Spaghetti-Ah Sauce-Ah

This weekend, I am running away. My wonderful husband gave me an awesome Christmas gift this year – I’m going to Vegas to see CHER!! And no boys allowed, either! Just me and my amazing friend Jeanette. We always have a good time together, and we’re both ready for a little reprieve. No laundry, no cooking, no cleaning, no running to Wal-Mart. So while we are rocking out to “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,” you can make something yummy for your tummy. 

The name for this recipe comes from the way my great-grandmother, Nonna Ida (ee-dah), pronounced things – Spaghetti-ah Sauce-ah. She was the quintessential Italian grandmother. Made everything from scratch, gave the most bosom-squishy hugs, loved all of us, and didn’t take any crap from anyone. She even did that thing where they throw their slipper at you because they can’t get to you fast enough to give you a smack. (She never did that to me, I was of course a little angel who never did anything wrong. Or maybe I was just the right amount of scared of her. I think it was one of my cousins or uncles who got the shoe. If I had to guess, my cousin Michael or Uncle Marc.)

This may not seem like a quick recipe, but it has saved me more time over and over again. And by now, it’s easy for me to make since I’ve done it so often. Once you get everything in the pot, all you have to do is boil some pasta, and that’s it. And I make enough to have leftovers the next day – cook once, eat twice! It’s my family’s favorite.
This recipe has been handed down in my family for generations. We all put our own spin on it, and here’s how I make mine:

(I have to apologize in advance for my food photography. Haven’t quite figured that one out yet. Besides, I have yucky fluorescent lighting in my kitchen. If you have any photo tips, I’d love to hear them.)


Olive Oil – Extra virgin, baby.
1 large onion, chopped
3-5 cloves of garlic, peeled, smashed, and chopped
1 carrot, shredded
1 stalk of celery, chopped fine

2 lbs. lean ground beef (you can do half beef and half sausage for richer flavor, or ground turkey or chicken to keep it on the light side. It’s all good.)
1+ Tbsp Italian seasoning
about 1-2 tsp kosher salt (start with 1, then add to taste after all ingredients are together)
fresh ground black pepper
a small dash of cinnamon
1 can tomato paste (I use Contadina or Progresso)
¼ – ½ Cup of red wine
Fresh Basil leaves, if you have them (julienne and throw on top before serving)

2 large cans whole peeled tomatoes, in juice.  This is the secret!  You have to use the whole peeled tomatoes – before adding them to the sauce, chop them (not too chunky, not too thin) in the blender, food processor, or right in the can if you have a stick blender. If using a blender or processor, drain the tomatoes first, but save the juice.  The whole tomatoes make the sauce taste FRESH.  Make sure the canned tomatoes are packed in juice, not in tomato puree; puree will make it thicker, but the taste is not as fresh.  

So, get a good, heavy pot and heat it over med-high heat, just a couple of minutes.  Add Olive oil.  (If it smokes, the pan is too hot and you will burn the garlic.  We do not want to burn the garlic!  Take the pan off the heat so it will cool)  Throw in your onion, carrot, and celery, and saute for a few minutes, then add the garlic.  You can add a pinch of the salt here to loosen up the veggies.  When they are translucent, add the meat, and let it brown.  When the meat is almost done, add the spices.  Rub the dry Italian seasoning together in your palms as you add it; this will bring out the aroma.  The cinnamon should just be a tiny shake. Half a pinch, at most.  It flavors the meat, but you don’t want it to taste like cinnamon, got it?  Okay, when the meat is brown, turn down the heat just a notch, and add the tomato paste.  

Stir it into the meat, and mix it all up.  After a couple of minutes, it will go from a reddish color to a brownish color.  This is when you add the wine.  Ahhhh! It smells so good!  Stir it up (little darling), and scrape the bottom of the pan.  It will deglaze the pan, and cut the acid of the tomatoes.  Then add the tomatoes with their juices.  Let it simmer about 20-30 minutes.  You can leave it on low while dinner is being served, in case anyone wants seconds.  Make sure you pour a glass of wine for yourself, to taste while the sauce is simmering.  This is very important. ;)

If you have a rind of Parmeggiano-Reggiano in the fridge that’s all used up, you can throw that in the pot while it’s simmering.  Also, at the very end, if you have any fresh basil, tear that up and throw that in, too, if you like it, or, simply, on each serving.  If you like mushrooms, save a bit of the onion, and saute the mushrooms with the onion in a separate pan, and add to the sauce with the tomatoes.  Otherwise they will get all broken up when you are stirring the meat. 
This is my basic sauce for everything from spaghetti to lasagne.  I always use Barilla pasta.  Cheap stuff gets too starchy and gummy.  Make sure you put plenty of salt in the pasta water, otherwise the pasta is too bland.  Stir the pasta right after you put in in the water, so it won’t stick together when cooking.

We always put butter on the hot pasta after it’s done. 
This, like I said, is a family recipe, but it’s taken me 19 years to perfect it.  I’m sure it will get changed many many times more on its journey, and I hope the hungry souls trying it out along the way will rub their bellies in warm satisfaction.  Let me know how your family likes it!


PS For a yummy garlic bread, get a fresh crusty loaf, and cut it in half lengthwise.  Take half a stick of soft butter, and mix in some fresh garlic, smashed as much as you can, and chopped.  (smashing it releases the juices)  Spread this on the open faces of the cut loaf, sprinkle with a bit of parmesan cheese & chopped parsley.  Put in 400oven about 10-15 min til it starts to brown around the edges.  Yum! 

Cher loves Spaghetti.

I was born in the wagon of a travelin’ show
My mama used to danceCOOK SPAGHETTI for the money they’d throw
Papa would do whatever he could
Preach a little gospel
Sell a couple bottles of Doctor GoodSPAGHETTI SAUCE

Gypsies, tramps and thieves
We’d hear it from the people of the town
They’d call us gypsies, tramps and thieves
But every night all the men would come around
And lay their money downEAT OUR SPAGHETTI

Picked up a boy just south of Mobile
Gave him a ride, filled him with a hot meal OF SPAGHETTI
I was sixteen, he was twenty-one
Rode with us to Memphis
And papa woulda shot him if he knew what he’d done (HE ATE ALL THE SPAGHETTI!!)

Have a good weekend!
With love,

P.S. for Cher fans: check out my movie review of Burlesque.


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One thought on “Spaghetti-Ah Sauce-Ah”

  1. If you ever ate Heidi's spaghetti sauce, you would never want to eat any other!! She perfected the recipe that her mostly Norwegian Mom no longer even tries to make. Thank God for this melting pot, or we would still be eating bland on bland on white. And our most exotic flavoring would be that tiny jar of mustard that was in Grandma Mary Ann's fridge for about a dozen years! Back here in Wisconsin, the natives love tapioca pudding and Angel Food cake with Cool Whip for dessert, after a nice casserole involving cheese and chicken and cheese, with a cheese topping.Your Mom loves ya'


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