The Whole Recipe — Sugo

Sugo alla South Roanoke Apartment Villages Pool

Every family has a few recipes that are ALWAYS served. For us one of those is a spaghetti sauce that was handed down to my mother almost directly from a buonafide Italian grandmother. It was referenced in a very early Eats article on different kinds of tomato sauces, which even has a comment that echos a very important part of this sauce: you add the tomato paste to the onions and garlic in oil and “fry” the paste a bit to caramelize some of the concentrated sugars before adding the wet tomato sauce and plum tomatoes to simmer.

With this communal nature of recipes in mind I thought it would be interesting to learn more about this “handing down” of food knowledge because the process of teaching cooking has always (and continues to be) one of master-and-apprentice. This model is codified in the culinary world where every serious chef has worked their way up from dishwasher to prep to line, but that’s just a reflection of how humans have always learned to cook: watching someone with more skill, and listening to them explain why they are doing it. Since I knew a bit, but not the whole story, about how this family favorite was acquired, I decided to capture the Whole Recipe for anyone who is interested in it, not just the ingredients and preparation.

As you can see in the photo at the top, I made a batch of this over the weekend — a bit for dinner and mostly to freeze for many easy future dinners. I was inspired to make it because I had defrosted our kitchen freezer and found some frozen spare ribs hiding in the drifts of ice in the back, and I was sure they were dried out, but would still be able to flavor a long cooked dish, and pork-on-the-bone is a critical component of this dish, in my opinion. The great thing about using spare ribs in this sauce is that by hour four or five the meat falls off the bone and pretty much melts into the sauce — you don’t really see chunks of meat in your sauce (unless you add it to the end as Carol recommends) — which I’ve learned is one of the characteristics of a classic Italian sugo. Continue reading

Are Grits Groceries?

My first real architecture job, after college and the Navy, was at Hayes Seay Mattern & Mattern Architects and Engineers in Roanoke, Virginia. I was situated in a big drafting room of about 30 drafting stations, next to Art, an old-timer architectural draftsman. Sometimes on Friday afternoon when we were mentally into the weekend, things would get silly, and Art would shout out a cliché, “The sun is over the yardarm!” Someone else would chime in, “Ugly as a mud fence!” And another might say, “That dog won’t hunt!” and on and on around the room until we ran out of steam or it got to be five o’clock, whichever came first. My favorite was, “Are grits groceries?” often contributed near the end by Art, himself. Nobody could provide a definition, in the South it could have any number of meanings, but it makes you think. I just looked it up on Clichésite but its not listed.


What I’m thinking about is Shrimp ‘n’ Grits, which I sampled for the first time that I can remember in a small restaurant in Atlanta, while visiting my brother, Tom. That was a bowl of grits with small barbecued shrimp arrayed on top, and it was good. Real good. Continue reading

Green Bean Cassarole

Different strokes for different folks
I’m home alone for a week after my second trip to Ohio in as many months. This time it was to visit with son-from-France and brother-from-Georgia. Wife is staying on for her high school reunion, which explains my home aloneness.

In the days leading up to the trip, we tried to use up all things fresh, but didn’t make it through a pound of green beans. Those, we spread out in a metal pan and froze, au natural. I don’t recommend freezing fresh green beans, except in dire straits… they do retain their color and flavor, but the texture goes all limp.

After airplane delays on my trip home, I arrived late in the night and ate a can of chicken noodle soup. I dreamed of green bean casserole.


There’s always a pound o’ ground in the freezer and I made Chunky Tomato Base shortly before the trip. We’ve had a half used box of instant mashed potatoes in the cupboard for over a year, but that stuff has no sell-by date. All set.
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“Gravy isTomato sauce, usually the kind made with meat like pork, veal, etc, and typically eaten with macaroni, rigatoni or ziti. As opposed to marinara sauce, a meatless tomato sauce usually eaten with spaghetti.”
Peter Paul “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri quoted in The Sopranos Family Cookbook [Warner Books 2002]

I’m posting this Pork Braciola and Tomato Gravy recipe just because its so good and reminded both Carol and me of the “spaghetti sauce” she used to make back in the day when there were hungry kids around. I’m pretty sure she picked it up from one of the neighbor ladies in South Roanoke Apartment Village. In any case, it followed us to Newton, and is one of the few recipes I took to Jerusalem.

After our move to San Francisco, there were no longer hungry kids around and we got caught up in trying new recipes from new cookbooks, and then there was the no carb phase and Carol’s tried and true spaghetti sauce fell by the wayside.
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Mother’s Day Quiche

outta_th_oven.JPGCarol said, “You know what I want for Mother’s Day? A Quiche.”

The first time I remember eating Quiche Lorraine was at Pat’s house in Roanoke, prepared by Pat’s wife Pat for a Super Bowl III Party. If memory serves, I took the Colts, giving 19 points, and was devastated that the upstart AFL and the Jets loudmouth quarterback from hated Alabama, beat the mighty NFL.

At the same time, I harbored no love for the Colts. In Roanoke we got the Colts and Redskins—one or the other—on Sundays, and Sonny Jurgensen’s ‘Skins were my team of choice. I cursed when the hyper-babble of the fast talking Chuck Smith, the Colts broadcaster, came on CBS. We never knew which team we would get until the broadcast started, the TV listings were unreliable.
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