Love, (Italian-)American Style
During my (very brief) stint as a classic poor college student, I would head over to my grandparents’ house about once a month, to be fed and/or do some laundry. My grandmother, in ever-declining health, wasn’t up to cooking the foods she used to make when I was a kid (a subject that richly deserves its own post), so we’d usually get some kind of take-out.
There was, however, one time (I think I had stopped by to pick up some things I’d left in the dryer last time ) she felt up to the task of making spaghetti sauce. And, just as she did every time I’d ever left her house, she loaded me up with food, including a plastic tub full of sauce, straight off the stove. Seeing as it was still warm when I got it home, it seemed a waste to put it in the fridge right away, so…
I probably polished off a pound of this rich, meaty sauce before I had the good sense to save the rest for later. I don’t think it was the last time she made spaghetti sauce, but it was certainly the last time I remember getting to eat it: standing in the dim pantry of the run-down apartment I shared with no less than five roommates, eating sauce right out of the container with a spoon I’d had to wash before using. Maybe it was just from living on ramen noodles at that point, but I don’t think I’d ever eaten anything that made me so happy before.
And yesterday, after years of trying, I think I’ve come as close as possible to making that sauce myself.
It happened pretty much by accident — in truth, I really just needed to cook some sausage meat before it spoiled — so I’m going to try and recall everything I did, in the hopes of recreating this sauce again later.
- 1 lb. sausage meat (or lean ground beef)
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 4-6 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 1 big handful fresh parsley, minced
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 tbs. red wine
- 1 heaping tbs. sugar
- 2 cans crushed tomatoes
- about 1 can of water (because I couldn’t waste that bit of tomato clinging in the cans)
- salt and pepper
The rest is pretty self-explanatory; brown the meat and then the vegetables, dump in the rest, set it to simmer.
Here’s what I did differently yesterday: I pretty much forgot about it. Seriously, I walked away from it simmering on the stove and started doing something else… and then before I knew it, it was two and a half hours later and my husband was calling from the kitchen, “uh, should I be doing something with this sauce out here?”
I scuttled off to the kitchen, muttering fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck! under my breath, and found the sauce had reduced by about a third. I stirred, skeptical but hoping some of it could be salvaged, and found it was more than salvageable — it was perfect. As close as I’ve ever come to the sauce my grandmother made.
And, of course, I just stood there in the middle of my kitchen, the same as I did fifteen years ago, just eating that sauce with a spoon and being happy.
Great story! Isn’t it amazing how tastes can bring you back? I really want to master my grandpop’s home fries.
Between you and me (and, you know, the 8 other people who might read this), I damn near cried.
That sauce looks perfect! That was a beautiful memory of your grandmother and her sauce. I hope you DO do a post about her. Hell – that’d be a great one-off event “Tell Us About Grandma”!! (You can do it – I’m too lazy.) LOL
Anyway, good post.
That’s a great looking sauce. Bolognese sauce is supposed to be simmered some ridiculous amount of time (four hours maybe?) so I guess there’s something to the whole long simmering and mingling of flavors thing.
“I guess thereâ€™s something to the whole long simmering and mingling of flavors thing.”
Yes. I discovered this accidentally, as the cookbook said “1 hour” and I ended up taking more like 2 hours. Much more complex. I suppose that it’s like really good chili: longer cooking times = bigger flavor.
(Ironically, Kristen, I was just reading my HUGE italian cookbook, which calls your recipe (or a variant) the “shortcut to Bolognese sauce.”)
Linda, The Village Vegetable
when you make fresh sauce, pasta seems to almost get in the way of catching the full flavor. i too dive into the sauce when i take the time to put together an entire batch from scratch! well done. it looks delicious
This brings back childhood memories of my mother’s late Saturday night preparations for our Sunday afternoon pasta dinners. Thanks. Two questions: do you suggest a sweet or spicy sausage meat, and what size of can for the crushed tomatoes?
I used sweet, because that’s what my grandmother always made, but I’m sure you could use either hot or sweet or a combination of the two.
The crushed tomatoes I used were in the big cans: 28oz. each, I think.
I am making this tomorrow; will update with results.