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Making the Gravy

 As a little Italian girl, I’ve had a lot of experience with tomato sauce. Of course most of that experience has involved eating sauce (or gravy in the LaSpada family) not making sauce. When we were little, my brother and I spent the majority of our weekends at my grandmother’s house. Sunday mornings were all about making the gravy for the weekly Sunday dinner at noon for the whole family. Pasta, hot sausage, meatballs and salad (usually in that order) was also on the menu. Back in my mother’s kitchen, it was a jar of Ragu with roller coller pasta (rotini). Always Ragu with mushrooms. My dad isn’t too big on change and my mom wasn’t too keen on cooking so we ate that exact variety for the next 25 years.

In all these years, I’ve never attemped making my own tomato sauce. Yes, I’ve opened a couple of crushed tomato cans and some tomato paste, but that really isn’t homemade, is it? Well enough is enough. So I marched up to the farmers market in Fitler Square on Saturday and consulted one of my favorite food blogs – Smitten Kitchen – for instruction. I tend to have a problem following directions, but if you read closely below and stick to the script you’ll do just fine. Mine was a bit chunky but I actually prefer it that way. Also, you’ll want more bruised and less attractive tomatoes for this so it might be better to let them ripen for an extra couple of days.

I have some pics of my own preparation, but the digital camera is acting up again. If you think my husband should buy me a new digital camera please post a comment below!

Fresh Tomato Sauce (adapted from

  • 4 pounds sad, unloved tomatoes 
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Small onion
  • 2 to 3 small cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 medium carrot (I used mushrooms vs. carrot/celery)
  • 1/2 stalk of celery
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
  • Slivers of fresh basil, to finish

Peel your tomatoes: Bring a pot of water to boil. Cut a small X at the bottom of each tomato. Blanche the tomatoes in the boiling water for 10 to 30 seconds, then either rinse under cold water or shock in an ice water bath. Peeling the tomatoes should now be a cinch. If one gives you trouble, toss it back in the boiling water for another 10 seconds until the skin loosens up. Discard the skins (or get crafty with them).Finish preparing your tomatoes: If using plum tomatoes, halve each lengthwise. If using beefsteak or another round variety, quarter them. Squeeze the seeds out over a strainer over a bowl and reserve the juices. (You can discard the seeds, or get crafty with them.) Either coarsely chop you tomatoes on a cutting board or use a potato masher to do so in your pot, as you cook them in a bit.

Prepare your vegetables: I finely chop my onion, and mince my carrot, celery and garlic, as does Bastianich. Batali grates his carrots. Burell pulses all four on the food processor to form a paste. All of these methods work.

Cook your sauce: Heat your olive oil in a large pot over meduim. Cook your onions, carrots, celery and garlic, if you’re using them, until they just start to take on a little color, about 10 minutes. I really like to concentrate their flavor as much as possible. Add your tomatoes and bring to a simmer, lowering the heat to medium-low to keep it at a gentle simmer. If you haven’t chopped them yet, use a potato masher to break them up as you cook them. Simmer your sauce, stirring occasionally. At 30 minutes, you’ll have a fine pot of tomato sauce, but at 45 minutes, you might just find tomato sauce nirvana: more caramelized flavors, more harmonized texture.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Fran LaSpada #

    I am casting my vote for Ryan to buy Cheri a New digital camera.

    In defense of Ragu (with Mushrooms) your father says it is an acquired taste. If you eat it long enough the home made gravy tastes “funny”

    September 22, 2010
  2. Madelene #

    Ditto! Ryan…Cheri needs a new camera…hopefully we can still get some Chicago pictures off of it, since mine kicked the bucket and did not get ONE Chicago picture! 🙂

    October 7, 2010

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