The Sauce Makes the Difference!

At Lista’s we only served one sauce.  We usually called it spaghetti sauce – or most the time just sauce. We never said “pasta sauce” (for that matter we never said “pasta” it was macaroni or spaghetti).  Our menu had no marinara, no pomodoro, no aglio e olio, no pesto, no carbonara, no amatriciana, no aribiata, just plain old spaghetti sauce.

The sauce was developed first by my Grandfather “Pat” Lista and perfected by my Dad, Vinnie.  It was a smooth, savory, medium thick tomato sauce, not sweet and not acidic with hints of onion, garlic, basil, oregano… and fennel seed (one of the family secrets).

The tag line at Lista’s declared, “The Sauce Makes the Difference” …and it did!

[Note: As will be for many of the recipes on this site, the ingredients are based on what was used at Lista’s in the 50s, 60s and 70s.  Things were simpler then and ingredients were basic – like dried herbs instead of fresh.  You can definitely use fresh herbs and garlic if you prefer.  Also, tomato products have changed over time and what I remember as crushed tomatoes was a thick consistent product that had no chunks or diced tomatoes in it so the finished sauce was very smooth.  I suggest buying a high quality brand of tomatoes for this recipe.]

Lista’s Spaghetti Sauce

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Yield: Approx. 1 gallon

2  28 oz. Cans Crushed Tomatoes
1  18 oz. Can Tomato Paste
7 cups Water
1 cup Diced Yellow Onion
½ cup Olive Oil
1 TBSP Granulated Garlic
1 TBSP Dry Sweet Basil
1 TBSP Table Salt
½ TBSP Fennel Seed
1 tsp Dry Whole Leaf Oregano
½ cup Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs (optional)

1.  In a large non-reactive sauce pot add the oil and diced onions and cook over medium heat until just translucent.
2.  Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and water (using the water to rinse the cans). Whisk together until completely combined.
3.  Add the garlic, basil, fennel, salt, and oregano.  Stir to blend.
4.  Bring sauce to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently and then turn down burner to low and cook, uncovered, over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour.
5.  Whisk in the bread crumbs and turn off burner.  Cover pot and allow to rest at least 15 minutes before serving.
6.  If storing for later use, pour cooled sauce into a covered container and store refrigerated for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
7.  Depending on your use and the size of your pot – you can double or triple this recipe as is and store the finished sauce in the refrigerator, freezer, or in jars following an approved home canning method.

Always remember, “The sauce make the difference!”

10 thoughts on “The Sauce Makes the Difference!

  1. Hi Dan! Thanks for the history and the recipe 😍 Would you tell me though, what is a “non-reactive” sauce pot?

    Cyndi W


    1. Hi Cyndi, When a recipe calls for non-reactive cookware it usually is to prevent a ‘chemical’ reaction from highly acidic foods (such as tomato sauce). In this case the sauce will be simmering for a long time so it is best to use a non-reactive pot. Aluminum, copper, and some cast iron are reactive metals and can impart a metallic taste to acidic foods. Non-reactive pans would include stainless steel (most common), ceramic, and enamel coated metal. Andonized aluminum cookware is also considered a safe choice. Hope this helps.


    1. Hi Sheila, at this point we are only featuring recipes from the restaurant days. Sometime in the near future we’ll explore recipes that meet the current dietary needs and trends. Thanks for being a fan!


    1. Hi Dave, No problem it happens all the time. Yes, a crockpot would work. Cooking time would depend on your particular slow cooker but with sauce (like BBQ) low and slow is better. Let us know how it works for you.


  2. Love this Dan, brings back some memories from what now seems like a lifetime ago. You almost got me, but I think I remember two other sauce offerings on our menu. Red or white clam sauce! Do you remember if this was always on the menu or was it only an occasional special? Dad made an excellent white clam sauce – I make it at home sometimes but am not sure I am doing it the same as he did. How about posting that recipe someday?


    1. Bill, you’re right we did offer clam sauce, and Dad’s was excellent. I’ll plan on posting about that in the future. Thanks for the memory and keep reading and commenting.


  3. Hi Dan, saw this recipe when you first published it and haven’t bought sauce since. It’s easy and delicious ! Brings back happy memories of eating at the restaurant during my college years!
    I’ve made the pasta salad and it was excellent as well.


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