Quick and Simple Meat Sauce For Pasta

This is a staple recipe to have in your recipe collection – a quick and simple meat sauce for pasta. While the pasta is cooking, the ground beef, onion, carrots, celery and garlic simmer in a tomato sauce to make a quick and satisfying dinner.

Quick and simple tomato meat sauce pasta. Ground beef, onion, carrots, celery and garlic in tomato sauce for pasta.

We all need quick and easy dinner options that are satisfying and delicious. What can be more classic and wonderful than a meat sauce pasta? It’s hearty, rich and flavorful and this version doesn’t take hours to make. In the amount of time that it takes to bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta, your sauce will be ready.

This recipe is based on Bolognese sauce, where the meat sauce simmers on the stove for hours and hours, getting all the flavors to marry together, get concentrated and incredible. I love it, but I don’t always have the time (or the desire, to be honest) to spend that much time developing all those flavors.

I truly think that this quick version of meat sauce is just as great because of a few things that make a big difference. #1 Use lots of caramelized vegetables in the sauce. They really give the sauce so much deep flavor. Cooking them until they are soft, tender and golden is the trick. It will start that caramelization process, adding a natural sweetness and lots of flavor. #2 Season the sauce liberally, during every stage of the cooking process, with both dry and fresh herbs.

Not only is it wonderful the first day, but it reheats really well as a leftover and can be frozen too. It can also be used in tons of other recipes, like an elaborate Lasagna, Lazy Lasagna, stuffed shells and more.

Video of How To Make Tomato Meat Sauce Pasta


  • olive oil
  • ground beef (any ground meat will work, such as ground turkey, pork, sausage, chicken, etc.)
  • onion (yellow or white onion is best)
  • carrots
  • celery
  • garlic
  • canned crushed tomatoes
    • crushed tomatoes make this recipe really easy, but you can use other tomato products too, such as diced tomatoes or whole tomatoes, just blend them in the food processor or blender first. You can also use a tomato sauce.
  • tomato paste, optional
    • tomato paste will make the tomato flavor more concentrated and rich, but if you don’t have any on hand, you can skip it.
  • dry herbs and spices
    • this all depends on your taste preferences, so use whatever you like to season the sauce, such as Italian seasoning, granulated onion and garlic, dry parsley, basil, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, oregano, paprika, etc.
  • fresh herbs (parsley and basil are my favorite)
  • Parmesan cheese
  • heavy cream, optional
    • adding a little bit of cream (or milk/ half n half) at the end, will add some sweetness to the sauce and make it more luscious and velvety. You can skip it, of course.
  • pasta The pasta choice is completely up to you. Spaghetti, fettuccine, rigatoni, fusilli, orecchiette, campanelle, penne, are all great.
  • salt, pepper
Ingredients for meat sauce pasta

How To Make Meat Sauce For Pasta

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  2. Brown the meat. Heat the oil in a large skillet or a dutch oven and add the ground beef. Season with salt, pepper and your favorite herbs and spices. Cook on high heat for about 5 minutes until the meat is browned. Set the meat aside.
  3. Meanwhile, prep the vegetables.
    • You can do this using a food processor or a box grater/knife. For the food processor, coarsely cut the onion into 4 pieces, then the celery and carrots into 3-4 pieces and pulse the vegetables into tiny, even pieces. Press the garlic through a garlic press.
    • A box grater works too 😀. Make sure the veggies are really small, so they cook faster and they will sort of melt right into the sauce along with the meat.
  4. Saute the vegetables. In the same skillet that you cooked the beef, add more oil, if needed, and cook the vegetables on medium low heat, seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook the vegetables until soft and starting to get golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. If at any time the vegetables start to dry out, add a little bit of water to deglaze the skillet and continue cooking. You want the vegetables to get really soft and flavorful.
  5. Add the tomatoes (tomato paste, if using), and browned beef to the vegetables. Season with salt, pepper and lots of dry herbs and spices. Simmer until the pasta is cooked though. Add the cream, if using, and the fresh herbs.
  6. Save some of the pasta cooking water before draining the pasta. Combine the pasta with the sauce and mix, adding some of the pasta water if you need to thin it out. Serve the pasta and sauce with grated Parmesan cheese on top. (I usually use half of the sauce with 1 lb of pasta and save the rest to use another time or freeze half of it.)
  7. Store sauce in the refrigerator, in an airtight container, for up to 5 days. Freeze for 3-6 months.
How to make a quick and easy tomato meat sauce pasta

Helpful Tips and Frequently Asked Questions

What meat should be used in this sauce?

I use ground beef the majority of the time. However, you can use any ground meat, such as ground turkey, chicken, pork, sausage or lamb.

