Recipe - Sugo

Traditional Italian Sugo

I would like to talk about tomato sauce. I love tomato sauce. Once you learn to make a great tomato sauce it is eye opening to the possibilities this sauce can offer you.
When I was young I married a man whose background was and still is Argentian and Italian. Many Italians fled Italy during the time of Mussolini and also through the wars. This is exactly what happened to my Mother in law.  The funny thing is she met a man whose family hailed from the village right next door in Calabria.

Why am I telling you all this? Because these 2 people can cook like nobody I know.
I am a chef as you all know but with that often comes a narrow mindedness.  When Nonna made sauce she used a ton of olive oil and when I made mine I used a tablespoon. My sauce never tasted as good as hers. Sure we used the same tomatoes. The ones we would can together in the garage in the fall. But I just couldn’t bring myself to dose the tomatoes. I thought my way was healthier, wrong. And it definitely didn’t taste as good so finally years later I took a big breath and finally made proper Italian tomato sauce or sugo.
Here are the secrets. Be brave and do exactly what I say.

You will need:

  • 2 large cans of whole San Marzano Plum tomatoes. These must be made in Italy not Italian style. Why? Ours are just not as thick and flavourful unless you can them yourself, which I highly encourage.
  • ½ cup of EVOO, get the best quality you can
  • 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, smashed, skin removed
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper

In a heavy bottomed pot warm olive oil on medium heat, add garlic, when the garlic starts to bubble and smell take a can of tomatoes in one hand and the pot lid in the other. Dump the tomatoes quickly in the pot and slam on the lid. This is so they don’t sputter and burn you. Now do the same for the second tin. They should start to settle down and you can safely remove the lid. Season with the salt and pepper, taste in a bit and adjust seasonings. Let the sauce now simmer for 2 to 4 hours.

Sounds easy but it was really tough to do the olive oil but now the kids can’t tell if it is Nonna’s sauce or mine. Time for my favourite part; Variations on the theme.

This is super and crazy cheap. Get the cheapest cut of thin bone in pork chops you can find. Do everything the same but this time add the pork to the hot oil and then the garlic. The pork will stick but no worries once it simmers in the tomatoes it will loosen and all those sticky bits are flavour.

Sometimes, Nonna adds a sprig of basil. I always do. I often also add some dried chili’s because my family likes heat.

Once you have this incredible sugo the world is your oyster. I make killer Minestrone that is a great all season dish. Just throw in your favourite veggies into the pot and add an equal amount of homemade chicken or vegetable stock. I really like diced carrots, celery, green beans, yellow and green zucchini.

I always cook and cool my baby pastas and add them just before serving so they don’t get mushy. Now to make it super hardy I slice and toast baguette and then top is with freshly grated Parmigiano. Keep in mind if you are vegan; kill the cheese, if you are veggie use the veggie version, if you like meat then do a meaty minestrone. This sauce is the base for another of my favoutire dishes. Instant lasagna.

You will need:

  • 2 large packages of ravioli, I don’t care which kind but me, I do the spinach and ricotta
  • 1 500ml package of washed spinach
  • 1 ball of Italian style mozzarella. Make it very cold and grate it. It is so much better than the shredded stuff but if in a bind go for it.
  • Our sugo we made
  • 1 pint of 35% cooking cream
  • A little Pamigiano
  • 1 pyrex rectangular dish

This is now layering time. I always rub my dish with olive oil to prevent sticking.

A bit of tomato sauce just for the base coat. Now a layer of ravioli. Cover with spinach and a good amount of sauce and a drizzle of cream. Mozzerella time and do it again. I know the spinach is raw and this gives you great vitamins and adds moisture to the baking pasta. Oh and yes, the pasta is raw as well it will cook, promise. The very top sould be tomato sauce and cream.

Cover and bake at 375f for 1 hour. Remove foil, sprinkle with Parm and let bake for another 15 minutes until the parm is slightly browned.

This is a killer easy dish and everyone will be impressed. I can not tell you how many people I have told this recipe to over the years.

Make it your own by adding par cooked chicken breast thinly sliced. Make it a meat lovers with crumbled bacon and ground beef or fancy it up by adding gorgonzola and the spinach. Either way, the Sugo is Queen so enjoy.