Salsa per Spaghetti (1937, adapted)

Salsa per Spaghetti is a thick and hearty spaghetti sauce made with tomatoes and onions.   The original version of this recipe comes from Recipes from “Round the World”, a 1937 cookbook published by the McNess companyRecipes from “Round the World” contains over a hundred recipes from fifteen countries, presented in their original language side-by-side with and English translation.   There are chapters on Italian, Chinese, and German cooking along with several lesser known cuisines.  I’m looking forward to cooking through the chapters on Finland and Argentina.   I honestly never intended to give the Italy chapter a second look, but it’s been a busy few weeks.  And last night I was in desperate need of a pizza sauce, and figured that Salsa per Spaghetti seemed to fit the bill.

I know very little about traditional Italian cooking.  Jarred pasta sauce doesn’t offend me, and my go-to spaghetti sauce is pureed canned tomatoes with a smidge of garlic and basil.   I’ve never made my own pasta, and don’t really care whether my lasagna is made with ricotta or a bechamel.  So I tried to have an open mind when making Salsa per Spaghetti.  Maybe this was the recipe that would teach me that special something to take my Italian cooking to the next level.

It wasn’t.

Despite the cookbook’s claims, this recipe is American through and through.  The telltale sign is flour, used as a thickening agent in a tomato based sauce.  Heresy.  Done properly it can help the sauce to stick to your spaghetti, but I was making pizza, not pasta.   No one wants a sticky, pasty pizza sauce.  I opted instead to thicken my tomato sauce the old fashioned way:  low and slow.  The original recipe also called for sugar and chicken broth.  I use sweet onions as a matter of course and felt comfortable omitting the sugar.  I considered adding chicken bouillon for depth, but the sauce was plenty salty without it.

Preparation is otherwise straightforward.   Onions and celery are pureed and fried in olive oil.  Wait until they release their liquid and start to brown.  Then add a smidge of garlic and good quality crushed tomatoes and bake in a low oven until the sauce is thick and rich.   The sauce is seasoned with bay leaves, ground cloves, and paprika.   I used a heavy hand with the cloves and don’t regret it.

The end result was a hearty, almost meaty tomato sauce.  It was almost too good to use on the little party pizzas I was making.  Not next level cooking, but it had a fresh taste that you just don’t get from a jarred sauce.  Salsa per Spaghetti made enough for 16 party pizzas with enough left over for a pot of actual spaghetti later in the week.   A very little bit of effort for a better-than-average sauce.  Enjoy!

Salsa per Spaghetti





Salsa per Spaghetti (1937, adapted)

  • Preparation: 30 min
  • Cooking: 2 h
  • Ready in: 2 h 30 min
  • For: 1 quart
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  1. Preheat oven to 300º F
  2. Heat olive oil in a large, oven safe pot over medium high heat. Puree onions and celery in a food processor. When the oil starts to smoke, add onions and celery. Fry for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally until vegetables have expressed their liquid and start to brown. You are looking for a uniform golden color throughout.
  3. Add remaining ingredients, stir well, and bring to a simmer.
  4. When oven is heated, place pot in oven, uncovered for 1½ - 2 hours, stirring occasionally. The excess liquid should be reduced, leaving you with an impossibly thick sauce. This sauce is made for spaghetti but works well on pizza, too.

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