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A red-sauce parallel

(article, Kim Carlson)

Rita’s spaghetti sauce was on my mind this week when I read Kim Severson’s New York Times piece on cracking her family’s spaghetti code. I’m quite sure I don’t have a drop of Italian blood in my veins, but every month or so, I [%content read/kitchen_limbo/Mood+food crave newpage=true] spaghetti sauce in the style of Rita Hart, whose family was most definitely Italian. 

[%image reference-image float=left width=400 caption="Rita's sauce on penne."]I love spaghetti and can probably count on one hand the times I haven’t liked it — usually in not-so-stellar restaurants where the big problem was the soft pasta. Still, Rita’s is the best sauce I’ve ever eaten. I once asked Rita’s daughter, my friend Jane, for the recipe.

“I’ve never gotten it,” said Jane. “I doubt she really has one.”

While Jane had created her own toothsome red sauce, she had never thought to write down her mother’s version; in fact, none of Rita’s daughters (Marianne, Theresa, Katherine, Anne, Sally, and Susan, as well as Jane), good cooks all, had ever written it down. They just gobbled up their mom’s sauce when they gathered around her long wooden table, as they’d been doing for decades, and made their own versions at home for their friends and families.

So it fell to me, an outsider, to document Rita’s red sauce. She was her usual sweet-natured self when I quizzed her about it, and eventually I did get a recipe for Rita’s Spaghetti Sauce, although like Kim Severson’s cousin’s recipe, amounts of ingredients were not part of the package. (I improvised on the version here; as with all our recipes, let me know if we need to adjust amounts of any of the ingredients.) Still, I love the sauce, partly because I loved the source.

My version of the recipe is scrawled on a sauce-splashed index card in red pen. I don’t pull it out much anymore, having eventually memorized the ingredients. But I did once. It wasn’t too long after Rita had died, a circumstance that left a big space in many lives; her daughters weren’t the only ones who, missing Rita’s smile, soon craved her red sauce. I know I cooked a batch in her honor — and many, many batches since.

I think maybe it was Katherine who called that day, because she’d heard I gotten the red-sauce recipe, or some version of it, out of Rita, and she wanted to cook it. I gave her what I had, imperfect though it was.

Recently, I realized I had never asked Katherine how it turned out, but I’m sure it wasn’t the same sauce she remembered. 

But maybe it was close.

reference-image, l