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Nana’s Pasta Sauce

Nanas pasta sauce with meatballs and spaghetti on a plate.

Nana’s Pasta Sauce

Submitted by Nikki Riccelli-Tygard, inspired by her parents, Nicholas Domenico “Nick” Riccelli (1924-90), Theresa Grace Ausilio Riccelli (1925-2024), and her “Nana” Rachel Scarcello Ausilio (1895-1989), stewards of the ‘Ausilio Thin Skin Italian’ heirloom pepper donated to Seed Savers Exchange.

Nana in the chair with Nikki (right) and Christine Riccelli (left).

“I fondly remember my adorable Nana spending time with my father, Nick, in the kitchen, showing him how to prepare authentic Calabrian family dishesthe room would fill with the rich aromas of her tomato sauce, fresh herbs, and our heirloom peppers from the garden that both my Nana and Tata, Giovanni “John” Ausilio, tended with the help of my aunts and uncle,” says Nikki. “The recipe below is how I prepare the sauce for one pound of pasta. I often double or triple the recipe when having family and friends over for an Italian dinner. It is simple to make and delicious. Since this is a tomato-based pasta sauce, it is easy to freeze for later use.”

Nick (left) and Nikki (right) Riccelli.


1 to 2 cloves of garlic, finely diced or minced

1 to 2 ‘Ausilio Thin Skin Italian’ peppers, chopped (roasted peppers are also an option)

A pile of red peppers with short green stems. A round, green and white USDA Organic sticker is in the lower left corner
Ausilio Thin Skin Italian Pepper – Shop now

1 carrot, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

½ onion, diced or minced

¼ cup of red wine

2 tablespoons sugar 

1 6-ounce can tomato paste

1 15-ounce can tomato sauce 

1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 to 2 pinches of crushed ‘Ausilio’ pepper flakes (or crushed red pepper)

1-2 bay leaves

2 pinches of fresh basil, chopped (or sweet basil) 

Salt and black pepper to taste



Add three tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add chopped vegetables (carrot, celery, ‘Ausilio’ peppers, and diced onions) and sauté until soft. Stir in entire cans of crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste, and cook for 10 minutes.

Next, add water a little at a timefor each can (one each of crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste added to the sauce), fill the can with water and add to the pot. Add garlic, red wine, salt, and black pepper. Mix in one tablespoon of white sugar, then mix all ingredients, and then partially cover the pan with the lid. Simmer on low heat for 2.5 to 3 hours. Continue to check on sauce, stirring every 15 to 20 minutes.

Be sure to check and make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the potdo not burn the sauce. Add another tablespoon of white sugar. If the sauce is too tart for your taste, feel free to add a little more sugar.

Save the fresh basil, pepper flakes, and bay leaves to add to the pot last. Simmer and stir often on low for an additional 10 to 15 minutes.

Taste and then season with additional salt and black pepper if needed. Pour over your favorite pasta and serve. Remember to include some Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, fresh Italian bread, and vino!

Optional: I also love to add meatballs to the sauce once all of the above ingredients have had a chance to simmer for 30 minutes. Lightly brown the meatballs first in a separate pan for a few minutes. While still uncooked inside the meatball, add the meatballs to the sauce to simmer until done (an additional two hours). If you’d like to try adding bacon; add 5-6 ounces of diced bacon before you add the chopped vegetables.