Peppe Family Tomato Sauce and Meatballs

I am really excited to share this recipe!  I don’t think I’ll ever share a recipe that goes back quite as far as this one does.  Joseph and Carmella Peppe (or Pepe, as it were) immigrated to America from Naples, Italy in the early 1890s. My Grandfather, Jimmy Peppe, was one of seven children born to Joseph and Carmella as they made their way for awhile in New York and then eventually moved to Columbus, Ohio where Joseph worked in construction and Carmella stayed home to raise the children.  As far as we know this recipe for classic tomato sauce and homemade meatballs comes from Carmella.  I like to think it had been passed down to her from earlier generations living in Naples.  I grew up eating this sauce on a regular basis.  I can so clearly remember my Mom working all day on a Saturday or Sunday to make a large batch, much of which she would freeze to pull out throughout the next few months.  My Mom doesn’t have an ounce of Italian in her blood but she has become an honorary Italian by way of her cooking!  Of my brother and I, I am the child that more resembles my Dad’s Italian heritage and I definitely inherited his love of good “sauce,” as he calls it.  We are known for ladling disproportionate amounts of sauce into our bowl until you can’t even see the pasta.  For me, the pasta is just a conduit to the delicious sauce and meatballs.  The meatballs are packed with garlic, parsley, Romano cheese…perfectly delicious.  The sauce is tomatoey and tangy….not sweet at all.  Two things my Dad and I don’t like are sweet sauce and meat sauce.  Bring on the meatballs, but leave the sauce meatless!  I hope you enjoy this sauce as much as my family does.  The recipe below will serve about 4-6 people.  I usually triple the recipe, freeze the leftovers and get 4-5 dinners out of it for my family of four.

Peppe Family Tomato Sauce and Meatballs (Serves 6-8)


1 28 oz can tomatoes, chopped, diced or pureed (depending on how chunky you like your sauce)

1 8 oz can tomato sauce

1 6 oz. can tomato paste

2 medium yellow onions

20 pieces pepperoni

5 Tbsp grated romano cheese, divided

2 tsp garlic powder, divided

3 Tbsp fresh parsley, divided

3/4 -1 lb ground beef

2-3 pieces white bread

1 egg

1-2 lbs spaghetti (we opt for whole wheat thin spaghetti or angel hair).



Dice all onions and parsley. Cut pepperoni pieces in half.

For Meatballs:  In large bowl, mix together ground beef, bread (wet and ringer out), 1 egg, 3 Tbsp romano cheese, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 Tbsp parsley and about 1/3 of the diced onions.  Mix together with clean hands.  Pat into evenly sized meatballs and make sure all air is out of meatballs.   Set aside.

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For Sauce:  In large pot or dutch oven, brown the rest of the onion (should be about 1-1 ½ cups) and all pepperoni.  Add cans of tomatoes, sauce and paste.  Bring to a simmer.  Add 2 Tbsp romano cheese, 1 tsp garlic powder, 2 Tbsp parsley.  Bring to a low boil/simmer.  Add about ¼ cup water if sauce needs to be a little thinner.  Drop meatballs gently into sauce and cook, with no top, for about 1 ½ hours on medium low heat, occasionally stirring meatballs gently so they don’t burn on bottom.

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*If you triple the recipe like I mentioned earlier, you may need to divide the sauce into two pots before you add the meatballs.



4 thoughts on “Peppe Family Tomato Sauce and Meatballs

  1. David Rickert

    It might also be worth mentioning that 1/2 a cup of Prego sauce has the same amount of sugar as two Oreos. That’s why you should make your own.

    1. Carolyn Barger Post author

      Ha! Thanks for the nutrition update, Dave! Much like salad dressing too, it’s so worth it to make homemade.

  2. David Rickert

    So we made this tonight, and this is seriously the best pasta sauce that we have ever had. Super easy prep too – it didn’t take all that long to put it together. A couple of notes on what I did:

    I used fresh tomatoes instead of canned. According to the Joy of Cooking, 2 lb. of fresh tomatoes equals one 28 oz. can. Seemed to work really well.

    I cut the pepperoni into quarters instead of cutting them in half because I didn’t want to have huge pieces.

    I wasn’t sure based on the recipe what temperature to cook the sauce. I did it at a simmer (which may be a low boil) and that worked. I basically put everything together, started it at a simmer, and forgot about it for a while.

    This recipe makes enough for two pounds of pasta it seems, or at least it makes more than a regular jar of Prego which never seems to cover a lb for us. Plan on having leftover sauce and you might want to buy some extra pasta to make. We froze the leftovers and I’m confident that we will have enough for another pound.

    1. Carolyn Barger Post author

      Thanks so much for the detailed feedback Dave. Yes, simmering is what you want to do. I’ll edit that if it wasn’t clear in the recipe. Thanks again for the reply.

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