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"Red sauce" Italian

Why all the hate on CH for the Italian-American cuisine? I know it is not the food they eat in Italy, but as a grandson of grandparents who came to Hoboken, NJ, at the turn of the century, the Italian-American cuisine has been a part of my family's (and America's) diet for quite some time. When cooked properly by those who know what they are doing, the food can be truly excellent. After all, many of the dishes in the Italian-American cuisine can be traced back to some dish in Italy and they are a tribute to what our grandparents ate in "the old country."

I'm not saying there is no love on CH for this food, but many, many people turn their noses up at the thought or suggestion of it. I know what regional Italian food is, having been to Italy many times and I absolutely adore it. But, I love my Italian-American gravy, macaroni, meatballs, brasciole, baked ziti, etc., too.

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    1. I read it more that CHs have a problem with it being called "Italian" or "authentic Italian." I think most folks here appreciate a well made red gravy, I know I certainly do though I balk at large amounts of tomato paste.

      1. I like to eat Italian American food, and tend to cook it pretty frequently. But, I would be disappointed if I went to an "authentic Italian" restaurant and the menu was filled with Italian American food. If I want Italian American I will go to a pizzeria.

        50 Replies
        1. re: viperlush

          But a pizzeria is not the only place to get good Italian-American food. There are many excellent full service restaurants serving this cuisine.

          1. re: ttoommyy

            Yes there are. But it's not the type of cuisine that I want to spend much on and it's something that I've always associated with cooking at home.

            1. re: viperlush

              "But it's not the type of cuisine that I want to spend much on..."

              That's just the type of attitude I am talking about. Why not spend good money on it if it's done right? Yes, many of us who grew up with it can make it at home, but sometimes it's nice to go out and be served at a nice restaurant. Italian-American food should not be excluded from this experience.

              1. re: ttoommyy

                Well for me it's because I don't get to eat out often, and when I do it's not expensive meals. So if I'm going to a $15+ entree restaurant I want it to be something I don't cook or I can't get easily get for less elsewhere. I'm sure that it's a regional thing. But I wouldn't discourage someone from going to a "red sauce Italian" restaurant, especially if they are coming from a region that doesn't do it well. But at this time it's not a cuisine that I feel the need to spend good money on.

                1. re: ttoommyy

                  I lived in Rhode Island for many, many years and there are dozens of places to go for red sauce Italian-American food--which I frequently make at home without tomato paste. However, there are very, very few that are expensive, and those tend to be the "Old World" style with traditional decor and service that I don't enjoy. I'm glad to see there is a new wave of trattorias around the country that blend Italian-American dishes with modern service/decor.

                  1. re: escondido123

                    Why is there no love for tomato paste? It is one of the main ingredients in an Italian bologenses sauce.

                    jb

                    1. re: JuniorBalloon

                      I don't get the hate for tomato paste either. I used some in a fresh fennel, onion and sausage sauce I just made.

                      1. re: JuniorBalloon

                        Amen. Nothing at all wrong with tomato paste when it is used properly. I always look for ones that have no other ingredients added (so many of them have added salt or citric acid...nothing against those things, but if i want them in there I want to add it myself).

                        1. re: JuniorBalloon

                          In the context of this discussion in particular, I have eaten too many red gravies that were based on tomato paste which I consider a nice addition, in small quantities, to a variety of dishes. I buy a new tube of tomato paste about every six months, so that tells you how much of it I use. We do have pasta in a tomato sauce at least once a week, where I use good canned tomatoes or fresh when they are really in season. (I just looked at the 3 Italian cookbooks I had at hand, and Bugalli, Hazan and Batali all make their tomato sauces without tomato paste so I feel I'm in good company.)

                          1. re: escondido123

                            I developed my own recipe for red sauce (I just can't bring myself to call it gravy for many reasons, one being that my red sauce has no meat in it unless I add meatballs or sausage to it near the end) over the years, it has next to no fat aside from a small amount of olive oil or sauteed mushrooms if I use them, and what's in the anchovies when I grind them in. It's got fennel, oregano, garlic,basil, some onion, tomatoes that are usually canned but I recently made some with good fresh tomatoes that was pretty good, I don't care if it's authentic or not, it's really damn good and doesn't taste of meat that's been boiled for hours and hours- nor is my sauce cooked for a long time. I add a little bit of tomato paste if it's looking thin. I just had no idea that what I developed isn't even remotely Italian, according to this thread. I make no apologies for my nonauthentic sauce and wish I could find a local restaurant that reliably makes a really good "midwestern-style Italian-American" red sauce. Jeez.

