By Hilary Meyer, November/December 2009
One of the greatest gifts I ever received was a small plastic container filled with pasta sauce from my uncle’s freezer. I know that sounds unconventional and I suppose it is, but this wasn’t just any pasta sauce. It was Uncle Martin’s Bolognese. He spent hours in his kitchen chopping carrots into tiny cubes, browning ground meat and simmering tomatoes slowly over his stove. I only see Martin once a year, and he knew how much I loved his sauce so he packaged it up and froze some just for me.
The following year, I decided to do the same thing for him. My husband and I made a big batch of mole—a Mexican sauce made from dried chiles, nuts and chocolate. We set some aside, froze it and delivered it to him when we saw him for the holidays. He is a food enthusiast, so I knew he would appreciate it. And before we knew it, a new family tradition was born.
“Sauce-Off,” as we call it, is now a real holiday tradition and has evolved to include many members of our food-centric family. During the weeks prior to our gathering, while most people are planning their holiday menus, my family members are making sauce. And the addition of more people adds just a touch of rivalry. Last year, in an attempt to outdo Martin’s Bolognese, my mother made her “world-famous” pesto. She froze it in ice cube trays, put the perfectly portioned frozen cubes in containers and proudly delivered them to us along with some of her favorite pesto-friendly recipes. Even my sister’s significant other (who never cooks, but hates to lose) contributed a homemade barbecue sauce (and a good one at that). Although we don’t officially call Sauce-Off a “competition,” each year we come up with bigger and better sauces.
This unorthodox family tradition is what I look forward to the most about the holidays. That’s why we at EatingWell thought it would be fun to ask some of our favorite cookbook authors and celebrity chefs what sauce they might make to wow their own friends and family. To make it ultra-convenient, we asked for pasta sauce recipes, which can be easily frozen, then defrosted. Just add pasta and you’ve got a quick and easy supper. What they gave us are five different mouthwatering concoctions.
Famed Italian chef and TV host of Lidia’s Italy Lidia Bastianich brought us her Salsa alla Capricciosa, a sweet and spicy red sauce made with Italian San Marzano tomatoes. Dietitian and host of Food Network’s Healthy Appetite Ellie Krieger gave us a deliciously toasty Roasted Tomato & Almond Pesto that’s whipped up in 15 minutes flat. Italian cookbook author Giuliano Hazan contributed a slow-simmered Bolognese with rich meaty flavor, while Chef Paul Bartolotta of Bartolotta, Ristorante di Mare at Wynn Las Vegas gave us Salsa Palermitana, a bright and tangy sauce brimming with lemon and oregano, from southern Italy. We rounded out the collection with cookbook author and sausage connoisseur Bruce Aidells, who offered a smoky, complex Iberian-Style Sausage & Chicken Ragù.
I think my family Sauce-Off tradition is as fun and delicious as it gets. But it’s also super-helpful—having a freezer full of sauces makes dinner easy, a welcome treat for the cook around the busy holiday season. And every time I enjoy some of the sauces my family lovingly made, it brings me back to our annual cooking “competition.” I can’t wait to bring these sauces from our favorite chefs to my family of foodies this year. Even though Uncle Martin will defend his Bolognese as being the best, little does he know I’ve got a few secret weapons up my sleeve.