By the time my son was ten, I had stopped making the sauce that used canned tomato products, tinned dry herbs and bubbled on the stove for hours. I created my own version; easier and fresher.
THE NOW SAUCE
8 large Roma or plum tomatoes-cut into small chunks
1 small or ¼ of a large onion- cut into small wedges
2 large cloves of garlic-diced
1 Italian frying pepper (½ of a bell pepper will be fine) diced
1 inch cube of hard Italian cheese cut into thirds (This recipe uses parmesan, but asiago, grana padano and pecorino all work well)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon coarse ground pepper
5 small fresh basil leaves or more if you’re a basil-lover
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 400. Line a 16”x 12”x ½” baking pan with parchment paper.
Cut tomatoes into small chunks that are equal in size to ensure they cook at the same rate.
Place them in a mound on the middle of your sheet. Top with rest of ingredients except the extra virgin olive oil.
With a clean or gloved hand, mix to incorporate. Spread out the ingredients to fill the pan in an even layer..
Drizzle the oil over all.
Roast for 20 minutes making sure veggies have given up their juices.
Stir, and spread to one layer.
Roast another five minutes-but watch for burning.
Remove tray from oven and let cool 5 minutes.. Fish out the 3 cubes of cheese. They’re only for that wonderful tangy-smoky flavor. (They’re usually my snack-even though they’re rubbery. That’s why we fish them out)
Pour chunky sauce into a large bowl and use an immersion blender to produce a smooth version. This can also be done with a food processor or blender. If you’re snacking, serve the un-blended sauce with slices of garlic bread.
Total cook-time: 25 minutes
Pour over your favorite cooked pasta, freeze in a plastic container, or make a pizza. Kids love the pale rosy color-just don’t tell them it’s healthy.
from Chapter 1: Brooklyn 12, New York
The Sauce Then and Now
Mrs. Jelianti emigrated from Italy with her two babies. To the neighbors, she was a widow, but one day as Tanta and Grandma peeled apples over wooden bowls, they whispered that their friend hadn’t buried her violent first husband, but rather rescued her children and herself by secretly escaping to America.
My favorite Mrs. Jelianti story came from my grandmother years after we moved from Brooklyn. Tanta had passed away that autumn and Grandma and I were reminiscing while we made the sauce in my kitchen.
I was pregnant with my son and Grandma came to cook for me whenever I had cravings. She picked out a sausage from her grocery bag and cut a chunk to toss into the glistening onion, pepper and garlic mix. As the aroma climbed the air in wisps, she began a story I hadn’t heard before, “I gave birth to Uncle Bert in ’21 and then your mother in '23 and there I was, ten months later, pregnant again. I couldn't afford another mouth to feed. Even if abortions were safe back then, I didn't have the money for one. Marie had stopped by and all I could do was cry."
I hadn’t remembered that Mrs. Jelianti’s first name was Marie. Growing up, I addressed adults by their surnames and although many of Grandma’s friends were called Aunts, Mrs. Jelianti wasn’t. Her dour features carved out her title; Mrs. Jelianti.
Grandma opened a can of Sauce Arturo* and stirred it into the sauce. The piquant scent rode along a spray of steam making my mouth water. After opening cans of other tomato products, she wiped her hands on the apron I kept in a closet for her visits and continued, “Marie looked me straight in the eye. ‘Rosie, you pregnant again?’” My grandmother secretively lowered her voice, “everybody knew she had the gift, so, when she talked, I listened: ‘Rosie, you wait until there’s a full moon, then go out in the backyard and pick all the dandelion leaves. You make a soup with them and drink the whole pot. Don’t leave a drop, capito? Every drop! You go to the bathroom in the morning, you see…no more baby.’”
It didn’t occur to me the indelicacy of Grandma to talk about killing a baby while I was pregnant, besides, my hormones reduced me to one thought; a slice of bread dipped in that bubbling sauce. Unfortunately, the Schumann Family rules forbade what we called eating from the pots. It was deemed unsanitary and never to be done, at least not when someone could see. Instead, I asked my grandmother if she took Mrs. Jelianti’s advice.
“Of course, ...tasted like poison,” she shuddered at the memory.
“So, what happened?” This was getting interesting.
“What happened? Ha, your Uncle Herby happened.”
* A week after I wrote this, I was grocery shopping when I spotted a shelf sign, IT’S BACK! The original Sauce Arturo! $2.49. I admit, I was tempted, but this frugal cook will wait for a sale.