Rolling Out the Red Carpet

We had company over for dinner Saturday night. I spent half the day bustling around, tidying and cleaning, placing candles and choosing music. I burned a cooking CD (Music to Cook By, Vol. 1), and prepared to cook what our daughter, Rosemary, has dubbed my Red Carpet Sauce. “It’s Red Carpet,” she explained, “because it’s red and because you fix it on special occasions!” It is by far my favorite recipe and I can’t imagine growing tired of cooking or eating it. And, yes, I’m going to share it with you.

hens by you.I love to cook. In another life I might have been a cook, scrubbing pots with salt or plucking fowl in some blueblood’s kitchen, wiping the sweat off my forehead with the back of my hand. I would be portly and red-faced from drinking too much on the sly, probably. And I would have had five strapping sons and one daughter to boss around, and a spry little husband who played the fiddle but was crushed under an ox cart in a tragic accident.

In this life I am not a cook in a blueblood’s kitchen. I am the blueblood, but I don’t act like one due to a costume malfunction with my persona, which has been tattered from too much abuse over the years. So when I cook in this life, I am happy, because I don’t need a costume and I have two well-used aprons from Williams Sonoma, and can decide whether I feel all pink and girly, or all paisley-green-and-blue.

I went paisley-green-and-blue and listened to music from the 1960s all the way up to last week’s music. I dance when I cook, and I also sing loudly. This is how people know I’m happy: I’m in the kitchen. I’m singing. I’m dancing. And I smell like garlic and onion.

This Red Carpet Sauce takes hours to make and simmer. It fills the house with its aroma, and we’re all as happy to eat it each time we do as we were the first time we fell in love with it, when I cooked it from a recipe in my favorite Italian cookbook, which my daughter Fern gave me for Christmas one year. Give me a book as a gift, or a cookbook or a pen or notecards and I am a happy woman. I will settle for beautiful, astounding jewelry, though.

tip plate by you.Sage and Rosemary wanted to help this time, and so they did, learning to use sharp knives and cutting onion, stirring the garlic, chattering and sometimes singing out loud too. Part of the sauce preparation involves removing Italian sausage from its casing, which is messy work. I lay the sausages out on a board and get a small, sharp knife, and slit the casings open, exposing the sausage. Then I have to pull the sausage out and drop it by bits and pieces into the already simmering garlic and onion and olive oil.

We got to the uncase-the-sausage part, the messiest part of cooking this sauce. Most of my daughters don’t like doing this part, for the ones who live nearby or at home and are likely to help are Virgoesque little prima donnas who can’t stand to get their hands or any other part of themselves messy. I always do the sausage myself, for I have no problem with Messy. But this time, 11-year-old Rosemary begged to uncase the sausage.

“Please, Mom! I want to do it!” she implored.

“Honey, it’s very messy. Look, see how it gets all over my hands? Not only do you have to pull it out of the casing and touch the casing, but it sticks to your hands sometimes, too!” As if assisting me for illustrative purposes, a casing was now stuck to my hand, being flung about like a long drool of snot by my hand gestures. “And then, after all that, you have to break it into little pieces and drop it into the oil. It’s messy, I’m telling you.”

Undaunted, Rosemary was still eagerly nodding.

“You still want to do this?” I asked, one last time.

“Mom,” she said, confidence all over. “Mom, I work with mud. I can handle this.”

From mud pies to company dinner. My girl is growing up.

I couldn’t stop laughing for awhile.

I work with mud.

 dishes by you.

Eve’s Red Carpet Sauce

Makes 6 servings. Cooking time: 2-5 hours.

3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red chili pepper, minced (or 1 tsp. red chili flakes)
3 cans chopped tomato, or 3 c. fresh chopped tomato
2 small cans tomato paste
1/2 bottle red wine
1-2 tsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. minced parsley
1 lb. Italian sausage in casing
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. Italian salami, diced

Directions: Heat oil in dutch oven, and add minced onion, garlic, and chili and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the chopped Italian salami and saute another minute or so, and then add the crumbled Italian sausage and ground beef. Cook until brown. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, sugar, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, letting the red wine cook down. Add a bit of water or more wine if the sauce becomes too thick. Simmer on low for at least an hour.  Add your favorite pasta, and serve with tossed salad and Italian bread.

Notes: I usually use a Shiraz wine for this, because I like its peppery  notes best for this sauce. I’ve also used Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinots. I like an Australian Shiraz, Yellow Tail. Also, though the recipe calls for a cooking time of an hour or so, I cook this sauce for about 4 hours and have found it makes the sauce heavenly. My preferred pasta is penne, and I serve this meal with a tossed salad, Italian bread or breadsticks, and a good wine.

13 responses to “Rolling Out the Red Carpet”

  1. renaissanceguy Avatar

    Sounds delicious. Unfortunately I cannot get most of those ingredients. No wine, sausage, or salami here. Maybe I’ll visit you when I am in America in 1 1/2 years. 🙂

  2. lalber Avatar

    Love that there’s a half bottle of wine in the recipe. I gotta try it!

    And, I love your daughter’s comment. Maybe she’ll discover the potter’s wheel in the future!

  3. henitsirk Avatar

    Hijacking your post here . . . dum-te-dum-bum-bum . . .don’t mind me.

    Scott, those essays are wonderful. Lots of gems. Lots on the nobility of farm work, and farm women’s work. And practical, common sense advice.

