Author Archives: Skip

My Grandmother’s Marinara Sauce

Here is my grandmother’s basic tomato sauce. This is the one she always seemed to have on hand “just to color” slices of sautéed zucchini, mix into a pot of beans, or spoon over pasta.

During the summer, she and my grandfather would put up gallons of tomatoes, but when her larder ran out, she wasn’t at all averse to using commercially canned tomatoes. However, with those, she claimed that adding a grated carrot sweetened the sauce and took away the metalic, “canned” taste.

We recently got some affirmation of my grandmother’s practice from a surprising source, the former mayor of Providence, Rhode Island. In his book, Politics and Pasta, Vincent “Buddy” Cianci talked about his own marinara sauce, devoloped to raise money for local scholarships.

“I created the Mayor’s Own Marinara Sauce in the early 1990’s as something to sell at a fund-raiser. It was supposed to be a one-time thing. I made it with the owners of the West Valley Inn. We put in a little of this, some of that, added a pinch of whatever; we just kept experimenting. I wanted it to taste just like the sauce my aunts would make on Sunday afternoons so many years earlier. Their sauce would simmer on the stove for hours as they occasionally added their own ingredients until it was slightly better than perfect. But whatever I added, we couldn’t get it exactly right—until the Old Canteen’s Joe Marzilli suggested we had to add carrots to take away the acidity. Once we did that, hmmmmm, it was perfect.”

My Grandmother’s Marinara Sauce


Olive oil
4 Cloves garlic, peeled, and thinly sliced
2 28 Oz. Cans peeled tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
1 Small carrot, grated
1/2 tsp. Peperoncino (hot red pepper flakes)
4 Tbs. Fresh basil leaves, torn
2 Tbs. Fresh oregano, finely chopped
1/4 Cup flat-leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped
Salt & freshly ground black pepper


Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, then add enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Add the garlic. With a wooden spoon, stir for about one minute, until the garlic begins to give up its aroma.

Remove the pan from the heat and slowly add the tomatoes and their liquid. Return the pan to the heat and begin to break up the tomatoes with either the back of a fork or the wooden spoon. Simmer the tomatoes to evaporate some of their liquid, then add the carrot, the red pepper flakes, basil, and oregano, .

Simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and the clear liquid from the tomatoes has evaporated. Add the parsley and the remaining 2 Tbs. of basil. Cool a spoonful of the sauce and taste for salt and pepper.

Makes approximately 6 Cups (1 1/2 Quarts).

Bailout, Italian-Style

Wheels of Parmigiano

Writing about the evolution of Italian food in America, it strikes us that there is one truly Italian ingredient whose iconic status has survived an onslaught of imitations. Parmigiano has remained constant and integral to Italian-American cuisine. And now, the artisanal producers of what Mario Battali has dubbed [sic] “the indisputed king of cheeses” are in trouble.

Bravo to the Italian government for their plan to subsidize Parmigiano-makers. We also promise to do our part…this is our kind of bailout.

Wall Street Journal Article

Story on NPR

Felice Capo d’Anno

New Year’s Day—even beyond the implementation of all manner of resolutions—is a time to do something, or more specifically, to eat something that will bring luck for the coming year. For Italians, that means lentils with sausages.

Salsicie e Lenticchie

The lentils are said to symbolize coins which the diner can hope to amass in the coming year. And for poor Italian peasants and laborers, the sausage once represented opulence.

Most southern Italians eat cotechino sausage on New Year’s Day. Lavishly spiced with coriander seed, black pepper, nutmeg, mace, cloves, allspice, and cinnamon, this is a fresh pork sausage that includes those proverbial everything-but-the-squeal portions of a pig. Cotechino may very well have been the inspiration for Winston Churchill’s remark that anyone interested in laws and sausages should never watch them being made.

Italians north of Rome eat a sausage similar to cotechino, but butchers stuff the meat into a pig’s foot and call it Zampone.

Unable to buy a cotechino locally, in time for our New Year’s dinner, we hardly felt deprived. The sausages we did serve may have come from a Tampa Bay area supermarket chain, Sweet Bay, but we consider them the equal of the very best sausages we’ve ever had—in Italy and from artisan butchers in New England. In fact, we’ve written before about our fantasy of a kindly old Italian fellow dressed in a threadbare grey cardigan sweater going to Sweet Bay’s corporate kitchens once or twice a week to supervise the making of the sausage.

Our lentils, cooked separately with bay leaves, garlic, and orange peel, finished in the pan with the sausages, were delicious. But with or without sausages, lentils carry the main message. So we hope all our readers have a happy, healthy year. May you and your loved ones share the abbondanza we wish for you in 2008.

Introduction: Part VI

During the halcyon days of supper clubs, clams on the half-shell were dressed up as Clams Casino and Clams Oreganata, appetizers that became popular with the dinner-show crowd. Dishes like Pasta with Clam Sauce and Clams Possilipo had already become fixtures on the menus of nearly all neighborhood restaurants, but the supper clubs served their clams as starters rather than as entrees.

Dining Out in the Fifties
Dining Out in the Fifties

Over time, neighborhood Italian-American restaurateurs took a lesson from their uptown brethren and began offering separate antipasti courses on their menus. While this generated larger dinner checks for patrons and, thus, greater revenue for restaurants, it really was a natural extension of Italian home dining. Families often ate “just a little something” while the pasta water was coming to a boil.

The more upscale Italian-American restaurants went a step further, dividing their menus into separate pasta courses and entrees, but neighborhood places continued to serve their main dishes on a bed of pasta or with pasta as a side dish.

By the 1970’s, cookbook authors like Marcella Hazan, Giuliano Bugialli, and Ada Boni were making us aware of the tenacious regionality of Italian food and cooking. American chefs riding the Northern Italian wave began serving dishes cooked with butter! Suddenly, everything North of Rome was “in.” Sine qua non ingredients like balsamic vinegar and sun-dried tomatoes defined a new class of Italian restaurants. Gnocchi, polenta and risotto supplanted pasta on many new menus. Restaurateurs from Tuscany and other northern provinces, notably Sirio Maccioni and Pino Luongo, presented Americans with a more refined version of Italian food.

But through all these changes, the neighborhood restaurants continued to serve their chicken Parmesan, shrimp scampi, and pasta with red sauce, as though unaware of the phenomenon taking place around them. Gradually, more of them replaced their red-and-white tablecloths with white linens. Rough wines in raffia-clad bottles were pushed aside by more carefully crafted Italian imports as more Americans began to appreciate and order wine. Antipasti had boosted profits, but vintage Barolos and Chiantis made even greater contributions to the bottom line. Yet even with these refinements, the spirit in which Italian food was prepared remained the same.

Despite encroachment from adjacent neighborhoods, dwindling Italian populations, and rising real estate prices, the urban neighborhood restaurants continue to thrive. Their culinary legacy is now more than a century in the making. Most tellingly, their clientele remains largely unchanged—students, artists, tourists, businesspeople, lovers, potential lovers creating a first-date memory, neighborhood regulars… and ever fewer who remember Nonna presiding over the dining room saying, Mangia, mangia!

Next: The recipes…