Remembering grandma through recipes

Grandma Virginia

This is quite simply the most difficult edition of The Flavor Chronicle I have ever written. My grandmother, the person I attribute with teaching me how to cook and my muse behind many of my columns, passed away a few weeks ago. There have been so many memories flooding back to my mind these past few weeks, many of which have been food-related memories. I want to share a few of those memories and one of my grandma’s recipes, which every grandmother of Italian heritage holds close to her heart.
I was about 4 years old when I first remember cooking with my grandma. It was just before Christmas and she made a simple sugar cookie dough in white, green and red. She helped my sister, Stacy, and I roll the dough, cut the shapes and decorate the cookies. I remember having so much fun with my grandma and how proud she was of our cookies.
I also recall the punch grandma made for my birthday parties when I was younger. It was an interesting mix of lemon lime soda, a little lemonade concentrate and a complementary sherbet such as lime or orange. The soda and frozen dessert mixture was similar to a root beer float if the ice cream was melted. The punch was a unique touch my grandma added to make celebrations special.
But it is grandma’s marinara sauce that I will always cherish. I knew how to make sauce, but it never turned out as good as her sauce. It was about eight years ago that I learned grandma’s specific sauce method. Grandma liked crushing tomatoes after they already started to cook into a sauce. Her marinara can be used as a base where tomato sauce is used—including on pizza—as the tomato sauce base for cioppino, chicken parmesan and tossed with pasta or spooned over polenta.
Grandma Virginia’s Marinara Sauce
Makes approximately 32 ounces
Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, finely minced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
28-ounce can of plum tomatoes
2 packed tablespoons basil leaves, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Step 1: Bring a medium size pot up to medium heat. Add the olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pot. Add the onions and sauté until they are just translucent. Add the garlic and continue to sauté until soft. Add the can of tomatoes and stir to incorporate the onions and garlic.
Step 2: Add the basil, oregano, sugar and a shake of salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate. Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 45 minutes.
Step 3: Using a potato masher, crush the tomatoes until they become fine and well incorporated into a sauce. Adjust seasoning to your liking. Continue to simmer an additional 15 to 20 minutes.
Step 4: Serve the marinara over your favorite pasta, polenta or as a base for other entrées.

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