When he was small, my youngest son had a habit of filling his pockets with treasures he encountered in his daily adventures. I didn't always understand the value he saw in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks could one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one was beautiful and important. Life is just like that on a larger scale, isn't it? We gather up the precious bits of our experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you'll find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pockets. Thanks for visiting.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Homemade pasta sauce (inspired by Papa)

When you grow up in a family with Italian roots, pasta with a really good homemade sauce is a frequent, favourite meal, one that everyone looks forward to and enjoys. Some of my fondest food memories involve dinners at my Grandma D's house, where the kitchen always fills with the incredible aroma of her tomato and meat sauce as it simmers away all day on the stove. (These memories also include pasta, gnocchi, and ravioli my grandma makes by hand that are far and away the best any of us have ever had!) At my parents' house these days, my dad is the sauce-making chef, and he works a kind of magic when he makes it. I love arriving at their place after an eight-hour drive to get there, and being greeted by the familiar tomato-garlic-basil smells that mean a delicious dinner will soon be on the table for all of us to share together.

I learned to make pasta sauce in general from both my dad and my mom, and started honing my own sauce-making skills in university. (You can imagine this was a strange concept in the land of living on packaged food, but the idea of jarred sauce was highly unappealing to me after the homemade sauces I had enjoyed all my life!) Just as my grandma's, dad's, and mom's sauces are all different from one another, mine has evolved over the years to include slightly different ingredients and methods. This is my current version of tomato-meat sauce for pasta of any kind.

2 lbs lean ground beef, or stewing beef pieces, or Italian sausage cut into chunks
olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
1 large onion, diced
2 sweet peppers (red, yellow, orange), diced
2 796ml cans of crushed tomatoes
1 796ml can of diced tomatoes
1 156ml can of tomato paste
1 large sized can of tomato juice
sea salt, pepper to taste
finely chopped fresh basil, parsley, and oregano to taste

In a large pot, heat oil over medium high heat. Add onions and garlic and saute until fragrant. Add meat to the pot and brown it, stirring often. Add sea salt and pepper to the pot while the meat is browning.
Once meat is browned, add diced sweet peppers and stir. Cook for a couple of minutes, until peppers are softened.
Add diced tomatoes and tomato paste to the pot and stir to blend ingredients. Add crushed tomatoes and tomato juice and stir all ingredients well.
Bring sauce mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Add herbs to the pot, stir, place lid on the pot and simmer.
Sauce should simmer for at least several hours. (All day is even better!) The sauce will start to smell wonderful after only a short time, and you'll wish it was dinnertime already! Be sure to stir the sauce occasionally while it cooks.
After dinner, extra sauce can be placed in airtight glass jars and then frozen for later meals.

There are other ingredients that I have added to my sauce at various times, before we had to consider picky child eaters and food sensitivities in our meal plans. Try experimenting with a splash of red wine, parmesan cheese, a bit of sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes, and chili pepper flakes to your liking. If you have family members who prefer a smooth sauce rather than a chunky one (like my boys, who are highly suspicious of anything lumpy in their food!), make the sauce according to the directions above, but omit the meat at first. After the tomato sauce has simmered for a few hours, use a hand blender to puree it. Once your sauce is smooth, then you can brown your meat and add it to the sauce to simmer for the remaining few hours.

I still think my dad's sauce is better than mine (and I don't think that's just because food always tastes better when someone else makes it!) If I ever figure out his secret, I'll be sure to pass it on! In the meantime, "Mangia!" -- I hope you enjoy your pasta!


  1. So yum. It always tastes so much better when it's home-made. It's weird how food does seem to taste better when it's made by someone else though if you reckon it's just cause your Dad has a secret then you definitely need to find it out!

  2. In this super frigid cold spell we are in (Calgary -28 deg) I decided a big, homey, comfy pasta was in order and chose this recipe. I took a few pics that I'll send you for your post if you want. I also added some zucchini and eggplant - I like the meat and veggie combo for a nice hearty sauce. Also chose to put Italian sausage and ground beef with a little ground pork (did I say I wanted a hearty sauce?). I have a feeling that 10 yrs ago or more, you gave me this / similiar recipe. IT is great, can't wait to eat it and share with friends.
    Thanks so much!

  3. You're very welcome, Andrew, and yes, I think I remember giving you a similar recipe a long while ago! :) Your version sounds delish! Please do send me your photos when you get a chance. Hope you enjoyed a lovely meal with your friends!

  4. This brought back many memories of your Grandma Helen. When I was a young stay at home mother, living about a block from Helen I struggles to learn how to cook authentic Italian meals. Many times Helen would share her recipes with me. I can still her encouring words saying, now Dolly I know you can do it and she would coach me along. Of course the deal was that I would then put her hair up on rollers. I still manage to cook great Italian dinners from scratch although it's been many years since I have made gnocci or noodles from scratch. I passed along the pasta maker to my daughter Mary.

    Your story made my mouth water. I think I'll put on a pot of sauce, our neighbors just had a new baby and would probably appreciate a home cooked meal.

    Your great aunt Shirley

  5. Aunt Shirley, I loved reading your memories of cooking with my Grandma! She is a truly remarkable woman and an amazing cook. I wish dearly that I lived closer to her so I could learn more from her myself... I miss her in the long months between visits (and I miss hearing her call me "Dolly" too!). :)

    I am sure your neighbours must have really appreciated the delicious meal you made them! Thanks so much for sharing your story.