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Tips and Tricks for Making the Best Italian-Style Red Sauce Recipe

Let’s shake things up a bit, again, and talk about Italian-style pasta and red sauce this week. Please note, I said style, meaning sorta, kinda like the Italian way. This is not a traditional Italian recipe, because if you want to make a traditional Italian recipe, you have to be in Italy. What the heck does that mean? It means that an Italian will go to the market and buy what is fresh to make a meal, what has just come in from the countryside, and we, for the most part, lack that luxury. But it doesn’t mean we can’t make something pretty darn good!

Before we get started, let’s go over a few of the Italian ways of cooking, and the things they like to criticize us for.

  • One: Pasta with red sauce is not soup, it is not covered in cups of sauce, but lightly sauced.
  • Two: It is about high-quality pasta, not overcooked into mush. It is cooked al dente, like the directions on the package of imported Italian pasta direct you to make it.
  • Three: The sauce should be fresh and vibrant, just a bit spicy. It is not tomato juice, it is not ketchup.
  • Four: Red sauce and pasta are topped with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Nothing else will do and it is never purchased pre-grated, as that will be dried out.
  • Lastly: Meatballs and pasta do not go together. Period. Never. Pasta and sauce come first, meatballs make up the following course, like everyone knows.

red sauce recipe

OK, I have been having a bit of fun with you. The Italian way and our way are quite different. Please, go ahead, serve meatballs and pasta anytime you like it. Pasta al dente is a bit too firm for me too. I like to add a few minutes to the cooking time, but do not serve it mushy. I like more sauce than the Italians do. I mean, what the heck, what are you going to dip that bread in if there isn’t enough sauce, right? But the Parmigiano Reggiano? Sorry, on that point I have got to stick firm. Use the imported stuff or don’t use any at all. And I do prefer a good imported Italian pasta when I can afford it.

OK, here is my favorite red sauce recipe.

  • 1-2 chopped onions (yellow or red)
  • 1-2 chopped bell peppers
  • 1 chopped and seeded jalapeno pepper
  • Best quality zesty olive oil (use lots of it)
  • Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, freshly ground black pepper, coarse sea salt
  • 1 large can whole imported Italian tomatoes
  • 2 ½ cups dry red wine (one that you would drink)
  • If you add the heel of an old Parmigiano Reggiano, add it when you add the tomatoes

Combine all the fresh vegetables in a heavy bottom pan, add lots and lots of olive oil (at least ½ cup), -remember it is an ingredient, not just a lubricant. Season very aggressively, turn the heat on medium-high to get things going, once vegetables start to simmer, turn down to low and cook for 30 minutes. Taste and re-season as needed. Add the wine and cook until reduced by one half. Add the tomatoes and cook until you have the consistency you like. Total cooking time should be at least one hour. Taste and see what you think. If it is not there yet, add more water, season as needed and continue to cook. If you want to add richness, add a tab or two of butter at the end.


Written by Julian Brunt

Julian Brunt is a food and travel writer that has been writing about the food culture of the Deep South for over a decade. He is the eleventh generation of his family to live in the South, grew up in Europe, traveled extensively for the first fifteen years after graduating from the University of Maryland, University College, Heidelberg, Germany. Today, he's a contributor for multiple publications, including Our Mississippi Home. He's also appeared on Gordon Ramsay's television show, "To Hell and Back in 24 Hours."


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