Six Simple Words That Can End Your Life

Last weekend I made sauce for the first time in months. It even had the power to draw my daughter downstairs before 11 a.m. Still in her pajamas, sleepy-eyed, she said, “I love waking up to the smell of spaghetti sauce.”

The smell is heavenly. The garlic and olive oil mingle with the sausage, tomatoes and herbs, filling your kitchen with tomatoey love. You should start cooking it or make friends with Italians, so you can experience the magic.

If I was a good Italian mother, I would make it every Sunday, but I usually don’t have time.  As I write this, I’m vowing to do it more often because I feel so guilty.

I’m sure it reminds my daughter of when she was a happy kid living in our cute house, pre-divorce. But, I know she’ll have good memories of this apartment too, because I say,  “Home Is Where The Pasta Is. Nothing else really matters.

Here, our pasta is usually made with pesto because my daughter and her boyfriend are pesto addicts, but today I made tomato sauce with sausage and pork that cooked for hours and reminded me of being a happy kid in my parents’ house.

My mother, stunned at my betrayal.

My mother, stunned at my betrayal.

I am now going to write something that could kill me instantly, so just in case, thanks for reading my blog and following me. 

I was not a huge fan of my mother’s spaghetti sauce. (I’m waiting for the lightning bolt to fly through the window and fry me.) Her sauce was thinner than I like. The flavor was good, but hers was a little more salty and less sweet. So when I was in my 30’s I started making pasta sauce more to my liking.

(Wow, no lightning bolt yet, she must be up there eating salami.)

One slow summer afternoon when I was visiting my parents I said, “Hey Ma, I’m going to make some spaghetti sauce today.” I’ve been making it lately using all fresh herbs and it’s really good.” I never said the six most dreaded words to an Italian; “My sauce is better than yours,” but my implication was clear.

She responded, ”Well, I’mma gonna make a somma sauce today too, so you show me how you make a yours, OK? I wanna see.

I said, “OK, I think you’ll really like it, it’s nice and fresh.”

She came back with, “OK, you show me wenna a da time a comes.”

Later that afternoon we settled into our positions at my mom’s, white, electric, 1950s kitchen stove. I was at the right burner, she was at the left, apron on and ready to go. The garlic and olive oil were in and we were adding mom’s homemade canned tomatoes. I complimented her on how good and naturally sweet her tomatoes tasted compared to store-bought tomatoes. She agreed.

We added the next ingredients; tomato paste and herbs. Mom was adding some dried Italian seasoning and I pulled out the fresh rosemary, thyme, basil and oregano. I was chopping them up and adding them to my sauce when I caught my mother sneaking a look at my ingredients.“Whatta you put inna?” she asked suspiciously.

I said, “This is fresh rosemary, it really…” when she cut me off with this simple command, “Putta some inna.” She was pointing to her sauce, not mine.

I said, “But I thought you were making your sauce…” when I was cut off again by her pointing the small paring knife she was using, at me, as she again said menacingly, “Put it inna here!”

I looked at her with a smile and said, “Oh, a little competitive are we?” And without a trace of humor, or a lowering of the paring knife, she replied, “Justta put it inna.”  That moment of clarity showed me that Italians are without humor in just one area; cooking.

I chopped up all my herbs, divided them neatly into two piles and gave her half of everything I had. Then said, “You know what? I think your sauce is better than mine.” She agreed.

Never say or imply “My sauce is better than yours to an Italian.” This woman gave birth to me – yet the possibility of cutting my heart out danced through her head as I challenged her sauce. Sauce smack talk is only appropriate if you actually do want to die.

Mom got her revenge though. My daughter confessed to me years ago that she prefers my Uncle Richard’s spaghetti sauce to mine. She won’t even finish a bowl of pasta for me and she asks for seconds at his house. Maybe I should point a paring knife at her.

This is the part of the blog where I usually give you my recipe. But, for the sake of tradition, I can’t do it. There are some things Italians must take to the grave and our sauce recipe is one. (I gave it to my friend Joann (the one who confessed to my mom that she wasn’t a virgin in my Pies and Virginity blog — because she earned it.) But that was in my reckless youth. Now, only my children and maybe my brothers know it.) I feel guilty about this, so I’m giving you the ingredients, but after that, you’re on your own.

Ingredients for Fran’s Pasta Sauce

Cento Whole Canned Tomatoes with Basil  (Not Mom’s, but good and you can usually get a big can at Costco)

Pasta with sausage and a nice chunk of tender, slow cooked pork. it's heaven on a plate!

Pasta with sausage and a nice chunk of tender, slow cooked pork. it’s heaven on a plate!(These are good and the added basil makes them taste as close as you can get to my mom’s homemade canned tomatoes.  (If I was a good Italian girl, I’d be canning my own – God, more guilt!) Progresso also sells canned Pomedori Pelati (peeled, whole tomatoes).  You can use either, but I like Cento because I can buy a huge can at Costco and I think they have less salt.)

Pork Ribs

Mild Italian Sausage

Cabernet or Merlot wine

Contadina Tomato Paste


Olive Oil

Butter (just a little)

Italian seasoning

Fresh Basil

Fresh Rosemary

Apple Juice Concentrate



16 thoughts on “Six Simple Words That Can End Your Life

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  5. I’m a little behind on your blogs, so as I catch up, I am sending belated comments. Anyway, my sauce is a litlle simpler though no doubt better than all the others. I only use tomato puree, paste, sugar or splenda, baby back ribs (less fat than other ribs), salt, pepper, garlic salt, fresh garlic, basil and meatballs. Simmer 4-6 hours. Try it – you’ll like it.

    • I’m so glad you’re taking the time to get caught up!! Thanks Chas, you rock. Your recipe sounds pretty good — no doubt better than everyone’s but mine. Will you share your meatball recipe?

  6. I have to agree that our mother’s sauce was not that great and a bit watery although tasty. Aunt Johanna’s sauce was the bomb! Mom made so many great things but her offspring’s
    make better sauce!….. signed an offspring.

  7. My college roommate told me her (Irish-American) mother made the best spaghetti sauce ever. The look in her eye when she said that meant (violently) I best repeat that oath the moment I tasted her mom’s spaghetti that evening. Moral – Nobody makes better comfort food than your own mom – you betchur life.

  8. Please tell me the wine doesn’t go IN the sauce…. just for cook’s consumption, right? I’m a good German girl and not very versed in matters of the culinary, but if I get to drink wine while cooking, I’d totally give this sauce thing a try. 🙂

    • Oh Michelle, yes, it goes in. But, like every good cook, it is your duty to taste the wine before you put it in the pasta sauce. It’s only right. And then, usually, you like it so much that you have to taste it again, to make sure you were right the first time, then maybe a third time to really be sure. Then, after you eat, you cut up a peach and put it in a glass of wine for dessert, so there’s that. And if you’re sick, you heat up wine and add a little spice and honey and then…well you get the picture. There is ample opportunity for drinking in an Italian kitchen, trust me!

  9. Quote of the year: “Wow, no lightning bolt yet, she must be up there eating salami.” !!!!! Fran, we definitely have to have a sauce-off!! Although, I think both will have value for different reasons (insert arm-wrestling pose here!).

  10. Yep, but the memories that stand out in my mind are when she baked bread & pizza. You could sail through the air on that smell 🙂
    Good thing she’s not here, Fran. She might wanna strangle you for posting some of the photos, . . . . . .LOL!

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