Tag Archives: Italian Cooking

No Ladybugs Were Harmed During the Making of This Sauce

I was feeling adventurous that day.  So instead of sticking to my list, I roamed up and down each aisle of Sam’s Club, eyeing things I would not normally buy.  Then I saw it: the gi-normous can of crushed tomatoes.  I thought, “That would make a gi-normous pot of red gravy.  My family likes red gravy.  I should get that.”  In the cart it went.

It sat in the pantry for a couple of weeks.  Anxiety started to set in.  I didn’t have a suitable recipe.  I’ve only made homemade red gravy once.  I’m not sure I’m ready.  What if it’s not as good as my mother-in-law’s?  My old fears welled up, and I actually considered returning it for a refund donating the can to the food bank.

Then Mr. Wonderful went out for town for a few days, and I figured I had a window.  I’d try it, and if it turned out badly, throw it out and buy a gallon of sauce from Venezia’s — no one would be the wiser.  Game on.

I posted a request on Facebook for recipes and input from friends, and got lots of great responses.  Since I was making an ordeal adventure out of it, I opted to follow my nephew’s advice.  He is, after all, of Sicilian descent AND in culinary school, and he taught me about barding when I made braciolone.

Armed and Dangerous.

Armed with his recipe, I went to the grocery store.  (Not Wal-Mart, the actual supermarket with fresh produce and specialty herbs!)  I got the freshest herbs (the kind still potted…) and spices I’ll probably never use again.  But if this was good, Mr. Wonderful was going to love me more than ever.  (Italian boys have weird relationships with food.)

I picked fresh basil from my garden, and washed it carefully.  (NOTE: always check fresh herbs thoroughly, including the underneath side of the leaves where Ladybugs hide.  I almost added a little extra flavoring to my pot!)

I poured a glass of wine and put on my apron (to get the full “chef” effect), and started cooking.

Fresh herbs. No Ladybugs.

Seasoning pouch. This keeps the greens out of the sauce and saves my kids the trouble of picking them out.

I felt very sophisticated making the cheesecloth pouch, and kept looking out of the window to see if by any chance a Food Network camera crew was nearby, because surely this much effort was worth my own TV show.   I filled the pouch with great care while singing an Italian song.  (That part of the recipe came from my friend’s mom, Ms. Bernie.)  I followed the recipe carefully, making notes on any variations for future ordeals adventures.

Two glasses of wine later Three hours later I tasted my sauce and it was delicious!  The plan was to have it for dinner the next night, when Mr. Wonderful returned home.  I transferred the sauce to smaller bowls to store overnight, because I forgot one important detail: when making a gi-normous pot of anything, make sure you have enough containers to store it or enough people to eat it.  (Gi-normous pots do not fit in the fridge.)

I felt accomplished and validated when I was finished.  I have now completely conquered my fear of Italian cooking, and will be scouring the Food Network’s web site later to let them know I’m ready for my show.

And the next time I go to Sam’s, I’ll grab 2 cans of those tomatoes.

The Lucky Mom’s Red Gravy – Prepared with Love

Seasoning Pouch:

Seasoning Pouch

  • Basil (3 stems with 3-4 leaves on each)
  • Italian Parsley (3-4 stems with leaves on)
  • Thyme (3-4 stems)
  • 3 Bay Leaves
  • About 10 whole peppercorns

Wrap these items up in a tied cheesecloth pouch for easy removal later.


  • Olive oil
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 5 stalks of celery, diced
  • 2 large yellow onions, diced
  • 8 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 4 26-oz boxes of chicken stock
  • 2 12-oz cans of tomato paste
  • 1 gi-normous (6 lb.) can of crushed tomatoes
  • Salt
  • Italian seasoning blend (I like Frank Davis’ N’Awlins Sicilian Seasoning)
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 3 glasses of wine (1 for the sauce, 2 for the cook)

Pour a glass of wine and set aside.  Look up the words to an Italian song to sing intermittently while cooking.


Add seasoning pouch and simmer.

Sauté onions, celery, carrots and garlic in olive oil until lightly browned.  Sip wine while stirring.  When lightly browned, add tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, and chicken stock.  Stir.  Add seasoning pouch.

Simmer for about 30 minutes and then start tasting.  Add more stock if it’s too thick, more tomato paste if it’s too thin.  Add salt and Italian seasoning to taste.  Add sugar to balance the acidity according to your taste.

Continue simmering til it gets the way you like it, while sipping the second glass of wine.  Sing the Italian song to bring out the fullness of the flavors.

 My kids don’t like chunky veggies, so I cooked mine a long time (about 2 ½ hours) to get the veggies soft enough to “disappear.”  Then I used Chef Rob’s trick: use an immersion blender to puree the chunky veggies.  This will disguise them for the kids and speed up cooking time.  (Read the instructions if you’re not familiar with using an immersion blender.  Trust me on this.)

This recipe made enough sauce for me to have about 4 meals for my family of 5.  I freeze it in small containers (about 3 cups) so I can take out the amount I need.

Enjoy!  And if you try it out, I’d love to hear how it goes!