Frank Sinatra sang, “Regrets. I’ve had a few….” One regret I have is waiting too long to ask my grandmother for recipes. By the time I thought to do this, the beginnings of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia had begun to overcome her and it was too late.
It is not like we never tried to ask, because we did. Our questions were often responded to with vague or generic answers. The only thing I can duplicate pretty accurately, is my grandma’s breaded steak. I can do this, because I watched her do it once. It’s not hard. You take the steak, dip it in olive oil, dip it in Italian bread crumbs and broil it. Simple, right!? She once walked me through how she made her chicken and gravy, but I have long forgotten how.
The one thing I have been trying to duplicate for years is her spaghetti sauce. I have come close – very close – but it’s just not right, yet. I have asked friends, and some family, and have tried to incorporate things in hopes that it would be “THE” missing ingredient….without any luck. Granted, some of the suggestions have brought me closer, and each time I try something new, I am afraid I may mess it up more.
One thing I DO know, is that grandma used sugar in her sauce. I am told it is a Sicilian thing. Whether or not to use sugar in your sauce is a heated topic among Italians. Some people find it utterly disgusting. Personally, I love a sauce that is a bit sweet. I also know she used a lot of garlic. She always used basil (“You have to use good, fresh basil!”) and a bay leaf. Never oregano – she (and many Italian grandmas) used to say that you only used oregano for pizza sauce.
I also know that she always used Contadina products!
I remember she had a pantry down in her basement that had literally HUNDREDS of cans of Contadina tomato sauce and tomato paste! (We used to call her pantry Kroger because she also had rows of dish soap, canned vegetables, and other things down there.) When I first attempted to make the sauce, I knew I had to start with this.
I used my friend Christina’s grandma’s recipe as a basic guide. I have expanded on it since my first attempt. A cousin said that her grandma used to put a stick of butter in her pot of sauce. Another cousin (and my aunt) both suggested a Bechamel sauce be added to thicken the sauce, which it did. I thought my grandma used a little wine, so I tried that, too.
I have used ground beef, ground sausage, ground pork, and stewing beef in the sauce to see if that makes a difference. To a degree it does, but I know grandma used to cook all of those in her sauce at times. I have tried more seasoning and less seasoning, bullion cubes instead of salt, and white wine and red wine, but still come up short.
My radio buddy, Jim Bosh, is Italian and he has hosted dinner parties for holidays and such in the past. His sauce (and meatballs) are about as close as I have tasted to my grandmas. I can’t remember if I ever sat down with him and discussed making the sauce at length, but I know he has offered a suggestion or two. I also remember him telling me that no matter how many times I try to make grandma’s sauce, there will always be one important thing missing – Grandma.