How to Make Tomato Pasta Sauce Like an Italian Grandmother

Pasta sauce is not really my thing. Which may be slightly surprising as I used to be a runner, and runners love to carbo load, right? Not this ex trail runner. I liked my cheese and veggies and when it came to carbs, well, I could take those sugar and white flour filled babies or easily leave them in my dirty trail dust any day.

I was raised in a mountain town in the middle of nowhere, or as middle of nowhere as you could possibly get for the eighties in suburbia southern California, by a mother who cooked and fed her children like we were an Italian family. My heritage, by the way, has nothing Italain anywhere to be found in it. Being from an eastern European Jewish kind of family I’m more likely to have been served fried chicken livers, chicken soup with matzo balls or halva growing up the only fizzy haired Jewish kid in a small remote mountain town at six thousand feet then any kind of pasta or tiramisu. I grew up however, eating a lot of pasta as my mother makes great spaghetti, homemade of course, and I grew up eating a lot of spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce, of course. It was the eighties! Who the hell is Dr Atkins and carbs be damned!

In the year 2018 we don’t do carbs, bro. Normally I don’t make big ass batches of Italian pasta sauces ever but then our garden got just a bit out of control and come the end of summer we had a ridiculous amount of tomatoes. As in so many tomatoes I am just at a loss of how to use them all. Although it’s less of a problem as the days get shorter, the nights closer to freezing and the doggy bag bandit keeps helping herself to all the neighbors gardens.

Seriously, what kind of fifty year old women thinks it’s just perfectly natural to walk your dog through our neighborhood and pick apples off of neighbors trees and fill up your pups poo bag with fresh produce like you are strolling down the isles of Whole Foods? Okay for one thing, when your pup has to go number two, obviously, you are just going to leave it on our streets because stealing apples from my neighbors tree is so more important then picking up after your mutt. Perhaps before that apple bandit raided my neighbors tree this morning she should have realized that we are crazy about neighborhood watch in our section of the street. We are always home, and always coming and going. We know every rabbit on this block and we notice who is picking our neighbors apples at 6 a.m.

It may be just about the end of September but it’s not really that cold yet and even at six thousand feet; We can only handle so much tomato soup with homegrown (obviously) basil. We have to find something else to do with this plethora of homegrown tomatoes from our mountain garden. Obviously lamb or veal is the best choice for the meatballs. If I’m about to invite the neighbors over for an italian feast then I am going to use the fancy meats, damn it.

Tomato Pasta Sauce with Lamb Meatballs

12 homegrown tomatoes

6 tablespoons good quality olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon chili pepper seeds

4 home grown bell peppers

1 can tomato paste

1/2 pound pork ribs

1/2 pound Italian sausage

portabello mushroooms

1/2 cup red wine (Not Charles Shaw; You are better then that)

4 teaspoons roasted garlic

1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped fine

1/4 cup parsley chopped fine

4 zucchini squash, spiralized

For Damn Good Meatballs

1/2 pound ground lamb or veal

1 teaspoon roasted garlic

whole wheat bread

panko bread crumbs


Roast the tomatoes and peppers in the oven with 3 teaspoons of olive oil and salt for 40 minutes at 375. Let the tomatoes and peppers cool for twenty minutes and then blend in a food processor. Cook the Italian sausage in a saucepan and set aside.

For the meatballs, combine all the ingredients. Roll tightly into meatballs and fry in the same pan as the Italian sausage was cooked in using the last three tablespoons of olive oil.

As my favorite author, Laurie Notaro says “Please don’t make this in the crock pot. The Virgin Mary will cry” This recipe is her grandmothers original version and I make the Hungry Mountaineer version. Yes that means I make lamb or veal meatballs and I don’t use white bread, because just icky. So make these meatballs, when you form them like thick balls. Roll them tight or they tend to fall apart when you fry them. Trust me.

When done trying the meatballs, add the mushrooms to the leftover oil and cook five minutes. Deglaze the pan with the wine, then add the roasted garlic and the purée of tomato. Bring to a simmer and add in the pork ribs, one cup of water and the tomato paste. Let simmer 3 hours.

Add the chopped basil and the meatballs and continue cooking for an hour.

Cook the zucchini noodles separate in olive oil and pour the tomato sauce over to serve.

Too with fresh parsley.

The trick to an authentic like my grandma made it Italian pasta sauce? Time and patience. This sauce needs to simmer for 2-3 hours. You can not rush this baby. To me, using fresh homegrown organic veggies also makes this sauce standout.

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