Do you have a recipe you love that takes you back to your childhood? Is there a particular food you enjoy that evokes memories of growing up? This version of my great grandmother’s tomato sauce certainly does it for me. I call it Mama’s Tomato Sauce and it really is spectacular.
One of my favorite childhood memories was when my entire family gathered at my great grandmother’s house just about every Sunday afternoon. My great grandmother was from the Sicily and didn’t speak any English but she spoke with her eyes and from her heart. Although I couldn’t understand a word she said, I always knew what she was saying to me. Lots of hugs and lots of love in her eyes made me realize I was special to her. Mama Carollo or “Mama” as we called her opened her home to her four children, their own children and her grandchildren every Sunday. My parents, sister and I would always arrive after Sunday Mass, around 11:30 and would join the rest of the family for a huge Sunday dinner. I remember opening the big doors to her house and smelling the tantalizing aroma of big, hearty meatballs and chicken parmesan cooking in the oven and pots of spaghetti and tomato sauce bubbling on the stove. The house and kitchen were full of laughter and conversation and children were running everywhere. It was a place where this awkward kid felt comfortable. It was family and it was wonderful.
Mama’s tomato sauce was like no other. It was simple yet had the most amazing and complex blend of flavors. Mama must have been up since the crack of dawn cooking and I know she did it because it brought her joy. Joy in seeing her entire family together.
After Mama passed away, the Sunday tradition continued with dinners at my grandmother’s house. Although not as lively and certainly not as large, our family get-togethers were our family’s way of reconnecting each week. Some traditions remained and some were lost over time but one thing that stayed mostly the same was the menu and it usually included Mama’s tomato sauce.
When my grandmother died, the Sunday dinners ended. My mother was a working mom and Sundays were days of relaxing. But my mother was a fabulous cook and although I never wrote down many family recipes, this recipe for tomato sauce is as close in taste to what I remember growing up. As I recreated the sauce, I tried to duplicate the flavors I remembered and this recipe comes extremely close.
I begin with a combination of onions, garlic, celery and carrots that I saute in olive oil.
Then, I add crushed tomatoes and finish with basil and oregano. I let the sauce simmer on the stove for a little while to allow the flavors to really come together.
It’s easy…I’m sure much easier to make than Mama’s original recipe for tomato sauce but I’d be willing to bet, it’s just as good. I usually make meatballs that I brown in a skillet then finish cooking in the sauce. The meatballs taste so flavorful after cooking in the tomato sauce, they absorb all the wonderful flavors.
This tomato sauce also freezes well and can be used in a multitude of dishes. Mama’s tomato sauce is also wonderful on pizzas, chicken and fish too.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup onions chopped
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 2 stalks celery chopped
- 2 carrots chopped
- (2) 32 ounce cans crushed tomatoes
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 6 leaves basil torn (or 1 teaspoon dried basil)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon sugar or honey
- In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat.
- Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft and translucent, 2 minutes.
- Add the celery and carrots and season with salt and pepper. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, oregano and basil. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and simmer.
- Cook covered for 1 hour or until thickened.
- Using an immersion blender, puree the vegetables. If you don't have an immersion blender, place 1/2 the tomato sauce into the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth. Continue with the remaining sauce.
- Stir in the butter and sugar and season with salt and pepper to taste.