Bulldog Cuisine: Mama Marie’s Tomato Sauce

If a man cannot or will not cook, he is not a man. All REAL men – manly men, if you will – know how to cook, and by cook I don’t mean scurry around a studio kitchen yelling “BAM!” and cooking stuff most ordinary chefs don’t cook, like that wretched little Emeril does on his stupid Food Network show. Honestly…what kind of serious chef has his own studio band, complete with an African-American Doc Severinsen? I learned to cook because my mother – God rest her soul – was a superb cook. When I moved out and lived on my own, I had no choice but to teach myself the arcane ways of the kitchen. And now I happily pass what I have learned along to you, gentle reader.

This is my late mother’s recipe. Her father’s people came from Calabria; her mother’s from the Italian/Austrian border. Every Sunday our home was filled with the mouth-watering aroma of this delectable sauce, which she always served over rigatoni, accompanied by a huge bowl of salad and warm, crusty Italian bread to sop up the sauce. (Rest in peace, Mom. With every batch of sauce they cook up, the good readers of Bulldog Pundit will be honoring your memory.)

Ingredients

2 tablespoons canola oil
12 sweet Italian sausages
4 pieces of beef short ribs
1 cup chicken stock
½ cup hearty red wine
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cups finely diced onion
8 large garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon each salt and black pepper
3 cans (4 oz. each) plain tomato paste
6 cans (28 oz each) tomato puree*
2 large bay leaves
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 stalks celery, cut in thirds
3 large carrots, cut in thirds
2 cups hearty red wine
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

* If you wish, you can use whole plum tomatoes (canned or fresh) instead of tomato puree. If using canned whole plum tomatoes, puree them in a blender for 20 seconds and then strain them into the pot to keep the seeds out of the sauce (seeds are also a source of bitterness). If using fresh whole plum tomatoes, be sure they are very ripe and very large. Parboil them for a few minutes to loosen the skins and then peel them before pureeing and straining them.

Directions

  1. Heat a huge (8 quart or bigger) sauce pot on high heat until sizzling hot. Add canola oil, then sausages and short ribs. Brown over high heat. When meat is suitably browned, remove and set aside. Add chicken stock to deglaze bottom of pot and scrape up caramelized meat with a spatula. Simmer on medium heat until liquid has almost completely evaporated.
  2. Pour olive oil into pot and add onions. Sweat onions on low heat, stirring constantly until the onions are softened and translucent, but not browned. Add garlic, salt and pepper and continue stirring on low heat for another five minutes. Deglaze once more with red wine.
  3. Immediately add tomato paste and mix thoroughly with onions and garlic. Add tomato puree, bay leaves and red pepper flakes and stir thoroughly. Add celery, carrots and carefully return meat and juices back into the pot. Stir again. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook uncovered for no less than 3 hours to thicken the sauce (place a spatter screen over the top of the pot to help reduce the mess). NEVER ADD SUGAR TO TOMATO SAUCE. The carrots lend a subtle, natural, sweetness and the celery absorbs the acidity. Carrots and celery are the secret to a perfect tomato sauce. Important: you must stir the sauce every 5 to 10 minutes or else the sauce on the bottom of the pot will burn. If this happens, it’s ruined.
  4. After 3 hours, turn off heat and add wine, basil, oregano and thyme. Always add herbs and spices (especially fresh herbs and spices) to the sauce during the time it sits after cooking, so the essential oils and flavors are not boiled off. Stir thoroughly. Place lid on pot and let sit for one hour.
  5. Carefully remove meat and sausages and reserve in a large serving dish. Remove bay leaves, pieces of celery and carrot and discard.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Pour a ladleful of sauce into the bottom of a large serving bowl. Add cooked and thoroughly drained pasta of your choice, another dollop of sauce and stir to coat the pasta. Serve immediately with freshly grated Parmigiano and Romano cheeses.

Buon appetito!

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