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Spaghetti with meat sauce...and cinnamon sticks


I know a lot about Italian and Italian-American cuisine, but this came as a total shocker. Googling it, I found some recipes that used sticks in the sauce, but not as a garnish.

Anyone else familiar with this?

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  1. Sicilians do that. Also adding raisins/currants with pine nuts and fennel 'leaves'. I think Greeks also add cinnamon to some of their pasta dishes.

    4 Replies
    1. re: arktos

      Oh, and I forgot, they also like to add anchovies as well.. mmmmmm!

      1. re: arktos

        Anchovies I knew. Raisins/currants/sultanas I knew. Pinenuts I knew. (Sometimes all three.) But leaving the cinnamon sticks as garnish? That's a thing in Sicily?

        1. re: arktos

          i could add anchovies to Cheerios and be happy.Cinnamon and tomato? Don't even.

      2. Repulsive. I'd rather add Sweet 'n Low to my sauce. I know Greeks and Sicilains add nutmeg to sauce, but that's going way too far! That's right up there with maple syrup on breakfast sausages. :(

        1 Reply
        1. re: southernitalian

          I thought it was a lesser quality syrup than maple. :-))

        2. I think it comes from North Africa via Sicily. It also is like the picadillo from Latin America. Really interesting flavor, not sweet (unless you add the raisins) but very different. Also used in Indian cooking so you get this very "worldly" vibe of cultures crossing. I love it for a change.

          1. My mother used to make a Greek tomato-based pasta sauce with cinnamon sticks in it, as well as a whole onion studded with cloves. I'm not remembering the name of it right now (we just called it "Greek spaghetti") but it really was delicious.

            2 Replies
            1. re: lawhound05

              I've made moussaka with cinnamon and it was quite delicious. Just had to reframe my idea of cinnamon long enough to enjoy it.

              1. re: lawhound05

                In Erie, PA there are several places where you can get hamburgers or hot dogs with Greek Sauce. Kind of like Cincinnati chili, made with with cinnamon.

              2. I've heard of using cinnamon to cut the acidity of the sauce, but never seen it used as a garnish. I find the presentation very odd.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Terrieltr

                  Yes. I should've been more clear—it wasn't so much the spice as the garnish I found curious.

                2. I will sometimes put a tiny bit of cinnamon (or clove) in my tomato sauce. There is a really great Italian/Greek restaurant in my area that has this as their signature tomato sauce. Just a hint of it - it is really great. I really think it is used more in Italy and Greece than anywhere else.

                  1. There is a restaurant near me that makes a bolognese with nutmeg and cinnamon flavors; I liked it, but then got really sick that night....now those flavors are repulsive.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: joe777cool

                      Doesn't Cincinatti chili, which is sometimes served on pasta, have cinnamon & other spices in it?

                      1. re: pdxgastro

                        Indeed. Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cumin, and - the secret ingredient - a bit of unsweetened chocolate. I love a 3-way.

                        1. re: alanbarnes

                          I've long put cinnamon, cumin, and a little cocoa in my chili, and had no idea it was a Cincinnati tradition too. Huh.

                          But if cinnamon sometimes pops up in Italian tomato-based sauces—and again, my question was really more about its use as a garnish—that it would do so in Sicily, due to the Moorish influence that escondido references, makes a lot more than sense than in Emilia-Romagna, no?

                          1. re: tatamagouche

                            Ok, I'll give you that. But now I'd like to know, who's the genius who put nutmeg into Bechamel (white sauce)? Cuz that pairing is wackadoo, but it works so well.

                            1. re: tatamagouche

                              Cincinnati chili is so much more than just the spices. It's one strange creature indeed, with its origins in Greek cuisine, adapted to the tastes of the (mostly German) residents of the Queen City, and served atop spaghetti or miniature hot dogs. The first time I had it I was appalled. But it grows on you; my wife is going back to Ohio in a week, and if I'm good she'll bring some back...

                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                Dishes that grew on you. That's a good thread. I had a wine the other day, Lacrima di Morra d'Alba, the first sip of which I nearly spit out. Three glasses later I was loving it.

                                I still haven't seen anyone suggest that sticks as a garnish is a Thing, so I'm guessing it's not. Seemed kinda silly to me in any case.