Other ingredients to use in this sauce:

Bolognese sauce is usually made with some sort of pork product, such as pancetta or bacon. Cut it into small pieces and brown with the beef.
You can add some wine to this sauce. You can use dry red wine or dry white wine, adding it to the skillet after cooking the vegetables, cook it on high heat for 5-10 minutes, then reduce the heat to low, add the meat and tomatoes and proceed with the recipe.
I’ve also added mushrooms here, as well as grated zucchini and/or bell peppers.

Can you freeze meat sauce?

Yes! This is the beauty of this recipe. Freeze the sauce in an airtight container or freezer ziplock bag for 3-6 months. It’s so handy to have it ready to be used for many meals.

Use this tomato meat sauce recipe as a foundation for many other recipes.

It is fantastic to be used in Lasagna, Lazy Lasagna, Stuffed Shells, Cabbage Rolls, Stuffed Peppers and more. This is why I make a big batch, because it’s so easy to make more and save myself a lot of work in the future.

Meat sauce pasta - a quick and easy tomato sauce with ground beef, onion, carrots, celery. and garlic. Shortcut Bolognese Sauce

Quick and Simple Meat Sauce For Pasta

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This quick and simple tomato meat sauce for pasta is really satisfying. In the amount of time that it takes to bring water to a boil and cook a pot of pasta, you’ll have the meat sauce finished. The ground beef and caramelized vegetables – onion, carrots, celery and garlic give so much flavor to the tomato sauce.

  • Author: Olga’s Flavor Factory
  • Prep Time: 15 min
  • Cook Time: 35 min
  • Total Time: 50 minutes
  • Yield: 8 1x
  • Category: Entree


  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 11 1/4 lb ground beef
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 46 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 23 Tablespoons tomato paste, optional
  • 2 Tablespoons dry herbs, such as Italian seasoning, granulated onion/garlic, dry parsley, basil, thyme, oregano, chives, paprika, etc.
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream (or half n half), optional
  • 12 Tablespoons fresh parsley, basil, chopped
  • 1/41/2 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 2 lbs pasta (spaghetti, fettuccine, rigatoni, fusilli, orecchiette, campanelle, penne, etc.)
  • salt, pepper (to taste)


  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil to cook the pasta. 
  2. Heat the oil in a large skillet or a dutch oven and add the ground beef. Season with salt and pepper. Cook on high heat for 3-5 minutes until the meat is browned. Set the meat aside. 
  3. Coarsely chop the onion, carrots and celery. Place them in a food processor and pulse several times until the vegetables are uniformly chopped into very small pieces. Press the garlic through a garlic press. (Or you can finely mince the onion and celery and grate the carrots on the small holes of a box grater.)
  4. Add the vegetables to the same skillet you used to cook the ground beef, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 8-10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened and starting to turn golden. (Add a little water to the skillet if the vegetables start to stick before cooking through all the way.)
  5. Add the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste, if using. Season once again with salt and pepper and dry herbs. Add the browned meat. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, covered, for about 10-15 minutes. Add the cream, if using, and the fresh herbs. 
  6. Meanwhile,cook the pasta according to your liking. Drain the pasta, reserving about a cup of pasta water.
  7. Mix the sauce with the pasta and add some Parmesan cheese. Add some of the reserved pasta water, if you need to loosen it up a bit. You may want to use more or less pasta, depending on how much sauce you like with your pasta.
  8. Garnish the pasta with more of the Parmesan cheese.


This sauce is wonderful to serve over pasta, but you can also use it in so many other recipes, such as lasagna, ziti, stuffed shells and more.

Since this recipe makes a lot of sauce, feel free to halve the sauce. However, I recommend that you go ahead and make the full batch and freeze half of it to use later.

I usually serve half of the sauce with 1 lb of pasta.

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  • Marina | Let the Baking Begin!

    Wonderful recipe, we make it when everyone’s hungry and we want something quick. Isn’t this called Bolognese…?

    • olgak7

      The concept is the same as Bolognese, but this sauce is much simpler. Bolognese is made with several kinds of meat – beef, veal, pork and sometimes pancetta. It’s also cooked for hours to get a very rich and concentrated meat sauce.

  • olga

    Olga, What brand of italian seasoning do you usually use? also, how do you get your Parmesan cheese grated so finely? I cant wait to try this! I too am a 12hr night nurse and have a 4.5 month old. I find myself looking for quick freezable meals. Thanks!

    • olgak7

      I don’t stick to a particular brand, Olga. I use a fine rasp grater to grate the Parmesan cheese. You can check out the microplane grater in my Shop under the Cooking Tools category.
      Great to meet another nurse:).

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