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?

Our first tomato!

Here it is! Our first tomato Black Cherry tomato of the season.

At last! After a three month wait, our first tomato was finally ripe and ready for picking! This Black Cherry tomato is the first fruit of our summer labour.

Over the course of the summer, I’ve chronicled this gardening experience from the very beginning. Putting our green thumbs to the test has made for some interesting observations midway through the process.

This is just one tomato, a first in hopefully many more in a series. At the moment, the Black Cherry and Aunt Ruby’s German Green Cherry have produced the most fruits. All they need to do now is ripen.

The Vintage wine and Yellow Pear have been struggling. Both plants haven’t grown as tall as the other two. Also, many of the flowers of both plants seem to have dried up. Hopefully, these two varieties will get back on track.

Any advice on how to salavage the two other plants?


Putting our green thumbs to the test: an update

Steady as they grow: Black Cherry tomatoes.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about our gardening experiment with heirloom tomatoes on our deck. About two months in this endeavour, the seedlings have grown; hence, it’s time for an update.

All four tomato plants have grown, but not all at the same rhythm. The Black Cherry and Aunt Ruby’s German Green Cherry have shot up quite a bit. Both are over five feet tall (a couple of inches shy of my height) and have several fruits waiting to ripen. We should be able to taste the fruits of our labour soon enough.

The situation of both the Yellow Pear and Vintage Wine is quite different. The seedlings didn’t grow nearly as much as the other two. They stand at about three and half feet tall. The Yellow Pear was quick to bloom and produced one fruit that has yet to grow or ripen. After the rain of the last few days, some of the branches have broken.

The Vintage Wine has been quite the late-bloomer, literally. Several flowers have blossomed over the last week and a half. Promising.

Thoughts on the process

We have been quite intrigued by the way our tomato plants have grown. The Black Cherry and Aunt Ruby’s German Green Cherry have grown quite high. To protect them, we used two three-foot bamboo poles per plant to support them. We were expecting the tomato plants to grow a bit more in bushes, but instead grew in height. Apparently, this isn’t unusual. Heirloom tomato plants can grow up to six feet tall.

Based on discussions with family and searching through online publications, we’ve come to the conclusion that our plants are not having enough sunlight. Ideally tomatoes need between six and eight hours of light per day.

Looking forward to finally biting into one our homegrown pomodoros!

Got any tomato growing anecdotes?

Putting our green thumbs to the test

Patiently waiting for our heirloom tomatoes to grow.

Moving into our new apartment in Little Portugal, last May, my partner and I were in absolute awe by the amount of space we’ve gained. We are quite fortunate that our new home has a spacious, sunny deck. What better way to put this this newly found outdoor space to good use than putting our green thumbs to the test by planting some tomatoes.

Neither one of us had gardened in the past (helping our mothers out doesn’t exactly cut it, but it does give some insight). So it was with great excitement that a couple of weeks after unpacking, we ventured to The Stop’s Farmer’s Market over at Wychwood Barns in search of the perfect tomato plants.

Our visit at Vicki’s Veggies’ kiosk proved to be a good one. They had several different heirloom tomato seedlings. After a brief moment of thought and conversation with their friendly staff, we chose the following varieties: Black Cherry, Yellow Pear, Vintage Wine and Aunt Ruby’s German Green Cherry. Here’s a brief description of each:

Black Cherry
This dark purple, round shaped tomato grows in clusters and is supposed to be very sweet.

Yellow Pear
This pear shaped cherry tomato is very tasty and obviously, yellow.

Vintage wine
Pink and gold striped, this variety is fruity, sweet and mild and like a good wine, taste improves with age and is ready later in season.

Aunt Ruby’s German green Cherry
Green and round, this tomato is known for its spicy flavour. It looks just like beefsteak tomato, only smaller.

For more varieties of heirloom tomatoes make sure you check out this list from Vicki’s Veggies.

Apprentice gardener’s note:

This was all about trial and error. We had initially planted two seedlings per pot, but quickly realised that our prized pomodoros needed much more space to grow. A couple of days later, we transplanted them each into their own pot. Hopefully, we will soon be able to taste the fruits of our labour.

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