                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                  I hope you were good, cuz wouldn't want you to miss some good Skyline. I was 30 miles east of Cleveland last month and one night drove back into Cleveland just to have a 3 way with spaghetti, cheese and raw onion. I don't think Skyline works as well on the coney dog.

                              2. re: alanbarnes

                                I nearly always add coffee anytime I'm using chocolate/cinnamon in a savory - meat dish; and well, actually, I always add coffee to my chocolate recipes -

                          2. In our Greek family my mother always threw a cinnamon stick in the pot when she was making meat sauce for spaghetti. I never knew this wasn't typical until I was an adult as it was all I knew growing up.

                            Now in my 40s and cooking in my own kitchen...sometimes I make mom's meat sauce with the cinnamon stick. Depends on my mood and what I'm craving. It's a childhood flavor I'll always love.

                            1. Interesting - I knew if from Greek dishes (e.g. Pastitsio) but never had it in an Italian dish before (even Sicilian). I agree that is sounds very North African influenced. But with as much conquering that has happened in the Mediterranean over the centuries I can't say I am surprised that it exists.

                              Have you made it?

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: thimes

                                You know, everyone keeps saying North African influence, but you're all forgetting that Sicily was Magna Grecia at one time. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magna_Gr...

                                1. re: pdxgastro

                                  ah very good point and yes I did forget that. That makes perfect sense.

                              2. I do this from time to time. Nothing odd about it to me. Yum!!


                                1. It's not only the influence of Greece or North Africa.

                                  Using cinnamon and nutmeg and other "sweet" spices in savory dishes was commonplace acrss Europe at one time. Most medieval and Renaissance era dishes would have been heavily spiced. I've come across several old Italian cookbooks and many of the meat dishes that were baked or formed in molds usually contained either cinnamon or nutmeg or both. In Lampedusa's famous book, The Leopard, about a 19th century Sicilian prince and his family, there's a marvelous description of a layered meat/pasta dish baked inside a pastry crust and yes, it featured cinnamon and nutmeg along with truffles and meatballs.

                                  I imagine that the relative poverty and isolation of Sicity after the 18th century helped to keep alive many of the older culinary traditions long after they fell out of favor elsewhere in Europe.

                                  1. My mother in law made wonderful sauce and she did add a little cinnamon to bring out the flavors. You did not taste it though. Not sticks - just a pinch.

                                    1. Someone asked me about this on my blog, they heard about it on an episode of "19 kids and counting". Is it a Midwest recipe?

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: sallyruhl

                                        If you look at the menu for the restaurant that serves the spaghetti with cinnamon, you'll notice that the pasta dish is listed among their Greek specialties. So while you'll find Greek diners in the Midwest who might season their sauce with cinnamon, this isn't a Midwestern thing per se.

                                        1. re: JungMann

                                          Thanks, I have been looking into this, I actually have been in contact with someone connected to the Duggar Family(19 Kids and Counting) where the original question was generated from. The sauce that started this whole search is actually a chile of sorts made with ground turkey, Ragu Spaghetti Sauce, Chile Beans served over noodles. You are right on regarding the Greek Sauce, I tested recipe for my blog. It is really tasty!

                                          1. re: sallyruhl

                                            It sounds like you were looking for Cincinnati chili, another Midwestern dish invented by Greek immigrants. When served four ways, the meat sauce is served over spaghetti with beans and a mountain of shredded cheese. Very definitely a regional specialty, though not often enough seen outside Ohio.

                                            1. re: JungMann

                                              A bowl of chili with beans and shredded cheese served on top of spaghetti is a dish I've been enjoying for many years, but the Cincinnati version with cinnamon, allspice, cocoa, ground cloves, and God knows what else is a dish that is a bit too weird for me.

                                      2. Can't say I've seen that but I'm aware of two Italian restaurants in Philly that use cinnamon. Monsu makes a Lasagne w/ sausage ragu, raisins, chocolate, cinnamon, and a fried egg. And I recall Mr Martino's serving a wonderful fish stew that used cinnamon a while ago.

                                        1. My Greek buddy made a meat sauce over pasta tonight that was terrible! The cinnamon was so powerful, my tongue could not make up its mind if it was eating dessert or main course. But the texture was terrible for a dessert!

                                          I tried to stomach as much as I could to be polite, but I can't believe anyone likes cinnamon in meat sauce that much. It was God awful, and that's being nice.