I can think of no better picture to accompany this blog post than the one above. It truly says volumes about my heritage, my blood line, my handsomeness, and the true essence of Italian food. I believe this was the first or second time Tony had eaten my sauce, and he has always done so with gusto, as should everyone. Funnily enough, this scungillio is a picky eater (unlike his uncles and his pop), but when it comes to my sauce on pasta, he’s at the table waiting with fork in hand as we put the plates together.
I have posted two tomato-based pasta sauce recipes on here before, and in both posts I made sure to note that they aren’t MY sauce. I have also said that most Italians have their own version of sauce (again, I never heard the term “Sunday gravy” until I saw The Sopranos), which is most likely derived from their mom’s or nonna’s recipe. I am no different in this regard. My mom taught me how to make sauce eons ago, and after screwing with and tweaking the recipe for years, I finally got to my version which tastes like no other I’ve had anywhere. I didn’t even write it down until about 5 years ago; a student wanted to make her boyfriend dinner and asked if I knew how to make spaghetti and meatballs. Writing it down was the tough part because I always had just made it, kind of like singing a tune you’ve known for years under your breath as you work away.
In any case, I truly think that an Italian’s sauce mirrors their soul to a degree, and ’tis true concerning this one. Me? I’m sanguine, sweet, complex, thick, and intense. And so is my sauce.
Another essential element of a good sauce is this:
The pot (and the readiness) is all. Notice how it’s not perfect like a Martha Stewart ad: it has chips in it, it’s discolored, the lid handle’s a bit loose. Yet I swear by this cast-iron beast and it’s importance in making a good sauce. My mom swore by hers, too, which was an ugly olive green monster of a pot that weighed 15 pounds at least. A good pot cooks everything evenly, so go to T.J. Maxx, drop $20, and you’ll have this buried with you when the time comes. It’s a must.
Half of the time, I make a Bolognese-style sauce, which is with browned ground meat in it; the other half of the time I make a marinara, which is sans meat. With either one, you can make some meatballs or sausages, of course, which will add to the overall flavor of the sauce. Personally, I rarely eat pasta because I prefer to make a meatball or Italian sausage sandwich on some good bread. Make a salad to round it all out and everyone’s happy.
One batch will serve 4 to 6 people, usually
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 lb. ground beef, pork, or veal (turkey would work too, although ‘twould be sacrilege), browned and drained (optional)
5 cloves garlic, peeled
2- 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes (or whole peeled tomatoes crushed with your hands)
1 1/2 cups red wine
1 1/2 cups water
(*or enough red wine and water to fill one of the big cans, which is what I do)
2- 6 oz. cans tomato paste
1 tbsp. salt
3 tbsp. sugar
1 heaping tbsp. dried basil
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, depending on your spice-whimsy
and about 3 hours of time
In a large pot (like the one mentioned in my preamble), heat the olive oil over medium to medium-high heat. Add the onions. You need to get them brown, and it takes about 15 to 20 minutes to do it. This is the most important part, really. It’s where the flavor of the sauce comes from. When they’re brown, throw in the garlic cloves and, if you’re using it, the browned meat.
Carefully pour in the tomatoes. Pour the wine and water into the cans and swish it around to get as much tomato as possible from the cans. (Note: I wrote 1 1/2 cups of each liquid above, but I guesstimated because I usually use the equivalent of one large tomato can o’ wine and water, as noted above.) Stir.
Stir in the tomato paste, salt, sugar, basil, and red pepper flakes well. Raise the heat to high and get it boiling. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for about 2 or 3 hours until it’s thick and happy. Scrape the sides of the pot every 15 minutes (or so) so the sauce doesn’t stick to the sides. Taste for salt, dip some bread in there and mangia while you cook-a.
If you’re making meatballs or sausages, put them in during the last hour of cooking and serve them on the side. Pour the sauce over your favorite pasta and pass the parmigiano. Pour some vino, raise the glasses, say it loud, and say it proud:
Acqua fresca, vino puro,
Fica stretta, cazzo duro.
Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.
©Jon Marino 2013