Jerry Penacoli and me on the set of Daytime. Hard to cook and talk at the same time but it worked out!
So what if the water spilled over? It’s all part of the fun!
In my family growing up, Sunday usually meant a big pasta dinner served family style and we kids could not wait. My first recollection of Sunday pasta, and a love for all things Italian, started with my Grandmother Bertone. I so well remember gathering in her small apartment for a feast of meat, pasta, and sauce. Great sauce. Sauce that would make you eat way more than you needed; sauce that she started in the morning and which would simmer for hours on the stove top, and be lovingly spooned over spaghetti or ravioli, shells, or some other delight. Just the smell of simmering garlic and fresh basil takes me right back!
So this Sunday, as I do on many, I am making my Grandmother’s sauce, but in 30 minutes and with just a few ingredients. I had the honor of making this sauce on DAYTIME this past Friday. (The show will air on Tuesday in about 140 cities across the country.) The above photos are from the set.
For me it’s all about easing, elegant entertaining, and I don’t say that lightly. But I do have a secret: I combine store bought (in this case frozen ravioli) with something homemade. The reason is simple. These days we are busier than in years and decades past. The kids have all their stuff to do and we have ours. Also, I want to spend time with my family and friends and my guests – in the living room or watching the game, NOT in the kitchen. Follow these simple directions and you will have a great sauce that will take you back (or perhaps, for the first time) to Italy, or at least to my Grandmother’s tiny kitchen, where she served food that brought us closer. Not a bad legacy, Grandma. She is missed.
You can easily make this sauce ahead and refrigerate it for a day or two, or freeze it for use another time. It has great legs. I usually start it just before my guests arrive and let it simmer ever so slowly on the stove top until I am ready to serve.
This is dinner for 4 people. Adjust as necessary for more or less.
Buy (don’t worry – it’s a short list):
1, thirty-five ounce can of whole, peeled, tomatoes
Two garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ chopped yellow onion
Olive Oil, a few tablespoons
Fresh Basil Leaves (for the sauce and to garnish the plate)
Fresh Parmesan Cheese
Sea Salt or Kosher Salt, 1TBS
1/2 to 1 TBS Italian spice mix
One pinch of red pepper flakes, optional (adds a bit of heat)
Any kind of Pasta: 1 pound feeds 2 people if you are serving it as the main course, 2 pounds for 4 people, etc. (Yes, I know you may have some leftover but it is great the next day!)
Do try the frozen ravioli. Your guests will think you made them from scratch!
A plastic potato masher. Yes, really.
A wooden spoon. I know, but it’s just so much more Italian.
On medium heat, heat a heavy, large pot. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil and then the chopped onion. Stir the onion for 2 or 3 minutes, until it starts to get soft. Add the minced garlic and STIR CONSTANTLY for a few minutes until garlic browns.
(If your garlic burns at this stage you’re toast. That is why I don’t add the onion and garlic at the same time. The onion takes longer to wilt (get translucent) and the garlic much less.)
Turn down your heat and slowly pour in the can of whole tomatoes. Make sure you do this or your tomatoes may jump out at you, and FUN: use the potato masher to mash the tomatoes! Until you do this you have no idea how cool this is. Fast, simple. Completely smash the tomatoes. This will only take a few minutes.
Add the salt and a few turns of the black pepper mill
Add the pinch of red pepper flakes if you want some heat
Add the Italian seasoning mix
Tear a basil leaf or two and add it
Stir, cover and simmer (a very slow boil) on low for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
TASTE it every 15 minutes or so. Does it need more salt? Adjust your spices carefully. Remember – you can always add more but you can NEVER remove something once you have put it in.
Cook your pasta according to package instructions. Drain, plate, add the sauce, and a few basil leaves for color. Take the Parmesan cheese with a grater to the table and let your guests add their own.
I love this because of the time versatility of the sauce. Chatting or having another glass of wine? No worries, if you keep the heat under the sauce very low you are good for a few more minutes. You will most likely have left over sauce. That’s great! It will be ready for next weekend’s stuffed peppers!
Remember to stir and taste every 15 minutes or so, and adjust spice according to your taste. I hope you guys enjoy this. I loved making it for you!