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Spicy Italian Meatballs w/ Mamaws Marinara Sauce

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My mom would always make my Mamaws marinara sauce and simmer it on the stove all day. It's the one smell I remember growing up that reminds me of home! The sauce is so sweet and savory, I could never figure out the recipe until recently. My mom (now a Mamaw) told me that the secret ingredient was sweet vermouth. It's life changing and delish!

Spicy Italian Meatballs w/ Mamaws Marinara Sauce


  • 3 tblsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 large cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil, julienne
  • 1-2 tablespoon dried Italian mixed herbs
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 cups sweet vermouth
  • Two 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • salt & pepper to taste


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large deep skillet with 2-inch-high sides over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook for 5-8 minutes, and then add garlic, salt and pepper and cook for another 2 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, dried herbs and red pepper flakes until combined.
  2. Add brown sugar and sweet vermouth. Bring to a boil and then simmer covered
  3. Cook over low heat until the sauce thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, 60-90 minutes. The longer you cook the sauce, the thicker and richer it will be. My Mamaw leaves her on simmer for hours.
  4. Once you like the consistency of the sauce, stir in the remaining basil. Adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper if desired.
  5. Add the meatballs to the marinara sauce and simmer until the meatballs are heated through, about 10 minutes
  6. Serve with grated Parmesan w/ meatballs as an appetizer or add to your favorite pasta.

Recipe Tags

This is the recipe for the sauce. To view the full recipe, including the meatballs, you can go to my blog at

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