Tuesday, July 9, 2013

How to Make Meatless Italian Spaghetti Sauce with Fresh Tomatoes: A post for my Dad (Tony Alfonsi) by Cleo Coyle

I swear this 2-hour meatless sauce will fool anyone into thinking it was simmered for 6-hours with meat. The rich depth of flavor is amazing and well worth a Saturday afternoon making it the way the "old timers" did. Even if you make it only once in your cooking life, the experience is one you'll never forget.

For those of you who've made pasta sauce from fresh tomatoes, you know the very smell of the sauce cooking is like nothing else on earth. With all my heart, I wanted to experience that little piece of heaven again to bring back some very sweet memories of my father, Antonio "Tony" Alfonsi.

Dad went into the hospital a week after Father’s Day and never came out again. He passed away on June 27 and we laid him to rest July 3rd at the age of 83. 

Dad was born a poor boy, the son of an Italian mounted police officer and his wife who emigrated here from Italy. But Dad didn't need money to lead a rich life with plenty of family and friends who loved him. 

He was a tough guy with a tender heart who served in the Army Air Corps then worked for years in a Pittsburgh area steel mill...
My Pop, Tony, with his mother Graziella.
(You can see the steel mills in the background.) 

My Father and Mother,
Antonio and Rose Alfonsi

For over 30 years, Tony was a faithful husband to my late mom, Rose. He raised two daughters with her: one a medical doctor (and assistant professor), Grace; and the other a journalist and New York Times bestselling author (yes, me, Alice, aka Cleo). 

As one of his nurses said to him in the last few months of his life, "You did good." I think so, too, and count myself very lucky to have been his daughter.

My sister, Dr. Grace Alfonsi, during her
time serving as Community Health Director
in Bethel, Alaska. 

During the Depression, my father's father kept his large family fed by working a small farm from which they sold produce. Every spring, my dad helped plant 2,000 tomato plants for his family, so he had no problem tending the 100 or so tomato plants he sowed for our own little family every summer.

Fresh pasta sauce was part of that yield, which is why I'm dedicating this post to my father. My husband and I are dedicating our next Coffeehouse Mystery book to him, too--more on that in a later post.

Finally, I can’t wait to tell you how the Chianti in this picture got into this recipe, but that’s a story for next week! In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the recipe. May you cook it with love and make lifelong memories of your own...

Eat with (everlasting) joy,

Alice Alfonsi,
who writes The Coffeehouse Mysteries
as Cleo Coyle with her husband Marc Cerasini

8 pounds (about 23) peeled and de-seeded
fresh tomatoes will cook down to about 1 quart (4 cups),

which is what I use in the sauce recipe below...

Cleo Coyle's
Meatless Italian
Spaghetti Sauce 
from Fresh Tomatoes 
for my Father...

To download this recipe in an illustrated PDF document that you can print, save, or share, click here.

What kind of tomatoes should you use for this recipe? While Roma (aka Italian plum) tomatoes are traditionally used for sauce, you can use any kind for this recipe. Whether you grow your own, pass a farm stand with big baskets for sale, or simply see a summer sale at your grocery, you can make this sauce out of any tomatoes you find or even mix the varieties--as long as they're ripe, you will eat with joy! 

~ Cleo (Alice)

Makes about 1-1/2 to 2 quarts
(depending on your thickness preference)


8 pounds ripe garden tomatoes

   (about 20 to 25 tomatoes)
5 celery ribs
2 carrots
1 large white onion
1/3 cup roughly chopped parsley leaves (curly or flat-leaf)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 Tablespoon dried basil (or 3 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade.)
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup of your favorite red wine (I’m using Chianti this go-round)

1-4 cups vegetable stock (in a pinch, simply use water)

Step 1- Prep the fresh tomato base: The taste of fresh summer tomatoes in this sauce is truly amazing, but you must first properly prepare the tomatoes. The process of peeling, de-seeding, and pulping those little round orbs may sound difficult, but it’s very easy—and once learned, the techniques can be used in a lifetime of cooking. See my instructions at the end of this recipe.

Step 2 - Prep the veggie aromatics: Roughly chop the celery, carrots, parsley, and onion. Add them to a food processor with the olive oil and pulse until very finely chopped—but do not puree or liquefy.

Step 3 - Add the spices and ignite: Add this veggie mix to a large pot with the spices (garlic powder, fresh or dried basil, dried oregano, salt, and pepper) and sauté (while stirring) over medium heat for about 10 minutes to release the flavors. Be sure to stir to keep the mixture from burning.

Step 4 - Add tomato pulp, wine and simmer: Add the quart of tomatoes that you have peeled, de-seeded, and cooked down into pulp (see instructions at end). Pour in the wine and simmer for 1 hour, stirring every so often to prevent scorching. After 1 hour, the mixture will have thickened into a beautifully condensed and very flavorful sauce. Now all you need to do is thin it out a bit...

Step 5 - Finish with stock (or water): To thin out this very thick sauce, stir in 1 to 4 cups of vegetable stock (or water). Continue cooking and stirring for another 20 to 30 minutes. If you like, use an immersion blender to smooth out any remaining chunks before serving. (We do!)

Depending on your own taste, continue adding more stock (or water) and/or cooking down until you get the consistency (thinness or thickness) that you prefer. 

Storing: This sauce will stay fresh about 1 week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.

