Le secret est dans la sauce – The secret is in the sauce

La sauce, prête à servir! Nonna's sauce, ready to serve!

La sauce, prête à servir! Nonna’s sauce, ready to serve!

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Cette semaine, je me suis plongé au coeur des traditions familiales pour partager une recette bien de chez nous: la sauce pour pâtes de ma Nonna! Tous les détails, quelques anecdotes, et bien sûr, la recette sur le site l’émission Y a pas deux matins pareils d’ICI Radio-Canada Toronto.

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Adventures in sauce: a family recipe put to the test


While scrolling through what was written on The Tarnished Spoon over the summer, one can notice my fascination for tomatoes – more specifically the ones growing on our deck. The heirloom cherry tomato harvest provided us a tasty addition to many dishes.

Whether at the farmer’s market or walking through the produce section at the   grocery store, the Ontario Fruit baskets have been a common sight. I must admit that I’ve been drawn to tomato bushels and baskets. They were beckoning, wanting be to taken home. Without much hesitation, I did with the firm intention of tackling a culinary challenge; hence this tomato-centric post.

Playing with tradition

Nonna’s sauce, ready to serve!

My Italian roots were showing for this recipe. Pasta and homemade tomato sauce has been a staple at home since as early as I can remember. Over the years, I have been exposed to two recipes mores specifically: my mother’s and my Nonna’s. Both are equally delicious. Since moving out, I’ve made my mother’s meat and vegetable sauce on a regular basis. However, I had never attempted my Nonna’s tomato and meatballs. It felt only natural to step out of my comfort zone and try to make Nonna proud.

I quickly called my grandmother for some insight and wisdom on getting the job done. Over the phone, I was expecting specific herbs and quantities, but ended up getting many words of encouragement and a great deal of approximations.

A couple of snippets of our conversation while discussing the oh-so empirical science of meatballs:

Me: What meat do you use?
Nonna: You can use beef. You can use veal or pork too.
Me: Is there one that is better?
Nonna: No, not really. Use whatever you have at hand!
Me: What else do you put in there?
Nonna: Some garlic, salt, pepper, eggs… about 3, Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs.
Me: How much breadcrumbs?
Nonna: You’ll see… You’ll know how much you need.
Me: Ok…

After her instructions, I went directly to the kitchen. Time for some adventures in sauce.

Make sur you add in a couple of eggs and some breadcrumbs, you’ll se how much.

The recipe

*Disclaimer: all quantities and times are given in Nonna speak in other words, approximate quantities and times

Makes about two to three batches of sauce


  •  20 to 25 medium sized tomatoes or more;
  • About 3 or 4 cloves of garlic;
  • An onion;
  • Cayenne pepper (flakes) or whole fresh cayenne pepper;
  • Basil;
  • Tomato paste;
  • Salt;
  • Pepper;
  • Celery stalks;
  • Bay leaves.


  • Approximately 2 pounds of ground meat (beef, veal, pork… whichever meat you want, essentially);
  • Garlic;
  • Salt;
  • Pepper;
  • Grated parmesan cheese;
  • 3 or 4 eggs;
  • Breadcrumbs (you’ll know how much!).


  • Start off by peeling the skin off the tomatoes by making a “X” incision at the bottom end and plunging the tomato in boiling water for a couple of seconds. Cool tomato in ice water and peel.
  • Remove seeds from tomatoes by halving them. All Recipes.com offers a comprehensive step-by-step on how to do this.
  • Dice tomatoes, chop up garlic, mix in tomato paste, add cayenne pepper, celery stalks basil, bay leaves salt and pepper and simmer for couple of hours on medium-low heat.
  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix in the ground meat, garlic, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese.
  • Mix in the eggs and breadcrumbs to the meat.
  • Form meatballs that are about 2 inches in diameter
  • Fill the bottom of a skillet with vegetable oil and brown the meatballs for about 5 to 7 minutes
  • Plunge the meatballs into the tomato sauce while it keeps simmering.
  • Make the sauce and meatballs simmer for anywhere between 2 and 4 hours on low heat while making sure to stir the pot every now and then.
  • When ready, remove bay leaves and celery stalks from the sauce
  • Serve on the pasta of your choice.

Some final thoughts

Nonna’s sauce, ready to serve.

I was quite nervous about replicating my Nonna’s recipe, not knowing how it would turn out. I am pleased to say that my adventure in sauce was a success. The sauce tasted and looked great. I was actually quite surprised that it actually tasted just like my grandmother’s recipe. Maybe there is some certainty in approximate family recipes!

How do you go about making tomato sauce?