Recipe creator here! Personally, what I think really makes the recipe is the use of sweet Italian Sausage, not ground, but links. I remove the casing and cut them in to bite size pieces. I cook that in the olive oil with onions. After several hours in the sauce, the bite size pieces are tender and have absorbed tons of flavor. This truly creates the chunky sauce. You can certainly add green peppers and I often use mushrooms. I typically use it next day to make lasagna or chicken Parmesan.
Edit: The sugar isn't necessary for the taste, but it isn't there for sweetness. Tomatoes contain a lot of acidity and the addition of a little sugar balances it and creates a "smoother" sauce (salt, carrots, and baking soda help as well). Also, a fairly standard size crock pot (5-7 quarts) will work just fine. *If you're having problems with burning, you've added the sugar too early/let it simmer too long with sugar in it. Hope that helps!
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Recipe creator here! Personally, what I think really makes the recipe is the use of sweet...