tomato Sauce
Peel and dice the onion and carrots. Mince the garlic. Finely chop the celery. Add the diced vegetables to a large bowl. Dice the pitted olives and set them aside.
In a large saucepan on medium-high heat, add olive oil. Add the diced onion, carrots, celery, and minced garlic. Cook for about two to three minutes until the vegetables start to soften.
Add the ground beef, breaking up the clumps with a wooden spoon.
Once the ground beef has turned brown, add the salt, bay leaf, diced olives, and wine (if using).
Pour the blended tomatoes into the meat mixture. Mix everything together and turn the stove to low. Cover the pot and slow-simmer for two hours.
Important: Stir the meat sauce about every 30 minutes. Add a bit of water if it's too thick.
Serve this sauce with spaghetti noodles or homemade gnocchi. Or, use it for lasagna.
Tips and Tricks
- For the best results don't take shortcuts on the cooking time. That's what gives this sauce so much flavor!
- For the best lasagna recipe, check out this Italian lasagna with bechamel sauce. It uses this same red sauce and gives the rest of the steps to make the entire lasagna dish. Thin layers of noodles are sandwiched between white sauce and meat sauce and topped with shredded Parmigiano Reggiano (or parmesan cheese).
- For a good tomato sauce, use good tomatoes! The quality of ingredients matters, so use high-quality tomato puree for the best tomato sauce.
Variations and Substitutions
- Make this sauce in a slow cooker. Follow the steps as written until the final two-hour cook time. Transfer the sauce from a stovetop pot to a slow cooker. Cook on high for 4 hours or on love for 8 hours.
- Use tomato puree, plain tomato sauce, or crushed tomatoes in lieu of blended and strained tomatoes (passata). If making the tomato sauce fresh, the best tomatoes are Roma tomatoes from your local grocery store.
- Substitute spicy Italian sausage (with the casings removed) for ground beef.
- Use a food processor instead of dicing the vegetables. Pulse the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic with 8 to 10 short pulses, scraping down the sides.
- Add fresh herbs, like fresh basil, or dried herbs like dried Italian seasoning.
- Use dried red pepper flakes to make this sauce spicy.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. You can freeze this sauce for up to 4 months.
Yes, the bottommost layer of lasagna has meat sauce. Then add boiled lasagna noodles on top followed by another layer of meat sauce.
Italian meat sauce is comprised of ground beef, olive oil, onion, finely diced carrots, diced celery, olives, red wine, and pureed tomatoes.
The lasagna sauce should be thick enough for the lasagna to hold shape.
Simmer lasagna sauce covered on low heat.
Watch How To Make It
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Meaty Lasagna Tomato Sauce (From Scratch!)
- 2 lbs ground beef 90% to 95% lean
- 52 ounces canned strained tomatoes also known as passata
- 1 large onion finely diced
- 2 medium carrots finely diced
- 2 celery stalks finely diced
- 6 cloves of garlic crushed or minced
- 10 kalamata olives pit removed and diced
- ½ cup red wine or substitute water
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 bay leaf
- Peel and finely dice the onion and carrots. Finely dice the celery and mince the fresh garlic cloves. Remove the pit from the olives, and chop the olives.
- In a large pot on medium-high heat, add olive oil. Add the diced onion, minced garlic, diced carrots, and diced celery. Cook the vegetables until they start to soften (about two to 3 minutes).
- Add the ground beef, breaking up the clumps. Once the ground beef turns brown, add the diced olives, salt, red wine (if using), bay leaf, and blended tomatoes.
- Stovetop method: Turn the stove to low heat. Cover the pot with a lid. Slow-simmer the tomato sauce for about two hours. Stir the sauce every 30 minutes. Add ½ cup of water if needed. See note 1.
- Slow cooker method: Pour everything into a slow cooker. Slow cook the sauce on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours.
- Cook the sauce at a low temperature and check it every 30 minutes. Add ½ a cup of water if needed. The sauce will dry out if cooked on a higher temperature setting. It's important to simmer the sauce on the lowest setting.