It’s such an unlikely source for Italian American style meat sauce, which is simply called Spaghetti Sauce in a compilation of recipes that I generally turn to for the old-fashioned desserts like coconut cream pie.  The cookbook is Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant Cookbook, a compilation of family recipes that highlight this long-standing roadside restaurant in the Shenandoah Valley town of Staunton, Virginia.

The recipe is called DiGrassie’s Spaghetti Sauce, named after Mildred Rowe’s husband, Willard DiGrassie. And it’s so good there’s barely a drop left in the bowl.

The sauce is so good you’re apt to lick yur bowl clean

It bears no relation to more complex sauces that you’re apt to find in the tomes of Mario Batali, Marcella Hazen, Lidia Bastianich or even Rachel Raye (though she would probably love this sauce).

The first time I made it I was skeptical.  The ingredients and cooking method are so basic.  Cans of tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and tomato paste are the backbone of the sauce along with browned chuck, sautéed onions, mushrooms and the final fillip of red wine.  Spices include dried basil, salt, pepper, sugar and parsley.

Instead of simmering the sauce for hours like a Sunday gravy in a large pot with the cover ajar, this sauce cooks completely covered for the first hour, with occasional stirring and the second hour after the cup of wine is added.

It’s become my go-to recipe for a simple family meal that’s so easily made, with methods no more complicated than having a can opener on hand.

AFter 2 hours of simmering in a covered pot you have a rich meat sauce

I think of it as diner spaghetti sauce because it’s like what you might find at your favorite roadside diner or family style restaurant in less urban areas of Maine.  Think Moody’s Diner spaghetti and meatballs but much, much better.

I’ve made a few minor changes to the recipe such as using less olive oil (a few tablespoons) and more onion in the initial stages of preparing the sauce. And sometimes I’ve increased the amount of the various canned tomato sauces, washing out the cans with some water to get every bit of tomato left in the can.

DiGrassie's Spaghetti Sauce

Yield: 4

DiGrassie's Spaghetti Sauce


  • ¼ cup (or slightly less) olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped (or use a medium to large onion)
  • 1-pound ground chuck
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 (4-ounce) cans sliced mushrooms (or use 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced)
  • ¼ cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon (or more) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 cup red wine.


  1. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot and add the chopped onions, sautéing over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the chopped chuck and cook about 10 minutes, stirring often over medium high heat until the meat is crumbled and browned. Use 80 to 85 percent lean chuck; if you like pour out about one-quarter of the rendered fat from the meat.
  2. Meanwhile if using fresh mushrooms (which is recommended) sauté them in a small pan with some olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper until cooked through.
  3. Stir in the minced garlic, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper, sugar, parsley and basil. Add the cooked mushrooms and stir to combine.
  4. Cover the pot and cook over low heat for 1 hour, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. If the sauce seems too thick, rinse out the tomato cans with about half-full cans of water.
  5. Add the red wine, cover and cook over low heat for an additional 1 hour, stirring frequently.
  6. Serve over spaghetti and generously sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese over each serving.
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