It seems that every Italian American has "their own sauce" and it's always better then yours. It is generally a Grandmother's recipe and it might contain a countless combination of ingredients including but not limited to ground pork, ground beef, pork ribs, pork neck bones, sausage, wine, no wine, tomato paste, no tomato paste,(if you get the "aggida" then you're best off skipping the paste).
Not only do we stand by our family recipes but we plant the flag of our origin into the sand like Columbus landing on the West Indies. Siciliano, Calabrese, Napolitano, we all have our very special sauce and a very deep pride in its preparation.
It was in this preparation of "The Sauce" that I found myself captivated as a child. Like a magic potion it was prepared without measurement. The base ingredients added by sight and taste along with key words that just make me laugh now that I work in a professional kitchen.
"A little bit of this. A handful of that. Not too much of that. Sprinkle it on till there's a nice layer". Nice layer? How much is a nice layer?
Once everything is added it's time for the stirring to begin. "Keep stirring it!" Dad yells. "I'm stirring it!" I scream back. "He's stirring it!!" shouts a distant voice from the somewhere in the house if only to taunt Dad and add to the anxiety of the room.
Then there's the positioning of the lid. This is the most tense part of the recipe and much importance was put on the lid and its placement.
"You have to put the lid on at an angle! Not all the way on or it will BURN!" Dad would say while looking deep into my eyes as to permanently ingrain this information into my soul. He would also inform everyone in the house of this rule in case they felt the urge to taste the sauce without asking. If the lid is off the sauce will reduce too fast, but if left on all the way the heat will burn the sauce causing a bitter taste that will never come out. This has only happened twice in my life time, the worst being Christmas Day 1992. You never forget when the sauce was burned. It is a waste of a day, causes my father great stress and anger, and is a general sin against God.
So now that the ingredients are in the pot, it's been stirred, and we've all been scolded for something we haven't done yet, (or something my Mother hasn't done since Christmas Day 1992), we wait. You see the wait is the worst part. Once the sauce heats up the smell fills the house almost immediately but it will be hours until you get a shot at tasting it.
Sound familiar, Italian-Americans? I bet it does.
While my family recipe may not have the same ingredients as yours it does share something with all versions... The story.
When I went to Italy for the first time I was shocked that there was nothing like my family sauce anywhere. Even worse, they gave you pasta in little bowls not the giant ones we eat our pasta in at home. The reason for this is that in Italy pasta is the starter, where as in turn of the century America pasta was all many of our Italian families could afford. The recipe was never written down because you never knew what you would have from week to week. My family's sauce has more water in it then most, not because it was authentic to its Sicilian roots but because my great grandmother had to stretch it out amongst her eight children. Now what was once the only thing they had to eat has become our heritage.
Within each changing recipe is the resourcefulness of our ancestors making their way in a strange place. With every taste is a little snapshot of family dinners past. In every twirl of pasta there is a father teaching their child how to hold the fork, (and spoon). Our different recipes handed down by memory is our way of connecting with the past and tasting the same flavors as those who came before us. A real tangible way to touch the past.
I see this now in the food I've been introduced to by my co-workers from around the globe. Their flavors are little pieces of home. Tiny windows to their own past and longing for home.
So the next time you lay out your ingredients to make a nice pot of Sunday Sauce, take a minute to remember who taught you and how you're going to teach those to come. And if you're so lucky to have them around, tell them thank you for teaching you how to do it because no one can make it as good as them.
So here it is. My family's sauce. It's not the best. It's not the most Authentic. And its been changed over the years. But for me it never gets old and it's what has pushed me down the path that has led to an amazing life.
The Arnone Family Meat Sauce ~ feeds 4 - 6 people or 3-4 of my relatives
1 Sauce pot with lid
1 240z Can Whole Tomatoes
2 150z Cans Tomato sauce (reserve cans)
16oz Pork Neck Bones or County Style Pork Ribs
1/2 Onion diced
2 tbsp Garlic Salt (plus some to taste)
1 tbsp Pepper (plus some to taste)
1 tsp Sugar
2 1/2 tbsp Italian Seasoning or (1 tbsp Died basil, 1 tbsp Oregano)
Pinch crushed red pepper
Put whole tomatoes in Sauce pot and crush with your hands.
Add tomato sauce then fill each 15oz can with water and add to pot.
Add dry ingredients until a nice (layer) is formed
Drop in pork.
Stir and put on high heat until sauce comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and place lid on at an angle so that the steam is able to escape and the condensation is returned back into the sauce.
Stir every 15 minutes for 2 and a half hours. Enjoy with what ever pasta you prefer.