Here is my family's recipe for the long-simmering tomato sauce that you see people eating in every movie about Italian Americans. There's a reason they are all eating it...because it's so damn awesome. In fact, I will no longer watch one of my favorite movies of all time -Goodfellas- unless I have this spaghetti on hand, or on the stove at least, because otherwise, I'll get to the part when they are making sauce in prison, and I'll need some. I'll write out the whole recipe, but really, I can synopsize it like this: Put some kind of beef or pork product in a pan and brown it in olive oil, then add some kind of tomato product (sauce, paste, puree, juice, whatevs) and just let it all cook over low-ish heat for at least 4 hours. You can add garlic, basil, oregano, and sugar, but if you forget, which I have done on more than one occasion, it will still be amazing. Really, the only ways you can screw it up are if you a) burn it, or b) don't cook it long enough. You can use whatever meat you want: italian sausage, pork chops, country style ribs, braciole (which is rolled beef), meatballs, pepperoni, etc. etc. You can use all those things or just one, or whatever combo.
Okay, here is the step-by-step recipe, handed down from my paternal great-grandmother Speranza to my grandmother Bette, although I'm copying a recipe that is in my mother's words.
1 flank steak (or top or bottom round)
2 lbs ground beef
Italian bread crumbs
2 big cans tomato sauce
1-2 small cans tomato paste
one paste-can of water
garlic, minced, plus 2-3 cloves cut into big chunks
dried oregano, optional
Pound flank steak on both sides. Sprinkle with minced garlic, basil, and oregano. Roll up and tie with white cotton string. Meanwhile, brown chunks of garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil and remove. Add rolled flank steak and brown on all sides. Turn down heat and add sauce, paste, water and more seasonings to taste (about 1 Tbs of each).
You will learn that exact amounts don't matter too much, but here is the essential thing: cook this a looooong time. Joe's dad [this would be my grandfather] says it must be cooked at least 4 hours or the sauce will taste "fresh" (God forbid!). Just keep checking to makke sure it tis not cooking down too fast or sticking. You can always add a little more water. Sauce should be just simmering.
After flank steak has been simmering in the sauce for a couple of hours, make the meatballs: put meat in a bowl, add a couple of eggs, a half cup of bread crumbs, plus a tablespoon of milk. Just keep adding these ingredients until the meatball are kind of loose but they'll stick together. Make them any size you like but they'll take longer to cook if they are bigger - duh. Put them in a big roasting pan that you've oiled with a little olive oil. Bake them in 350 degree oven until they are pretty brown. Then take them out and put them in the sauce for the last hour and a half or so --not too much longer or they will really fall apart. After at least 4 hours, cook the pasta of your choice. When it is done, remove the flank steak (braciole) from the sauce, cut away the string and cut into slices. Put meat on a serving dish and ladle a little sauce over it. Drain pasta and put in bowl mixed with some of the sauce. Put extra sauce in a little pitcher at the table.
You can add or subtract ingredients from this recipe - it is impossible to ruin unless you burn it or make the sauce too watery. You can add chunks of pepperoni, which will make it a little spicy. Use Italian sausage instead of or in addition to the braciole. I have even made it vegetarian -- I just put more olive oil in when I browned the garlic and cooked it down for hours. You can also use dried red pepper flakes. You may want to double the amount of sauce if you're serving lots of people or if you want lots of leftovers. Leftovers the next day - meatball sandwiches, yum!