Growing up, my parents grew a traditional Italian garden. From rows of staked tomatoes to plots of basil, it contained everything my mother needed to make homemade tomato sauce. And without fail, every Sunday morning my mother would stand in the kitchen and start a pot of what we simply called “sauce.”
I was an adult before I ever heard the word “marinara.” But that’s technically the type of sauce my mother would make. She’d start by sautéing onions and peppers in a small amount of olive oil in the bottom of our “sauce” pot. The aroma filled the air. To this day, whenever I smell onions and peppers frying in a pan, it takes me back to those Sunday mornings of my childhood.
Next, my mother would add four quarts of canned tomatoes and dried herbs – all of which had come from the previous summer’s garden. All day long, these ingredients would cook down until the sauce was rich and thick. The robust flavor of homemade tomato sauce is one of my favorites and I would often “sneak” a small bowl when my mother wasn’t looking.
No Pasta For Me
Being of Italian descent, most people are surprised to find that I’m not a big fan of pasta. Instead, I would dip thick, crusty slices of fresh Italian bread into that bowl of stolen sauce and savor the essence of its homemade goodness.
Thinking back, it’s hard to imagine that my thievery went unnoticed. I’m quite sure the telltale signs of a sauce-coated bowl and spoon sitting in the sink ratted me out. Yet, my mother never said a word. I think she understood my passion for the sauce and not the pasta.
Today, I rarely make pasta for my family. Thus, I have not carried on the Sunday ritual of sauce making. But I still find myself growing the very same vegetables my parents grew in their garden. Rows of staked paste tomatoes overlook a sea of bell peppers and squares of white, yellow and purple onions. The basil grows in a sheltered location next to the house.
Not surprisingly, each year I fill my freezer with bags of frozen peppers just like my parents did. My pantry contains jars of dried herbs, onions and canned tomatoes. And while a few jars of those tomatoes are reserved for holidays and special occasions when pasta graces my table, most are used for chili, soups and casseroles.
A More Modern Garden
Overall, I cook quite differently than my parents and my garden reflects this. In addition to the traditional Italian veggies my parents grew, my garden includes beets, bok choy and kale. You wouldn’t have found these vegetables growing in my parent’s garden, nor would you have seen butternut squash, pumpkins or corn.
Yet every spring, when I plan my garden, one thought consumes my mind. I can’t help but question if I have enough tomato plants started. After all, tomatoes are the main ingredient in homemade sauce and old family traditions are hard to ignore.