                            But I guess it helps explain why my sister came back from a trip to Italy saying "italian food in Italy is really bad!" It was all I could do not to blow my mouth full of iced tea out of my nose when she said that.

                            1. re: EWSflash

                              When I was a kid my mother made your standard Italian-American spaghetti sauce she learned from an Italian-American with ground beef, chopped onion, can of tomatoes crushed by hand, a can of tomato paste, Italian seasonings and dried garlic from the jar and a half a can of whatever red wine was open. It would then cook for hours. I loved it growing up but as I've made hundreds of tomato sauces, I make them quicker and simpler, often just olive oil, garlic, fresh rosemary and a can of good tomatoes. It take less than half an hour and my spaghetti spends the last two minutes being tossed in the sauce, where it thickens and all the strands get coated. Wish I was having it tonight.

                              1. re: EWSflash

                                I guess your sister ate where my sister and her husband ate. Same thing they told me. Well the concierge at the hotel said go here its great or the taxi driver, sounds like she was in a tourist trap. Italy is built on tourism.They cater to tourists selling their food to to make money. Just got back from Italy with Sis and Hus.. Proved them wrong. You have to get off the beaten path where the locals eat to get some great food. It is completly different than where we live.

                            2. re: JuniorBalloon

                              Never use a drop of it in my Bolognese, recipe from Bugialli on Pasta.

                              1. re: escondido123

                                I'm an import Passata girl myself. Don't like tinned tomatoes, I'd rather just reduce the passata down to an appropriate thickness. Takes time but is well worth it.

                                1. re: freia

                                  I like having the ability to modify the tomatoes based upon the dish I am making. Sometimes I like the tomatoes chunky so I crush them by hand, sometimes I want a smooth sauce so I mill them--and if I'm not sure I can chop it up with the immersion blender. But I have no interest in keeping on the shelf tomatoes that have already broken down through another process--then I have no opportunity to vary the sauce based upon the dish I want to create..

                                2. re: escondido123

                                  "Never use a drop of it in my Bolognese, recipe from Bugialli on Pasta."

                                  escondido123: do you use any tomato product in your Bolognese? Some recipes don't call for tomato at all, while others do. Remember, there are enough Bolognese recipes and variations just in Bologna alone to fill an encyclopedia-sized cookbook. There is not one definitive recipe.

                                  1. re: ttoommyy

                                    The recipe uses canned whole tomatoes. I would say that the use of milk/cream is one of the ingredients that defines it as Bolognese.

                                  1. re: BeerWeezil

                                    "Not the original version it's not."

                                    Sorry, what is this in reference to? Thanks.

                                    1. re: BeerWeezil

                                      There are many "Original" versions. Here is a link to the one that is registered with the Accademia Italiana della Cucina in Bologna -

                                      http://www.itchefs-gvci.com/index.php...

                                      After doing some research a few years back it became apparent that as ttoomy has said there isn't really an authentic bolognese, but there are many sauces that use similar ingredients and techniques that date back hundreds of years.

                                      jb

                                      1. re: JuniorBalloon

                                        Thanks for the link. Saying there is one definitive recipe for a Bolognese sauce is like saying there is one definitive recipe for chicken soup.

                                        1. re: JuniorBalloon

                                          thanks for that recipe link.
                                          it looks like a complete hit out of the park.
                                          love the inclusion of 1 chx liver.
                                          I know that small amount can add so much undertone to a dish.
                                          I'll be trying this one for sure.

                                          1. re: iL Divo

                                            One of the things I love about their instruction is it's very clear and specific. I remember reading in Marcella Hazen's book that you should add the onions first, but she didn't make it clear why. I have never used chicken livers, but do a similar step with anchovies and tomato paste (a couple of filets and one tblsp). Clear everything to the side and cook the anchovies and paste before mixing it with the other ingredients. It lets the paste carmelize, bringing out some extra sweetness and if you don't cook the anchovies a bit they can end up tasting fishy.

