Every summer during my time on the Olympic team I had the good fortune of spending a month in Italy, a place where we’d call home during our World Cup season. It wasn’t hard to fall in love with the food, although being a lightweight and having to make weight was torturous at times. Watching the heavyweights enjoying homemade pasta and tomato sauce left my mouth watering as I sat among them eating my clean house salad with a bit of protein. I vowed that when my lightweight days were over I’d return to Italy and experience everything that the Nona’s and chef’s had to offer.
Little did I know that during this same time frame, my now husband was enjoying his final semester of university in Florence where he honed his Italian language skills and learned to make the most incredible pasta sauce I have ever tasted.
It wasn’t until two summers ago, when we were harvesting tomatoes from our own garden in River John, that the secret sauce was revealed. As I was picking all the ripe tomatoes Jarret said that he’d like to make the sauce this time around. I agreed, but was secretly worried since I had not known him to have any interest or background knowledge in food preservation. I distinctly remember watching with a keen eye that afternoon as he reduced the tomatoes and added his seasoning. He was free wheeling, no recipe, no timers, just a mother spoon and his own taste buds as his guide. The smell is the house was absolutely divine; the anticipation was killing me. Then about four hours later, he said the magic words, “it’s ready.” Even now, the mere thought of this first taste makes my mouth water. It was a flavour that awoke every taste bud, to say it was delicious is an understatement. I immediately needed to know the secret, I had to be able to recreate this recipe and share it with others. Jarret shared the story of his homestay family in Florence and how
Mrs. Ugalini-Martelli would make this pasta sauce with her eyes closed. The effort was minimal, but the flavour was powerful. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet this lovely lady, but her secret sauce lives on in our kitchen.
We’ve reached the time of year where many of you will be harvesting your own home-grown tomatoes. Most will be ripe enough to use up right away, while others may still be quite green but should not be discounted since they too can be turned into an incredible sauce. From my kitchen to yours here is how we’ve learned to minimize waste and enjoy all fruits of our labours in our tomato garden. After the outdoor temperature dips below 10°C the fruit will no longer ripen on the vine, which means that the green fruit will need a little extra help. Simply wrap each fruit individually in paper and place them in a cardboard box. Add a couple of apples to speed up the ripening time and store in a dry, cool area at room temperature. Every week open the box and remove any fruit that is ready to eat, or show signs of disease. Freshen the apples if necessary and repeat the process until all of your fruit has come into their own. By doing this last season we were able to preserve an extra ten jars of pasta sauce which we enjoyed into early spring. If you are up for an Italian adventure and are not afraid to free wheel without a recipe I encourage you to try your hand at Mrs. Ugalini-Martelli’s sauce. I will give you some guidelines, but your taste buds alone will be your guide.
Guidelines to Mrs. Ugalini-Martelli’s secret sauce
Choose a day where you’re going to be home, since you’re going to need time. Pick bright red tomatoes that are juicy and slightly soft. Cut them in chunks and throw them in your largest stewing pot (a thick bottom pot is ideal- I use a large Creuset saucepan). Bring the tomato liquid up to a simmer and walk away. On occasion give it a stir. Allow at least two hours to reduce the amount of liquid. Once three quarters of the water is removed, put the tomatoes through a sieve that you’ve positioned over a bowl to catch the pulp free sauce. Use a spoon to push as much sauce through as possible. If you’ve got a food mill then that’s even better; the goal is to remove the seeds and skins. Transfer this liquid back to your original pot and continue to reduce for at least another hour. During this time the seasoning process begins. Add dried basil and dried oregano to taste. Don’t be scared you know what you like, but keep in mind that the flavour will intensify as the liquid continues to reduce. In the final mile it’s time to add the salt, this will brighten the flavour even more and give you that delicious finish.