Submitted by James L. Casale, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
“Red gold” is a term I have always used to describe my father’s incomparable marinara sauce. He did most of the cooking in our household because my mother didn’t get home until 6:30 p.m. each night. She was usually exhausted from her 12-hour days commuting to New York City and working in the garment district as a seamstress. My dad was an insurance investigator with a flexible schedule. And he loved to cook and entertain.
My dad was a superb cook of all things Italian, and much more. His sauce always drew rave reviews from all who had the opportunity to experience his culinary delights. A typical response from friends, relatives, and strangers was, “This is better than my mother’s sauce.”
When I made his recipe for my college roommate, Joe, whose parents owned an Italian restaurant in Suffolk County, New York (Long Island), Joe joined the crowd of worshipers. But the secret wasn’t in the brand of tomatoes.
Dad was the quintessential coupon cutter. The image of him hunched over the kitchen table, scouring the local newspaper for anything on sale, is seared into my brain. When it came to tomatoes, he bought what was on sale, usually Red Pack whole tomatoes in 33-ounce cans. Dad blended them in the blender and then proceeded to work his magic. He always used three cans, which assured the family that there would be enough sauce left over for the next pasta dish.
If you are wondering about the addition of meat to the sauce, the answer is yes. I usually tagged along with my dad to a store that never had coupons, John’s Butcher Shop on Halstead Avenue in Harrison, New York. He always bought the ground round for his meatballs and the most delicate veal, chicken, sausage, and pork ribs money could buy in the 1950s. But if you’re not a carnivore, his basic marinara sauce is a delight for vegetarians.
The King of Sauce never wrote anything down. I decided that what was in his creative mind had to be recorded, and I started my own versions of his famous recipes.
But he wasn’t the only cook in the family. My mom was also an exceptional cook and blazed a trail for Rachael Ray as an expert in preparing 30-minute meals. When Dad wasn’t around at dinner time, she—though exhausted from her job—took over. Her magnificent stuffed artichokes are challenging to recreate, but my sister Stephanie comes close.
Eventually, with my siblings, Joe, Stephanie, and Francine, I compiled most of Dad’s and some of Mom’s amazing recipes. I published a family cookbook, “Mangia Bene: Casale Family Memories and Recipes From Our House to Yours.” It’s available on Amazon.
A basic marinara sauce is a foundation for many other prominent American Italian delights, such as lasagna, baked ziti, veal, chicken, and eggplant parmigiana. There are as many varieties of marinara sauce as there are regions in Italy. Everybody thinks their sauce is the best, and of course, it is if you love it and make it with love. When I’m served spaghetti and meatballs as a guest in a friend’s house, I’m discreet and polite and always compliment the chef. But I must admit that I never order a restaurant’s version of marinara sauce. My dad spoiled me forever.
This amount of sauce will serve 4 to 6 people 2 to 3 times. If you don’t plan to serve it again within a week, I recommend freezing it until the next pasta dinner.
It may take several tries before you have the sauce you love. Trial and error. Stir regularly during the cooking process, and love what you’re creating.
Makes 8 to 12 servings
- 1/4 cup olive oil (extra virgin, cold-pressed)
- 5 to 7 cloves garlic, chopped but not too fine, because it burns too easily
- 1/2 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- 3 (28-ounce) cans whole or crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup water, depending on the consistency of the tomatoes
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon each of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, or to your taste
- 1/2 cup red wine (optional)
- 1/2 cup basil
On low to medium heat, sauté the garlic, parsley, and red pepper flakes in olive oil, for 2 to 3 minutes. Use a wooden spoon. Don’t brown the garlic. Enjoy the aroma.
Add the tomatoes, water, and bay leaf. Add salt and pepper; don’t overseason. It’s better to err on the side of lesser amounts. Stir thoroughly. Set heat to simmer. Cover for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, add the wine. Cook another 30 minutes, cover off.
Taste your sauce and judge whether you have the right seasoning. Determine the consistency you prefer: thick, watery, or somewhere in between. If the sauce seems too watery, simmer with the cover off until the consistency you want emerges.
Add basil when the sauce is done. Stir in thoroughly.
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