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Kitchen Mailbox Countdown to Dinner Dining
Kitchen Mailbox: Spaghetti sauce comes in countless variations

Thursday, July 20, 2000

By Arlene Burnett, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Wouldn't life be boring if we all dressed the same, talked the same -- and cooked the same?

The fun of cooking is experimenting with different types of food, tasting new recipes and changing them to suit our own tastes.

Today we have four different recipes for spaghetti sauce. And let's state the obvious: Everyone has a different recipe for spaghetti sauce, and everyone thinks his or her sauce is the best. But who has the best or most authentic recipe isn't a factor here. What really matters is whether you, your family and friends think it's the best sauce -- then it is. We tested and tasted all the sauces in today's Mailbox, and we liked them all.

Bisrat Birru of Squirrel Hill wrote Kitchen Mailbox requesting a recipe for spaghetti sauce using canned tomatoes that do not have a bitter or acidic taste. "The secret is adding baking soda to the sauce; that will take away the acid," says Lyn Decker of Wexford. (We didn't find this sauce at all bitter.) Lyn's sister, who is married to an Italian-American whose family was from Sicily, taught her how to make this sauce. And Lyn stressed that they use only onions in their sauce -- no garlic.

Spaghetti Sauce

1 or 2 29-ounce cans whole tomatoes
1 or 2 6-ounce cans Italian-style tomato paste, plus 1 or 2 cans of water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Salt and pepper to taste
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small green pepper, chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
1 bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon allspice
About 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper

In a large pot, saute the onions and green pepper in the olive oil until tender and transparent. Add the baking soda, tomatoes, paste and water; stir.

Add bay leaf, cloves, allspice and red pepper. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens. This should take about 2 hours. Remove bay leaf before serving.

Note: We wanted a double batch of sauce, so we used 2 cans of whole tomatoes. And since we wanted the sauce more thick than thin, we used 2 cans of paste and doubled the spices.

Linda Cordle of North Fayette has been making One-Arm Pasta Sauce for years. Linda found this recipe in a Woman's Day Magazine. One-Arm Pasta Sauce is so named, Linda tells us, because it can be put together with one arm stirring the sauce and the other holding a baby.

One-Arm Pasta Sauce

2 pounds ground beef or a combination of ground turkey and ground beef
2 medium onions, chopped
2 teaspoons garlic powder
28-ounce can diced tomatoes
16-ounce can tomato sauce
1 cup red wine (we used red cooking wine)
1 teaspoon each salt, anise, basil
1/2 teaspoon each oregano, pepper
2 bay leaves
Pinch brown sugar

Brown meat in a 4-quart Dutch oven, along with onions and garlic; drain and add remaining ingredients. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Makes 8 cups.

Note: If you prefer a thicker sauce, the recipe calls for a mixture of cornstarch and water (3 or 4 tablespoons each) to be added to the sauce. We do prefer a thicker sauce, but we went with a 6-ounce can of tomato paste.

Everyone should have a recipe for a no-cook sauce. Here's a delicious version from Eric Riedel of Swissvale.

Fettuccine with Tomatoes and Cheese

1 pound fettuccine
28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried mint
1/2 teaspoon dried chives
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

In large pot, combine sauce ingredients except cheese; set aside. Cook fettuccine in boiling water according to package directions. Drain fettuccine and spoon uncooked tomato sauce over pasta. Sprinkle with cheese; serve.

Note: During the winter months, Eric heats the sauce.

Lois Minucci of Ocala, Fla., wanted a recipe for Italian spaghetti sauce. Frances Vrhovac of Clarion sent us her recipe. The pork gave the sauce a sweet taste.

Italian Spaghetti Sauce

6 to 8 ounces pork (we used country spareribs)
1 cup oil
1 large onion, chopped
29-ounce can tomatoes
2 20-ounce cans tomato puree
1 tablespoon salt
1 small, whole onion, peeled
1/8 teaspoon sweet basil
1 teaspoon parsley
1 tablespoon garlic powder
Black pepper to taste
Fresh, grated Romano cheese

Cook the pork in the oil until done. Remove pork and set aside. Add chopped onion to the oil; cook until tender. Meanwhile, in large pot, bring tomatoes to a boil, add the salt and the whole onion, add the puree, pork and the oil, and add the cooked onions. Add remaining ingredients. Simmer for about three hours. Remove whole onion.

Spoon sauce over hot pasta; top with Romano cheese.

Note: This is enough sauce for 2 pounds of spaghetti and will serve 6 to 8 people.


I was puzzled to read your recipe for Sfogliatelle (Kitchen Mailbox, July 13). I bake these pastries, having learned from my mother, who in turn learned from her ancestors. I do not recognize Sfogliatelle from your recipe. They are not cookies. They are not open cups, and they are not made with puff pastry sheets.

I believe they come from the part of Italy (Naples) that my family came from. I have looked in many Italian cookbooks and have never found a recipe for them. I believe my recipe is the "authentic" one, but it takes a lot of time, and I suppose different cooks or bakers have devised "shortcuts." But let me tell you: They are not Sfogliatelle.

Of course, none of this matters to anyone but me and my cousins, who all make them from the original recipe. My mother and aunts made tons of them on holidays and gave them to relatives and friends. They were noted for their Sfogliatelle. I can't tell you how many friends my mother taught how to make them.

As you can see, I feel somewhat emotional about this because I grew up with the Sfogliatelle. On a trip to the Salerno region of Italy, I found them in a bakery, and they were like my mother's.

I just wanted to set the record straight.

Teresa Chandler
Mount Lebanon

Editor's note: The recipe for Sfogliatelle that Kitchen Mailbox tested was from "Ciao Italia!" by Mary Ann Esposito.

If you want to answer a recipe request from a reader or are looking for a recipe yourself, please write to Kitchen Mailbox, c/o Arlene Burnett, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh 15222, or e-mail to aburnett@post-gazette.com. Please include a name, neighborhood and a daytime phone number on all correspondence. All recipes are kitchen-tested by the Post-Gazette.

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