                                            I will also be trying this recipe.

                                            jb

                                            1. re: JuniorBalloon

                                              I own a couple small cans of tomato paste.

                                              when I have to open to use, I portion off in tiny seal a meal bags of 1 or 2 TB and mark the seal a meal then freeze. I know which size I'm seizing from the freezer by marking. With anchovies I buy the oval cans of them, not used them out of a jar cause don't know how they last in that oil and in frig but do same thing with anchovies and seal a meal packets. I always know I have some of each on hand, and when using last one, I buy more.

                                              Love your idea about using them both in that sauce and the moving to the side, makes total sense, thanks JB

                                        2. re: JuniorBalloon

                                          Paste has its place, I use it, my grandmother used it as well. It just depends on what you’re making.

                                          My family and friends tend to enjoy a thicker, chunkier sauce(we have onions, garlic and sausage chunks in our sauce most times), and the paste works in that application. Sure we could possibly get there some other way without paste, but it isn’t like the Italian-American Authenticity Police have come knockin’ on anyone’s door yet….

                                          If it tastes good, eat it.

                                          1. re: River19

                                            agree with how you put that River.

                                            as a young young girl who often times made dinner for the family, I always included some tomato paste because as a young girl, I didn't know how to thicken the sauce and otherwise, it's very watery. as many times as I've made it, a red sauce, I've often used tomato paste, going so far as to say many times I didn't make the red sauce because I had no tomato paste. now I know to reduce slowly and it eventually thickens but then, too young to know the ins and outs of cooking.

                                            like you say River, if it tastes good, eat it and enjoy.

                                            1. re: iL Divo

                                              Thanks, I make my decisions on what I cook with and eat based on whether it tastes good, frankly I can’t think of a reason to do it another way. Just because highly educated food-centric people may wax poetic about a certain dish doesn’t mean everyone will enjoy it. That is what makes food wonderful, the variety. Despite what people may claim, there very rarely is a “right” way to make something. Most anything has multiple approaches and recipes, each of them are just as “authentic” as the other.

                                              The other thing people are missing about paste is perspective. If you have to make of say 10-12gallons of sauce and have maybe 4 hours or so and based on the financial aspect you are limited to reasonable quality canned tomatoes only along with your meat, garlic and herbs…………….what’s the most obvious way to thicken that sauce without damaging the flavor or adding an outside flavor to it? In a perfect world you could cook that sauce for longer than the 4 hours you have for prep and cook time……….but what happens when you don’t?

                                              It isn’t like everyone cooks under ideal conditions and constraints all the time. Especially people of my grandparents era (born early 1900s). Tomato paste and other “new world” ingredients and approaches were a part of their cooking for a reason. Doesn’t make it wrong or bad or inauthentic in many people’s opinions.

                                              1. re: River19

                                                Just a note. Tomato paste isn't new. It comes from southern Italy and Sicily where it used to be made by spreading tomato sauce on wooden boards and dried in the sun. While it can be used to thicken a sauce that's not it's only use and not the way it has traditionally been used in Italian cooking.

                                                That said I completely agree that you cook to your taste. I'm sure that's why there are 387 "authentic" bolognese recipes.

                                                jb

                                                1. re: JuniorBalloon

                                                  I'm not getting all the hate for tomato paste. I find it adds a bit of depth in tomato flavor, especially the double concentrated stuff.

                                                  Tho I don't use it for thickening. That doesn't make much sense to me.

                                                  1. re: linguafood

                                                    Why don't you give it a try then? You just might change your mind about how wonderful and amazing paste is as a thickener!
                                                    I buy it by the case at Costco, so I'm a big user.

                                                    1. re: monavano

                                                      But.... but I don't *want* to use it as thickener. I just like it as an addition to flavor.

                                                      If I really want to thicken it, I can use a bit of chilled butter or some cornstarch. But generally, I'm happy with the natural consistency/texture of my tomato sauce.

