Showing posts with label spaghetti sauce. Show all posts
Showing posts with label spaghetti sauce. Show all posts

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 Grazia.
(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 also dedicated one of our Haunted Bookshop Mysteries to him, as well as our 13th Coffeehouse Mystery, Billionaire Blend, the book we were writing when he passed away. 

Finally, I'd love to tell you how the Chianti in this picture got into this recipe, but that’s another story (thank you, Maria)! 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 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.

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.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cleo Coyle Shares a Recipe for Italian Stew from a Reality TV Guest

Cleo Coyle, pasta eater,
is author of The Coffeehouse
After coming home from a trip to Italy, Kerry Milliron, a longtime friend of mine, told me about a traditional Italian dish called spiedina. I asked him if he would share the recipe, and he was happy to provide the details. (I was equally happy to make the stew, take digital photos, and go into a food trance of enjoyment as I ate it.)

This old school Italian stew is a very simple one to make. It also brings me right back to my childhood when my Italian-born mother and aunt would make a long-simmering meat sauce for Sunday’s pasta. If you make it, may you and your loved ones eat with joy!

~ Cleo Coyle

Watch Kerry on
the Discovery Channel!

You can see my friend Kerry Milliron as a guest in an episode of the new reality show Cash Cab, airing tomorrow (Wednesday), March 14, at 9:30 AM. If you're curious and you have the Discovery Channel in your cable mix, check out the show and have fun. :) 

I don't have a picture of Ker (just his lovely wife, Julie, in the photo below), but if you forced me to give you a celeb lookalike, it would have to be Jason Statham of the Transporter movies. In other words, if you see a man who looks like this...tell him Cleo Coyle says buon appetito!

(Kerry is a true Renaissance man, IMO. He's been an actor, dancer, poet, author. He's a devoted husband who cooks with passion and lives with joie de vivre. He also happens to be a publishing exec at Random House, and none of the above ever stopped him from having fun on the streets of NYC or Italy.)

Kerry's Spiedina: 
An Italian Stew

Text below courtesy of Kerry Milliron 

Spiedina is a simple stew that I first tasted in Ortona, on the Adriatic coast of Italy. The root of spiedina, in Italian, literally means skewered, and the nearby mountain town of Guardiagrele is famous for their skewered grilled meats. 

The Ortonians--whose more temperate clime allows them nearly year-round access to fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, etc.--probably found the spitted meats of Guardiagrele tasty but dry, and used them to add gusto to some of their local recipes. Their version of spiedina combines chunks of meat with a thick tomato base, for a rich ragout that's as quick and simple as bakery pizza.

~ Kerry

Kerry Milliron lives with his wife,
Julie, in New York's East village  

Julia Milliron in an ancient kitchen of Herculaneum, Italy, a
Roman town destroyed 
 in 79 AD, along with Pompeii, by the volcanic  eruption of Mount Vesuvius. (Photo by Kerry Milliron.)

Kerry's Spiedina: 
An Italian Stew


Salt & pepper
1 Pound of cubed beef tenderloin*
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons chopped onion
1 clove chopped garlic
6 inches of dry (hard) Italian sausage (If you can't find dry sausage, try pepperoni instead.)*
1 28-ounce can of crushed Italian tomatoes

Step 1: Grill (or saute) your beef cubes until nicely browned, and set aside. 

Step 2: In a large saucepan over med-low flame, heat olive oil, and saute chopped onion, garlic, and your chunks of dry, hard Italian sausage for about 5 minutes. (If sausage begins to smoke or burn, temporarily remove it.)

Step 3: Stir in can of crushed Italian tomatoes, add browned beef cubes, and simmer, partially covered, over low flame for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally (about every 15 minutes). NOTE: If the stew boils over your pot, lower the flame and take off the lid completely. If the stew appears to be cooking down too quickly (if it becomes too thick or dry too soon) just add a bit of water and continue cooking. Don't try to rush the process, the stew should slow-cook 90 minutes to 2 hours for the most flavorful results.

Serve with crusty bread and a robust beverage. Store leftover stew in refrigerator.

Final Notes from Cleo...

* When I made Kerry's recipe, I upped the beef cube amount to 1-1/2 pounds. 

* If you can't find dry (hard) Italian sausage, ask the folks in your grocery store's deli section to help you locate it or try substituting pepperoni. 

* As with all stews, this one tastes even better the second day. Spices continue to blend, offering an even more flavorful experience. On Day 1, I ate the dish as a stew with crusty bread and red wine. On Day 2, I ladled the reheated stew over a big bowl of spaghetti because it makes a delicious meat sauce for pasta. 

Thanks again to Kerry for sharing his recipe. ~ Cleo

Perito, Italy  (Photo by Kerry Milliron)

Eat with joy!

~ Cleo Coyle, author of

To get more recipes, enter to win
free coffee, or 
learn about my books, including
my bestselling 
Haunted Bookshop series, visit my online coffeehouse:

The Coffeehouse Mysteries are national bestselling
culinary mysteries set in a landmark Greenwich Village 
coffeehouse, and each of the ten titles includes the 
added bonus of recipes. 

The Ghost and
Mrs. McClure

Book #1 of 

The Haunted Bookshop
, which Cleo writes
under the name Alice Kimberly
To learn more, click here.