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.
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.
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.
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.