I’ve made a lot of variations of pasta sauce over my nine years of blogging, but I think this latest version wins the title of The Best Weeknight Pasta Sauce. Why? Because it’s incredibly easy and uses only a few ingredients, yet has a wonderfully rich and hearty flavor. I first posted this sauce in my Roasted Eggplant with Meat Sauce recipe, but the sauce itself was definitely the star of the show and deserves a post of its own. In fact, I loved this sauce so much that the last time I made it I found myself digging into the leftovers with a spoon, like it was some sort of chili. I skipped the pasta and just went straight for the good stuff. 🤷♀️
Looking for a vegetarian version? Check out this Pasta with 5-Ingredient Butter Tomato Sauce.
What is in This Weeknight Pasta Sauce
It’s SO SIMPLE, yet so very good. This pasta sauce includes: ground beef, olive oil, onion, butter, crushed tomatoes, Italian seasoning blend, and salt and pepper. That’s it. No fancy ingredients needed to make it taste incredible, and totally approachable for a busy weeknight.
How to Use this Sauce
This sauce is, of course, awesome with any shape of pasta. Or over roasted vegetables! You don’t have to do a whole eggplant like I did in the past, I would love this sauce ladled over a pile of cubed roasted vegetables for a delightful low-carb meal (check out my Roasted Eggplant with Meat Sauce), or you can add a medley of summer vegetables and use it to make our Summer Vegetables in Red Sauce.
Why is it Good for Weeknight Dinners?
This sauce is incredibly simple and doesn’t require much attention as it cooks. What makes this sauce so good when it’s so simple? Two things: butter and a minimum 30 minute simmer. The 30 minute simmer is the key to dulling down the overly bright acidic flavors of the crushed tomatoes and helps caramelize the natural sugars into a deep, subtle sweetness. The butter adds body and a slight creaminess, which again, helps balance the natural acids in the tomatoes. You need both elements to make this sauce. Without one or the other you’ll just have a run of the mill red sauce and, well, that’s just nothing to write home (or blog) about.
The Best Weeknight Pasta Sauce
- 1/2 lb. ground beef ($2.65)
- 1 Tbsp olive oil ($0.13)
- 1 small onion ($0.32)
- 2 Tbsp butter ($0.13)
- 28 oz. crushed tomatoes ($0.89)
- 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning blend ($0.05)
- Freshly cracked pepper ($0.03)
- Salt, to taste ($0.02)
- Add the ground beef and olive oil to a pot and sauté over medium until the beef is cooked through (about 5 minutes). If you're using a higher fat content beef (10% or higher), you may want to drain the excess fat once the beef has browned.
- While the beef is cooking, finely dice the onion. Add the diced onion and butter to the cooked beef. Continue to sauté until the onion is soft and translucent (about 5 minutes).
- Next, add the crushed tomatoes, Italian seasoning blend, and some freshly cracked pepper (10-15 cranks of a pepper mill). Stir everything to combine.
- Place a lid on the pot and allow it to come up to a simmer. Once simmering, reduce the heat to low and let the sauce simmer for 30 minutes.
- After a minimum of 30 minutes simmering, add about 1/2 tsp salt, stir to combine, then taste and add more if needed. The flavor of the sauce will deepen and the complexities will pop once the salt is added. Serve over pasta or your favorite roasted vegetables.
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Scroll down for the step by step photos!
How to Make Weeknight Pasta Sauce – Step by Step Photos
Start by adding 1/2 lb. ground beef and 1 Tbsp olive oil to a pot. Sauté the beef over medium until it’s cooked through (about 5 minutes). If you’re using a higher fat content beef, you may want to drain the excess fat once it’s cooked through. While the beef is cooking, finely dice one small onion. Add the onion and 2 Tbsp butter to the cooked beef, and continue to sauté until the onions are soft and translucent (another 5 minutes or so).
Next, add a 28oz. can crushed tomatoes, 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning blend, and some freshly cracked pepper. Stir until everything is combined, place a lid on top, and let it come up to a simmer. Once simmering, turn the heat down to low and let it simmer for at least 30 minutes.
After simmering for 30 minutes the sauce will be much less acidic and slightly more sweet, but to make the flavor really pop, you need to add salt. I would start with 1/2 tsp, give it a taste, then add more to your liking.
And that’s all! Seriously, SO easy. And while the sauce is simmering away for its 30 minutes, you can prepare your pasta or whatever else you plan on eating with your sauce that night. ;)
It’s the only sauce I need and really, I only need the sauce. Pasta optional. 😂
Ok, why didn’t anyone ever tell me that making homemade pasta sauce could be this simple and delicious? Love this! I only had canned diced tomatoes on hand, so I pulsed them in the blender for a few seconds and then used them in lieu of crushed tomatoes. So good!
So glad you liked it! It really is SO easy! If you partake in dairy products, I’d highly recommend trying out our brand-new recipe for Homemade Alfredo Sauce. Here’s the link: https://www.budgetbytes.com/homemade-alfredo-sauce/
~ marion :)
I didn’t see garlic in your recipe. Is there a reason why you don’t use it?
Hi, Janet! I think the main reason that Beth didn’t use garlic in this recipe is that it keeps the ingredient list extremely short, helping to make the sauce as easy and budget-friendly as possible! But please, don’t let that stop you from adding it to your dish! It will be fabulous and make the dish all the more flavorful. I would add it after you saute the onions. ~Marion :)
Would this sauce turn out with out the ground beef? I want to make meatballs on the side
I’m hesitant to give suggestions that we haven’t tested because they might not be successful. We have some similar recipes that might work out slightly better than this one for your end goal:
I hope that helps! ~ Marion :)
I’ve been working my way through BB recipes this month to vary our routine (I’ve loved this blog and cookbook for YEARS). I didn’t expect much from “spaghetti sauce”— so simple. But YUM! We don’t eat spaghetti often because I don’t love pasta, but this was SO much better than watery jarred sauce! The kids ate it with pasta; I ate it over roasted cauliflower one night and PLAIN the next night, with crusty sourdough bread. This will definitely be a regular. I doubled it so the 4 of us had it 2 nights.
How much pasta is a batch for?
Six servings. That’s about 6 cups of cooked pasta. XOXO -Monti
I’ve tried lots of sauce recipes, but this and the 5 Ingredient Butter Tomato Sauce are my favorite (and they’re easy!). I use ground turkey instead of beef and fresh herbs when I have them. Sometimes I add shredded zucchini and carrots (I got the idea from the Hidden Vegetable Pasta Sauce recipe), and a splash of pasta water to thin it out a little. My family can’t get enough of this, and I don’t think I’ll simmer sauce on the stove all day ever again!
I would like to know can we freeze the sauce for later?
Yes, this sauce will freeze great. :)
This is so good! The first time I made it, I followed directions exactly and it turned out wonderful. The second time, I was feeling adventurous and doubled the Italian spices, added a bunch of fresh garlic and a bay leaf. Both ways, it was flat out amazing. Thank you for a great recipe!
I made this last night and it was delicious. I just love this site. It has taught me how to make decent meals at home without getting take out. It’s saving me money and keeping my sodium down for my blood pressure. I’m definitely a big fan.