Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Gelardi Family Spaghetti Sauce

This is an old Sicilian recipe passed down to me via my maternal Great Great Grandmother, Ignazia Dimino, born in Sciacca, Sicily in 1875.  In 1899, Ignazia made the journey to the United States to meet up with her husband-to-be, Pasquale Gelardi.  They married and settled in San Fransisco, where they had 10 children.  

My Great Nana, Lena Gelardi, was their eldest child, born in 1900.  She passed away before I was born, so sadly I never enjoyed a meal cooked by her.  Fortunately my mom has an excellent food memory (it's almost a superpower).  Thanks to my mom's awesome food memory, I'll be sharing more of my Great Nana's recipes here soon.  For now, I believe her (and her mom's) spaghetti sauce is a good introduction recipe.  
Ignazia Dimino-Gelardi (my Great Great Grandmother), 1875-1938 (Sciacca, Sicily to San Francisco)
Lena (my Great Nana), 1900-1970, San Francisco
Vera (my Great Great Aunt), 1907 - 2008
About 15 years ago we visited my Great Great Aunt Vera (the second eldest Gelardi daughter) and her daughter, N.J.  One evening N.J. treated us to spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, using the old family recipe.  Vera confirmed that this was the recipe that Great Great Grandmother had taught her.  It was DELICIOUS!!!  Total bliss in my mouth.  However, the recipe wasn't written down, and N.J.'s dictated version includes "a little of this" and "a pinch of that"... "sometimes this"... "sometimes that."  Like many traditional recipes, you sort of let intuition, preferences, supplies, and habit guide you. If the recipe looks too precise or complicated, it's probably not the "real thing"...  Hehehehe... 

We're fairly confident that this is also the recipe that my Great Nana used, and was taught to her by her mother.  We also know this because... my mom doesn't like it... and for a very distinct reason;  whenever my mom tastes it, her mind expects to hate the meat... which was originally brains.  In this case, her food memory is perhaps a bit too vivid (usually that's a good thing).  Yes, Great Nana's version included cow's brains.  Mom didn't know why she always hated the meat until years later when she was reminiscing and complained about the meat's texture, and her dad told her the secret.  

THIS version does NOT contain brains.  Being a total coward when it comes to experimenting with new cuts of meat (I've failed many attempts at being a vegetarian), I'm not interested in achieving that level of authenticity.  Besides, it was originally served to me with proper yummy meatballs.  Great Great Aunt Vera didn't say the meatballs didn't belong with the original recipe, so perhaps it was only my Great Nana who used brains, and not her mother.  We'll likely never know.

That said, this recipe can easily be turned into a meat sauce with the addition of... meat... or meatballs.  We love it with meatballs, but also enjoy it as a purely meat-free meal option.  I've never altered the recipe to incorporate ground meat (though I probably will someday).  It's probably quite yummy that way as well!

I just made a pot this sauce, and had promised to (finally) write down exactly what I add and how much.  The quantities are subjective and were measured to my preferences.  So, even now, it's just a rough idea and very tinker-friendly according to personal taste... without compromising authenticity.  My measure of success is whether the final product triggers my mom's food memory and makes her cringe, expecting brains.  This does that.  And it's delicious.  

(I seem to have misplaced the photo, so I promise to add a photo the next time I cook it!)

Gelardi Family Spaghetti Sauce


2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped small
3 large cloves of garlic, chopped or crushed

1 large can can (29 ounces) tomato sauce
1 small can (6 ounces) tomato paste

2 large carrots, chopped small
2 stalks of celery, chopped small
1/4 cup red wine
4 large mushrooms, chopped
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more or less to taste, and is optional)

In a medium-sized pot on medium heat, saute the onion in olive oil until it's somewhat transparent (a few minutes), then add the garlic and saute for about another minute (careful not to burn).  Add the tomato sauce and paste, carrots, celery, red wine, mushrooms, and seasonings.  Simmer over low heat for at least 30 minutes.  Serve over the pasta of your choice, with Parmesan cheese.  You can add meat (brown before adding onions) or meatballs, but really should simmer longer if you do.  


  1. I think we are related! Ignazia and Pasquale were my maternal great-grandparents! Their son, Frank Gelardi, was my mom's dad. I can't wait to try this recipe -- I have always wondered what kind of culinary masterpieces were made in our family. :)

  2. My Dearliest Janue ~~ I am so glad that you have offered up the authentic Gilardi Spaghetti Sauce recipe! Minus the brains, I really do love it. We were very lucky to have Aunt Vera verify, with wonderful meatball-making stories to boot! I really have my tastebuds, also, to verify!