My favorite cookbooks are those that have a memoir weaved throughout. Food, after all is woven throughout our lives. Its connection to our memories can’t ever be overlooked. The mere smell of onions browning brings to mind images of my mother cooking her Sunday roast beef. If I close my eyes I can almost transport myself back to that time. Sundays around here do not find me cooking roast beef. After all, I live on an island known to be full of Italian people and also known for its great Italian food. What’s a German lady to do when living on such an island? Learn to cook Italian food without a Nona to teach her!
We’ve been eating Sunday sauce since I’ve been married. My husband and I both love spaghetti and meatballs so I needed to learn very early in our marriage how to make this traditional Sunday meal. I grew up in Middle Village, Queens on a block made up of brick row houses. Each house was exactly the same, yet each was so very different. We were truly lucky to grow up on this block, and lived a very safe and happy childhood. My attached neighbors to the right were an Italian family, Paul and Rita and their two sons Sal and Johnny. Both boys were much older than the group I grew up with, but the close proximity of our homes enabled us to know each other well. Paul was a tailor and Rita a stay at home mom. Rita was an amazing cook and just the happiest lady. She was always laughing and always cooking up great food.
As a newly married girl, I knew I needed to learn how to make sauce. My mom was a great cook, but sauce was just not her thing. She rarely, if ever, made any sauce that didn’t come from a glass jar labeled Ragu. So, one day I called Rita on the phone and asked her to teach me how to make homemade sauce. She shared her recipe with me and I remember being surprised by the short list of ingredients. I wondered why my mom thought it’d be hard for her to make. I’ve used this recipe ever since that day, though I’ve taken a few liberties with it as I’ve grown as a cook to personalize it to our tastes.
To go with this sauce, there’s nothing that compares to homemade, fresh pasta. Dried pasta in a bag just doesn’t work for us. I’ve been using a Kitchen Aid pasta attachment for years but can’t seem to get the consistency I want. Sometimes it’s great, others too thick. Today I decided to go back to hand rolling and cutting to see if that works.
Today, on this very cold Sunday, the smells of sauce permeate my kitchen. If I close my eyes I can see Rita smiling and hear her joyful laughter. If I close my eyes I’m sitting on the porch on 72nd Street smelling this food and wishing Rita was cooking for me. Lucky enough she is.
Here’s Rita’s recipe that I tweaked slightly, along with my pasta recipe.
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 Bay leaf
- 2 large cans crushed Tomatoes (Rita used Redpack, I use Tuttorosa)
- 1 small can tomato paste (I don’t use)
- pinch sugar
- salt & pepper to taste
- crushed red pepper
- Pour a glass of Chardonnay and turn on Alexa for dancing in the kitchen
- Sautee onion and red pepper flakes in olive oil until translucent (4 minutes)
- Add chopped garlic and cook 1 minute longer
- Add tomatoes and stir
- Add sugar, salt & pepper
- Add 1 Bay leaf
- Refuce heat as low as possible, stir and simmer slowly for at least two hours
- Add meatballs during last hour
- 1 cup of all purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 eggs
- Mix together in Kitchen Aid with dough hook on low setting until it forms a ball
- Let dough rest at least 30 minutes
- Knead dough lightly on well floured board
- Cut dough into four sections
- Roll each section as thin as possible.
- Hand cut using pizza cutter as thin as possible
- Cook in boiling water no more than 2 minutes.
*This recipe is for two people, rule of thumb is 2 eggs for every 1 cup of flour.
I served mine today with meatballs and eggplant parmesan. It was quite delicious. I learned from the best!
If you make this recipe, drop me a note and let me know how you made out. Enjoy!