A Biale Family Recipe Originating From Clementina
When this French/Irish girl married into the full-on-Italian Biale clan, I was out of my depth! My mother is a fabulous cook and we ate well in our home. My mother gave me the love for good food made with quality ingredients. But French cuisine is different than Italian cuisine. I had a lot to learn.
I was twenty when I married Bob and we lived the first 2 and a half years of our marriage in a trailer behind the 19th century home that he and his father were remodeling into the modestly stunning home that we live in to this day. The trailer was older than I was and thus producing good food on limited equipment was a challenge. While Bob totally accepted that, the one thing he wanted was good sugo: good pasta sauce. So I asked his mother Clementina to teach me. I did everything she taught me, except grow my own tomatoes. I tried fresh store-bought tomatoes (no farmers markets at the time), the best canned tomatoes but nothing worked. I eventually gave in and grew my own tomatoes (something I had told Bob I didn’t have the time to do!) Bob was sure this was the missing ingredient, but it wasn’t. So I tried different kinds of tomatoes, to no avail. Years went by and I could never give him the sugo he craved.
Then one day…
I walked into Clementina’s kitchen and saw her sugo simmering on the stove. But there was an ingredient in it I didn’t recognize: pigs feet!!!! I looked at her with confusion and she just shrugged her shoulders. Her secret ingredient was pork fat!! I went home and made the sugo she’d described to me but this time added a pig’s foot and served the pasta to my husband. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so happy. He declared that I’d FINALLY mastered his mother’s sugo. We’ve been happily married ever since 😉
For the next 2 decades I thought that my mother-in-law had been holding out on me. I didn’t resent her for it, but thought her guilty of it. And then in her waning years, she admitted to me that the reason she never told me about adding the pig’s feet was that she was embarrassed by it. She thought it was a “peasant move”, something you did when you couldn’t afford the good stuff. I don’t recall when my heart has ever softened so swiftly. Clementina was serving us DELICIOUS food and was embarrassed that—before it was trendy—she was all in for farm-to-table cooking. Old world values have a lot to teach us.”
“Sugo di Pomodoro” Tomato Sauce For Pasta
Ingredients (4 servings):
- 3 TBSP olive oil
- 2 cups diced yellow onion
- 3 large sprigs rosemary
- 3 cloves garlic smashed and peeled
- Salt to taste
- Pork of your choice: 1 or 2 pigs feet, 1.5 pounds pork bones, 6 slices of bacon or pork belly, or 1 cup pancetta (The fattier the pork you choose, the greasier the sauce will be, but also tastier. Adjust amounts to your liking.)
- Tomatoes: If fresh tomatoes are very ripe, add 7 cups either diced or whole (peeled if you prefer—not necessary if you use a food mill when finishing the sauce). Otherwise, use (2) 28oz cans of whole, diced, or crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzanos. Clementina’s favorites were a variety called Ox’s Heart—Cuore di Bue—rarely found at markets.
Warm a large frying pan or even soup pot over medium heat. Add olive oil. Once warmed but not smoking add onions. After a minute or 2, add pork. Lightly brown pork on all sides. Reduce heat to medium-low. Continue to cook onions and pork for several minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and a bit translucent but not browned and pork is no longer bright pink.
Add tomatoes, rosemary, and garlic. Let simmer on low until you get the consistency you prefer. (I like a thick sauce, but one that still flows off my ladle rather than falls in globs.) The lower the heat, the longer the simmer at least 2 hours (4-6 preferable), but I rush it when I have less time and it’s still delicious. If you know you need to make sugo quickly, be sure to cook the pork longer before you add the tomatoes.
To finish, you can either simply remove the pork, garlic, and rosemary and season with salt to taste, or you can remove pork, garlic, and rosemary and run through a food mill and then salt to taste. The former results in chunkier sauce (good for flat noodles like tagliatelle), the latter in a more refined sauce (good for shaped/ridged pasta like rigatoni).
Once pasta is cooked and drained, add a bit of sugo to warmed serving platter—enough to cover the whole bottom—then add pasta and more sugo. Garnish simply with a drizzle of fresh olive oil, fresh basil, and parmesan cheese.