Mama Marie’s pasta sauce

Whether she made it for her famous lasagna, sausage and peppers or stuffed shells, my mother only spared the time and expense of crafting this luscious tomato sauce from scratch when our unwieldy family got together as a group to celebrate something. I have sweet memories of standing on a step stool next to her in the kitchen as she stirred and stirred it in a huge stainless steel pot. She told me stories of doing the same exact thing while her grandmother made this sauce using the recipe she brought with her from Sicily.

Who knows how many generations of Italian cooks made sauce just this way for their families?

2 tbls olive oil

2 cans Hunts tomato sauce

1 small can Contadina tomato past

1 large can crushed tomatoes in puree

My mother told me to be sure each can came from a different company, for a better blend of flavors.

Turn on a very large oval crock pot to ‘high’. Add 1 tbls olive oil to crock and rub, covering  bottom and all sides. When hot, add the tomatoes and stir.  You need to cook the tomatoes before you add water to prevent spattering.

1 whole large brown onion, minced very fine

1 whole head of garlic, peeled

2 stalks of celery, minced very fine

1 carrot, shredded

1 bunch of Italian parsley, chopped fine

3 tbls Italian seasoning or Herbs de Provence

1 tbls  oregano

¼ tsp whole anise seed

¼ cup olive oil.

1 sprig of rosemary

1 small red chili. I’ve used a large dried Poblano pepper, too.

Place a large skillet on med-high and add ¼ cup olive oil. Separate ½ of the garlic cloves and chop fine. Take the chopped garlic, onion, celery, carrot and add to the oil. It should sizzle if the pan is hot enough. Stir to brown. Then crush spices between your hands and add to the onion mixture in the pan and stir. My mother used to say the oil helped bring out the herb flavor to it’s fullest. Continue to sauté until the onion bits are clear and starting to turn brown. Stir the onion mixture into the tomatoes, then return the skillet to the stove.

1 stick of salted creamery butter, cut into cubes (for vegans eliminate this ingredient and add 2 more tbls olive oil.)

2 tbls olive oil

1 cup of good red wine

1 lb medium brown mushrooms, all about the same size, rinsed, patted dry and sliced thickly.

Chop the remaining garlic cloves. Add oil to skillet, then butter. Stir until butter is mostly melted, then add garlic and mushrooms. Stir to coat. Try to keep the mushroom slices flat in the pan and not crowded for better browning. If necessary, brown the mushrooms in batches. When mushrooms are just soft, add wine. Cook for about 10 minutes until mushrooms are browned, then add to the tomatoes.

For vegetarians, eliminate this part:

1 lb extra lean ground chuck

1 lb extra lean ground pork (Italian sausage is the best!)

Brown both meats in the skillet, chopping and mixing them with a wooden spoon. Drain, and add the meat to the tomatoes in the crockpot. Add chopped parsley, chili pepper and stir.

Or, slice the Italian sausages in half, brown, and serve on the side.

Or, make meatballs out of the chuck and sausage and stir into sauce, or serve on the side.

Put lid on crock and cook on high until the sauce bubbles, then add 1 cup of water (or more if it seems too thick), stir in 1 heaping tbls sugar, brown or white, and put the lid on.  Cook for another 3 hours. The idea is to cook the tomato sauce just until it loses it’s bright red color, but before it turns brown. This sauce keeps for a long time in the freezer, but I’ve also canned it for gifts.

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