How to Prep Fresh Tomatoes for Sauce 

Peeling and de-seeding tomatoes will remove bitterness and unwanted textures from your sauce. Because this step brings your sauce to a higher level of taste, it’s truly worth it—and it’s very easy to do. To watch a chef from the Culinary Institute of America perform this very easy process, click the arrow in the window below and watch the YouTube video.



1 - Peel your tomatoes: Remove stems and shallowly core as shown in my photo. Slice a small X at the bottom of each tomato. 

Place a few tomatoes at a time into a pot of simmering (or boiling) water. After 15 to 30 seconds (no more) remove immediately and drop in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. 

Using your fingers, gently peel the skin off the tomatoes. (You can save the skins to make a delicious condiment "sun-dried tomato flakes," click here for that recipe.) If you have any trouble with peeling a tomato, simply place it back in the boiling water for another 15 seconds and repeat the process. 

2 – De-seed your tomatoes: Cut the tomatoes in half--make sure you cut it as shown, crosswise, along its equator. Using a small spoon, gently dig out the seeds and discard. (You will not get every single seed out, and that's okay, just get as many as you can and you'll improve the sauce flavor.)

3 – Pulp your tomatoes: Place a large pot on the stove. Using a clean hand, roughly crush each peeled and seeded tomato over the pot and toss inside. Cook down the tomatoes over medium heat for about 20 minutes, stirring every so often to prevent scorching. Continue mashing the tomatoes with a large spoon as they cook

Cook until the excess water has evaporated and you are left with tomato pulp. 8 pounds of tomatoes will give you about 4 cups (1 quart) of tomato pulp. 

While the tomatoes are cooking down, begin the Meatless Spaghetti Sauce recipe, starting with Step 2, and when you're finished, be sure to...eat with joy!

A daughter may outgrow your lap,
but she will never outgrow your heart.
I love you, Dad. Rest now and
I will see you again...

~ Alice Alfonsi
(Cleo Coyle)

New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Yes, this is me now, Cleo (aka Alice). 
Friend me on facebook here.
Follow me on twitter here
Visit my online coffeehouse here.

To view the
Coffeehouse Mystery
book trailer, click here.

The Coffeehouse Mysteries are bestselling
works of amateur sleuth fiction set in a landmark
Greenwich Village coffeehouse, and each of the
12 titles includes the added bonus of recipes. 
To learn more, click here. 


The Ghost and
Mrs. McClure

Book #1 of 

The Haunted Bookshop
, which Cleo writes
under the name
Alice Kimberly

To learn more, click here.


  1. Cleo, I am so sorry about the loss of your dad! No matter how ready he was to go, a dad is something special. I know you'll keep those wonderful memories in your heart forever! (Love the wedding photos...)

    And love the tomato sauce in his memory--I will save this for later in the summer when those tomatoes come rolling in...

  2. I can almost taste and smell it. My Dad was a big one for cooking in my family. The fruit doesn't fall far from the tree, does it?
    Your heart and love pour out in this posting.
    Thanks for sharing you Dad with us.

  3. The entire Phillips family sends much love, sympathy and compassion to both you and Grace.

    On angel's wings he flew...

  4. What magnificent post and lovely tribute to your Dad, Cleo. I enjoyed the family history. In fact, you brought tears to my eyes. This recipe seems like the stuff of legends and I can't wait to make it.

    With love and sympathy

  5. So sorry for your loss. I lost my dad over 30 years ago and still miss him and my mom so much. However once the initial grieving is over you will be left with happy memories of a loving person. Can't wait to try this,my son the vegetarian will love it.
    Thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  6. Cleo, so sorry for your loss, but what a lovely tribute to your father. 2000 tomato plants? Wow. I lost my dad years ago and miss him every day. We picked fruit vines together. I understand your pain.

    Regarding the sauce - sounds yummy. I wouldn't have thought to de-seed the tomatoes. I know how to peel them, but usually I throw in the whole thing. I've got to try this. With the wine. :)

    Hugs and love,


  7. What a touching tribute to your father - made me teary-eyed. I'm so sorry for your loss.

  8. Cleo, your father must be very proud of you. I'm sure he would be honored by this lovely tribute. What a handsome young man he was! I see you in his face.

    Sometimes I think I'm too eager to make everything about the meat. But veggies have such wonderful flavor. I'm not surprised that this is a popular dish.


  9. Thanks to everyone for your kind comments on the post. I think Dad would have liked it, too--the post and the sauce.



    ~ Cleo (Alice) Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  10. Your father *did* do good, in so many ways. May his memory be a blessing to you and your family.

    My dad was an Irishman who loved to grow beefsteak tomatoes (and of course, potatoes!) in our small backyard. I will make this scrumptious sounding sauce and some homemade pasta, and dedicate the meal to your wonderful father. xo

  11. What a beautiful post and dedication to your dad. Those of us lucky enough to have had
    fathers we adored know the pain you are feeling. But he'll be with you always...especially as you cook! Thanks for the wonderful stories and the photos ....and of course your
    excellent books! Keep on keepin' on....sending warm hugs from Minnesota....

  12. denise longo.. your cousin teresa sister from another motherJuly 9, 2015 at 5:06 PM

    I know your aunt pina and cousin dom were great cooks but I didn't uncle tony was a good cook toooo. I have to try this since I am not permitted to eat any seeds or skins. it sounds so good. thanks for sharing your dads sauce.