Monday, May 17, 2010


My mother learned this recipes for pasta sauce with a "secret ingredient" from an Italian family that lived several stoops down from the brownstone where she was grew up in Brooklyn. She made it for us when I was a child and I've made it for my family. Everybody loves it. Now I make it as a “meals on wheels” dish for my friend and adopted “Mum” who is 90 years old and doesn’t usually care for spaghetti. She asked me to write down the recipe for her and here it is.

3 Tbsp olive oil

3/4 lb ground beef*

1 medium onion, chopped

1 large clove garlic, mashed

Over medium-high heat, brown beef in oil, breaking up clumps with a wooden spoon and stirring until all redness is gone. Pour off some fat, if necessary. Add onions and cook stirring for a few minutes Add garlic and cook for another couple of minutes.


1 large can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes or whole tomatoes packed in puree**

1/3 cup dry red wine or water

1 bay leaf

1 Tbsp Italian Seasoning***

Now for the secret ingredient:

1 walnut-size chunk of Romano cheese, left whole, not grated****

Add cheese, stir all together and lower the heat to a slow simmer. Cover the pot and cook gently for about an hour, stirring occasionally. At the end, season with salt if needed. (Remember, the cheese is salty.) Serve over your favorite pasta. If you have any fresh basil handy, shred a few leaves to sprinkle over the top when serving.

This makes a reasonable amount of sauce for two or three people. If you double the recipe, any leftovers freeze well.

* I use 80% lean ground beef

** I like Redpack brand tomatoes. If using whole tomatoes, break them up before adding.

*** I use McCormick brand Italian Seasoning

**** You can also use a whole chunk of Parmesan cheese. Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese often gets gummy and stringy if you add it while cooking the sauce. The whole chunk used this way will slowly dissolve and vanish, leaving behind a delicious, subtle flavor. You can also use the rind of the cheese that people often discard.

Buon appetito!