RED GOLD: An Incomparable Marinara Sauce
“You know you are Italian if you have enough cans of tomatoes in your house to last three years.”
James L Casale
There are several forms of gold: yellow gold used for jewelry; rose gold which gets its color from added copper; green gold, which contains silver, and black gold, a metaphorical term coined to refer to oil pumped out of the ground and oceans.
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 each night until 6:30. 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 was not in the brand of tomatoes.
Dad was the quintessential coupon cutter. The image is seared into my brain of him hunched over the kitchen table, scouring the local newspaper for anything on sale. 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 made three cans which assured the family that there would be enough 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 are not a carnivore, his basic marinara sauce is a delight for vegetarians.
There are as many varieties of marinara sauce as there are regions in Italy and Sicily. Everybody thinks their sauce is the best and, of course, it is if you love it and make it with love. But I must admit that I never order a restaurant’s version of marinara sauce. My dad spoiled me forever. When I am served spaghetti and meatballs as a guest in a friend’s house, I am discreet and polite and always compliment the chef.
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 version of his famous recipes. A basic marinara sauce is a foundation for many other prominent American- Italian delights such as lasagna, baked ziti, veal, chicken, and eggplant parmigiana. But he wasn’t the only cook in the family.
My mom was an exceptional cook and blazed a trail for Rachel 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.
Ingredients:(I use only fresh organic ingredients if available)
Three cans of whole or crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil (extra virgin, cold-pressed)
5-7 cloves of garlic/chopped but not too fine because it burns too easily
1/2 cup of Italian parsley/finely chopped
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes(optional)
1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper or to your taste
1/2 cup red wine(optional)
1/2 -3/4 cup of water depending on the consistency of the tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup basil added after the sauce is cooked
-On low to medium heat sauté, for 2-3 minutes: the garlic, parsley, and red pepper flakes/use a wooden spoon/ do not brown the garlic/ enjoy the aroma
-Add the tomatoes and the bay leaf/stir thoroughly/ set heat to simmer/cover on for 30 minutes
– After 30 minutes, add the wine
-cook another 30 minutes/cover off- (total one hour)
-Add basil when the sauce is done/stir in thoroughly
* Note: Determine the consistency you prefer, thick, watery, or somewhere in between. The sauce will thicken while simmering with the cover off/ trial and error/stir regularly during the cooking process/ and love what you are creating