                                                      1. re: linguafood

                                                        You *have* to realize that it *IS* a *thickener* so by default, that's what you *are* doing. OK, I'm taking *my* marbles and leaving now. *ha*

                                                    2. re: linguafood

                                                      I wish there was 'like' button on CH. I love the taste of good tomato paste

                                                    3. re: JuniorBalloon

                                                      I agree with the thought that paste, while acting as a thickener in many cases, also adds additional depth of flavor to whatever it is included in. I don’t think paste was originally intended to be a thickener, I think it found itself worked into that role throughout the past 60 years or so when people’s lives and approaches to cooking changed.

                                                      Again, if it tastes good, eat it.

                                                      1. re: River19

                                                        i don't believe it's intended as a thickener. That may be how it's commonly used, but I don't believe that's what it was made for. And that's not how I use it.

                                                        1. re: River19

                                                          Like Razzles that were first a candy and then a gum, tomato paste is a flavor enhancer that is also a thickener. :)

                                                      2. re: River19

                                                        perfectly said River and you too JunBal

                                                2. re: escondido123

                                                  Did you make it to Mike's Kitchen at the VFW in Cranston? No one who eats there could ever sneer at "red-sauce" Italo-American (as they say in RI) food again.

                                                  1. re: Bob W

                                                    My wife and her mother made a run and they enjoyed it quite a bit. Felt is was very similar to the way we like to make our food as well as her husband with the conch salad etc.

                                                    I still haven't been myself.......I'll get there.

                                                    1. re: Bob W

                                                      Yes I've been there and I have the cookbook Cucina Simpatica that includes his polenta recipe. My memory of there is vague--maybe 20 years old--but I remember it being good but heavy.

                                                      1. re: escondido123

                                                        your post reminds me to try Michael Chirarello's recipe for his famed polenta.
                                                        I understand it's unforgetable.

                                                        1. re: iL Divo

                                                          The last time I made polenta--I like mine soft--I happened to have 2 ears of fresh corn. I cuts off the kernels and food processed them, keeping only the cream that resulted when I sieved. Added that to the polenta at the end for an amazing sweet corn taste.

                                                          1. re: escondido123

                                                            now that escondido, sounds remarkable...

                                              2. re: ttoommyy

                                                The best Veal Parmigiano I ever had was at Il Mulino in NYC.....

                                                A pounded Veal Rib Chop coated with Grated Cheese Panko breadcrumbs....pan fried and topped with a combination of Asiago, Fontina, Provolone and Mozzarella cheeses placed atop a simple marinara sauce.....

                                                you can't get that in a pizzeria.

                                                1. re: fourunder

                                                  wondering if that's the place Emeril went to that was from "the best thing I ever ate".
                                                  he simply melted over it being presented to him. you described what it looked like on tv.

                                                  1. re: iL Divo

                                                    After reading your post, curiosity got the best of me, so I Googled the show......Emeril's version was at Il Vagabondo. You can see the video segment on their website below.

                                                    http://www.ilvagabondo.com/media.html

                                                    1. re: fourunder

                                                      you're a great search engine fourunder, good job.
                                                      either way, I'll bet they're both truly delicious.

                                            2. Saveur magazine, December 2011( newest issue) has a great article and recipies on Italian America.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: emglow101

                                                You beat me to it! It's a wonderful issue and has a couple of nice essays in support of Italian-American cuisine. I have never earthen spaghetti and meatballs in Italy, but made right -by me! - it' a great dish.

                                                1. re: roxlet

                                                  I'm still reading this issue. It's a good one. I could go on and on of the memories. My best freinds across the street. Nonna,Gee Gee, Patten, all of em. I still try to reflect my cooking on the memories of this family. Maybe it's Italian American, but the biggest that people forget is that you all sat down TOGETHER for dinner EVERY night.

                                                  1. re: emglow101

                                                    ok I'll be buying one, y'all convinced me

                                              2. I think some of it also comes from Italian-Americans whose parents/grandparents are from regions of Italy that are not tomato-sauced based. Also it depends on how Americanized the family is - serving meatballs on the same plate as pasta, spaghetti for that matter with a meat sauce,the heavy predominance of Polly-O to the point where all you taste is bland cheese,and the lack of vegetables in most "Italian-American"menus are considered by many Italian-Americans to be really un-Italian. It's really a spectrum because of the successive waves of Italian immigrants, so there's lots of room for judgment :)