Nana Sarullo’s Unbelievable Spaghetti Gravy – Marinara Sauce

I love music almost as much as food.  In Guy Clark’s iconic tune, Homegrown Tomatoes” he details his greatest observation as a songwriter:

Homegrown tomatoes – homegrown tomatoes
What’d life be without homegrown tomatoes
Only two things that money can’t buy
That’s true love & homegrown tomatoes

Nana Sarullo’s Unbelievable Spaghetti Gravy always began with homegrown tomatoes whenever they were in season. That’s right. Sicilians call it gravy, not sauce.  And when they were in season, she mass-produced the gravy and froze it in square plastic quart-sized containers.  She had two freezers in her laundry room, which was actually a second kitchen, attached to the garage.

As a kid I remember helping Nana as she blanched bushels of homegrown tomatoes that she and my grandfather raised from a relatively small garden adjacent to their garage.  I liked using the tomato strainer, but I will admit that it was pretty messy and I probably didn’t contribute much to the process.

It didn’t  hurt that my grandfather father developed Roman Gardens Subdivision in their hometown of Greenville, Mississippi. Mr. Will Billings’ family had previously owned the land and had a barn in one location for over 150 years.  The north section of Pear Lane now occupies the area where the barn was.   My grandfather had a few truckloads of that rich soil from the barn delivered to the garden area beside his garage.  So now you know why the tomatoes were the size of grapefruits and why Nana needed two freezers.

Nana got me interested in cooking at an early age.  I witnessed her using her cooking skill as a blessing to others.  There were always a few extra knees under her table.  Anyone who  knew her, or knew any of her family members, were always welcome.

My sweet Sicilian grandmother passed away many years ago.  I’m proud that my brother Peter and I were able to write-down her spaghetti gravy recipe while she was still cooking regularly.  When I use the word “recipe” here, I mean that we got her to make a batch of gravy and stopped her as she entered each ingredient. We measured each one before it entered the dutch oven.  It was a little awkward for all of us, but we captured it the only way we knew.   Peter and I still use her recipe occasionally, when time allows.

This is what we recorded over 25 years ago.  She made this batch for us using canned tomatoes so we could repeat the process, since we didn’t grow our own tomatoes.


  • 1 – Medium Onion, Chopped Fine
  • 1/2 Cup – Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 10 Ounces –  Water
  • 3 Cloves – Fresh Garlic, Minced
  • 1.5 Teaspoons – Sweet Basil (fresh or dry, chopped fine)
  • 1/2 Teaspoon – Oregano (fresh or dry, chopped fine)
  • 1 Teaspoon –  Salt
  • 1/4 Teaspoon –  Pepper
  • 2 – 18 oz. Cans of Whole Tomatoes
  • 2 – 15 oz. Cans of  Diced Tomatoes
  • 1 – 32 oz. Cans of Tomato Sauce
  • 2 – 6 oz. Cans of Tomato Paste


  1. Saute onion in extra virgin olive oil in a large Dutch oven, until onions are clear.
  2. Add the balance of the ingredients and cover.
  3. Cook on low heat for three (3) full hours.  Low heat means that the gravy will bubble, bubble, bubble slowly.

Practice a couple of times, then use your homegrown tomatoes to replace the canned whole tomatoes and diced tomatoes.

For Your Sunday Dinner

Cook 1.5  pound of your favorite pasta noodles for every 8 adults.

Add a salad from THIS category and you are in for some wonderful Sicilian styled goodness.

At age 12, I was very interested in photography. I took this picture with a Yashica 124 camera and then developed it in my darkroom using a Durst 606 enlarger.

Everyone in this picture was NOT interested in photography, but was interested in eating and ready to eat!  My Nana and Papa are on the right side.

Note: the two vinyl covered chairs on the right side are from the famous YELLOW set.  You can read more about them HERE.

Six adults, nine kids, two turkeys and three bottles of wine.  Hmm.  And it apparently is holiday food, but I guarantee that there’s a boatload of spaghetti about to be served!


  1. Vicki Petro Dantone says:

    I remember eating your Nana’s spaghetti when I was a very young child. It was delicious! My husband’s grandmother was from Italy and I have her recipe, which almost identical.

  2. Jimmy Shamoun says:

    I remember going to lunch at Nana’s with Pete and Peter. Eating her Spaghetti was a real treat. After eating 2 plates she would always offer more. not able to eat another bite, I would respectfully decline a 3rd helping. Pete would always respond,” Whats the matter you dont like Nana’s spaghetti”
    . What a katta!! Miss those days.. Great memories

  3. Elaine Sherman Whitney says:

    I was so excited that you have this website! I love it! This picture brings back so many memories… I am so excited to have these recipes and can’t wait to try them.

  4. mary ruth says:

    I so remember going to nana sarullo’s house with Franci to eat spaghetti on Sundays. then out to play under the big magnolia tree in the yard. such great memories

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