  4. Scott Erb Avatar

    I found a wonderful book “Little House in the Ozarks” which contains newspaper columns Laura wrote between 1911 and 1925. The book has 140 of them, and they are brilliant and magical. There’s one I really like, “Life is Like Coal Tar.” Maybe this weekend I’ll post it on my blog, having Laura as a “guest blogger” 🙂

  5. henitsirk Avatar

    Eve, I forgot to mention:
    ” I would be portly and red-faced from drinking too much on the sly, probably. And I would have had five strapping sons and one daughter to boss around, and a spry little husband who played the fiddle but was crushed under an ox cart in a tragic accident.”

    That was just hilarious! Funny how that called up images from several books…must be some kind of trope.

    Scott: It’s nice to hear of someone else who re-reads those books as an adult! I can’t recall which one, but there is a book about LIW that talks about how some of her books, Farmer Boy in particular, reveal a bit of wish fulfillment — all that food! The Ingallses certainly went through some very hard times, not just the Long Winter but even crossing the prairies, eating cornmeal mush ten different ways. Certainly growing and obtaining food and its preparation formed a large part of their days. It’s hard to imagine how much work it was to prepare everything from scratch…no grocery stores! Canned food was a luxury. But then they knew how to cook on woodstoves, which is no mean feat, and how to make all kinds of things that most of us have forgotten. And unlike us, who have the luxury of not needing our children to necessarily learn to cook and clean, Ma Ingalls and Mother Wilder had to teach their girls to manage a home, if only to help with all the work!

    What I’ve always wanted to know was why the Wilders moved from their very prosperous farm in New York to Minnesota. And how Pa could call up the will forces to build entire houses more or less by himself. I’ve always been in awe of him.

    Though it wasn’t part of their cuisine, it looks to me like Laura could have made her own version of Red Carpet Sauce, except for maybe the salami and olive oil. I’m sure she would have used drippings instead. I treasure my Little House Cookbook, as you can probably tell.

  6. Scott Erb Avatar

    Henitsirk, thanks for the Laura Ingalls Wilder reference. I grew up in South Dakota and read her books starting when I was in third grade, saving up my allowance to buy them one by one. They are on my shelf right here, and I re-read them at least once every two or three years. If I could go back and meet and talk with any historical figure, it wouldn’t be a leader, emperor or anything like that, it would be Laura. In fact, my first record I bought, at nine or ten years old, was “Sweet Caroline,” because Caroline was the name of Laura’s mom (though I guess it was about Caroline Kennedy). What gets me when I re-read the books is how dirt poor they were, and how tough their lives were. Yet what comes through is the love, joy of being together as a family, and wonder of their lives. As I child, I didn’t even notice the poverty when I read those books, so powerful was the joy. Anyway, off topic, but I had to respond to your Laura Ingalls reference!

  7. henitsirk Avatar


    I usually squeeze sausage from their casings like toothpaste, too. Very satisfying, somehow. We used to get the best Italian sausage with fennel from the otherwise banal chain grocery in New York.

    I am very Virgoesque (six houses!) but I don’t mind being messy in the kitchen. Love, love, love to make meat loaf with my hands! I always think of how Laura Ingalls Wilder hated the feeling of flour on her hands during breadmaking.

    Mud is a wonderful artistic medium. Good for her! (I can just imagine the unironic sincerity pouring from her eyes.)

  8. Shirley Avatar

    Yum. Of all times to come over and read, it would be now when I’m starving…with no food in sight.

  9. Lee Avatar

    I can just imagine how divine it must have smelled in your house! I love a good red sauce. Mine are vegetarian but I love the wine usages you suggest. Will definately incorporate that sometime soon!

  10. Alida Avatar

    I might have guessed you like to cook…Rosemary, Sage. I love the names and the herbs. Sometimes we throw a twig of rosemary into the fire just for the smell.

    I love to cook, but sauces have always intimidated me. They DO seem so messy, not that the rest of my cooking isn’t:)

    I may just give this one a try, you haven’t steered my wrong yet!

  11. deb Avatar

    This is similar to the sauce I make when I’m making lasagna. In Canada though, I’m smirking now, I can buy Italian sausage without the casing, although I don’t mind emptying casing. I usually just squeeze them like toothpaste, very satisfying. I think I’ll make pasta tonight.

    Back to personas. I am different around different people. I have a friend who is outgoing and I become more outgoing around her. We went shopping last night and had a blast. I have friends that are quiet and introspective and I become more so around them. I have a two friends that are “flaky”, my term, not theirs, and I become more open to auras, and energy fields around them. I have a couple of nursing friends who are very professional and I become more so around them. It goes on obviously. Is this the notion of personas? But to my mind, all of this is me, different facets of me but still me, just depends which way you turn me in the light.

  12. Scott Erb Avatar

    Sounds delicious. I love to cook and this is very different than the sauces I’ve prepared in the past. I’ll try it out!

  13. giannakali Avatar

    sounds delightful…I’m a cook and often imagine being one still in this lifetime…I often fantasize taking over kitchens in restaurants that disappoint.

    this sauce is much like one I make though I’ve not used the beef and salami…the salami sounds very interesting and I will indeed give it a try. Much to my delight I’ve found a source of natural, organic nitrate free salami…for a while I thought I’d never eat cure meat again when I changed my diet and was SOOO happy to find that I can!

    I’ve always liked popping sausage out of it’s casing!! I guess I like getting dirty in the kitchen…never even thought of it that way. Though it sounds like you too have fun with it.

    thanks for this post. it was fun. I’ve written cooking posts on occasion as well.

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