MRS. MINUTELLI’S TOMATO SAUCE
Growing up in a small town like Bristol, RI and raising a child happily forces some friendships with unlikely people because of this connection. School, sporting events and all of the activities that happen in your young life create bonds with families that maybe otherwise wouldn’t have happened. This is the glory of old fashioned small town living, you meet friends at school and Dad and I got to meet couples because of this. We made some great friends during this time, had lots of get togethers, and hung out at every sporting event for most of your school life. During this time in your life, we also got to meet lots of grandparents along the way too and this was an added bonus especially since we didn’t have a lot of family around here. The thing about a small New England town is that lots of families are multi generational and live close together often around the corner. This is not difficult in a town that is made up of only twenty two thousand residents.
As you know I grew up in a small town too. I really consider this upbringing my childhood, but when I think about it, I had a childhood before this too and that was when we lived in Fall River, Massachusetts. People who are unfamiliar with Fall River, Mass don’t know the greatness of it “back then.” Our family was in the textile business like so many Jewish families in the fifties through the seventies back when America was actually proudly only making their own goods, but providing job opportunities for thousands of women who were the elite sewing tribe. I have such clear memories of walking into the factory to see Grandpa Herbie, your great grandfather, and Grandpa Dave, my father, your grandfather and walking between the hundreds of women sewing blazers and pants to get them ready for shipping. There were many men there too; they were often the ones on the big machines called pressers. These steamy instruments looked like two large ironing boards clapping together to press jackets and pants so they would be perfectly pressed, ready for sale. They were also usually the ones who were responsible for cutting patterns or running the outlet store, way before the notion of commercial (aka bullshit) outlet stores became of fashion. When I think of it, Fall River was a small town for us. My grandparents and my great grandparents lived around the corner, and because we lived in walking distance of our synagogue, it made it easier to share the community of Jewish connection surely much better than Jamestown did. When we moved to Jamestown, we were one of only three Jewish families on this island of three thousand year round and five thousand in the summer. Fall River was much more part of my upbringing than I have given it credit for. It was safe and community driven especially in the Highlands where we lived. In this lovey neighborhood, I had a childhood friend named Maureen and her traditional Irish family lived down the street from us. They had a built in pool and a Chevy or Ford station wagon, the kind with the paneling on the side and we got to ride in the far rear likely with the window open on the “long” outing to Ann and Hope on Route 6 in Seekonk, Mass. I think Ann and Hope used to be where BJ’S is now, but I may be wrong. Going to Ann and Hope seemed like an adventure back then and I am not sure why. Maybe because I have no memories of Grandma Ann or Grandpa Dave ever going to places like Ann and Hope. It all felt so normal to me, whatever that meant to a six or seven year old in the very early seventies. You have to remember that Grandma and Grandpa were super young parents, when I was seven, they were only twenty seven so “adventures” to Ann and Hope were highly unlikely. My parents, your grandparents were much more likely to head up to Boston and drop me off with your Great grandparents as babysitters. Yay me. I am probably the only grandchild in the family who has these young childhood memories of sharing my young life with super young grandparents. Grandparents were such an integral part of my life, they still are even though all but One has moved on. You didn’t have that connection as much as I did, but what you missed in that connection, you got to have with two stable parents who showed up and participated as whole heartedly as we were capable of.
When we moved to Jamestown, it was a completely different cultural experience for us. Surely Fall River, Mass was no cosmopolitan mecca, but the circle of people we were part of were a lot like each other. In Jamestown, this was more of a collision of cultures. We lived in a great neighborhood and really enjoyed the simple world we found ourselves in surrounded with water and beauty. The freedoms we had as children running around and having to be home by the sound of the noon and six pm fire station horn blaring made our upbringing a peaceful and joyful one. It is too bad that this where our family life as we knew it failed, but until then we really had a pleasurable upbringing. I hope this was mostly your own experience in Bristol, where you have been born and raised from Day one.
Living in this small community brought us to community type outings as well and this is where I learned how to make homemade Italian Sauce. Every year our town organizes bus trips to New York City at Christmas time. We went on this one time with a few families and Mrs. Minutelli, one of the grandparents of some dear friends went along too. These friendships though we don’t know this at the time are what I would refer to as temporary friendships. By proxy, they are fun and convenient and part of the growing up process both for you and for us as parents. Couples parties where we wanted to include our children forced a connection and friendships formed during this time. As all of you kids got older, these friendships faded simply because of the natural evolution of life changes. This is not a bad thing, just a typical ebb and flow in the world we call life. I cherish the memories of this and I have hundreds of pictures reminding us of all of these wonderful times. Mrs. Minutelli’s Italian Sauce though is one of my favorite memories. I got to sit next to her on the bus ride to or from, I can’t remember now and typical of many conversations I have with women, we started talking recipes. I was still a young mother, I think you were about eight and I loved to cook and experiment, but wasn’t nearly as casual and knowledgeable as I am now about throwing sauces together. It was here on this bus ride to New York, Mrs. M. gave me her recipe for sauce and I have never turned back. I can still hear her voice explaining the simplicity of its ingredients with the enthusiasm of a seasoned cook. She wrote it out for me later and gave it to me on an index card, but I can’t seem to locate it. I don’t really need it other than for the memory though because it is imbedded in my brain and it is one of my all time favorite go to recipes I make as soon as the New England air cools.
I hope you are never tempted by the ease of a jar, there is something about homemade sauce simmering on a stove that comforts and cares and this is the recipe thanks to Mrs. Minutelli.
I LOVE YOU.
MRS. MINUTELLI’S TOMATO SAUCE (I have made this so often, that I am sure my own take has changed her original, but she gets the credit)
5–6 cloves of garlic
2–3 carrots (this is where she told me that carrots are a much better addition than sugar typically added, I can’t even imagine adding sugar to marinara sauce as you can probably guess)
2–3 stalks of celery
1 small onion
Good olive oil
Crushed red pepper flakes
Oregano, salt and pepper
1 or 2 Bay leaves
2–3 large cans of crushed tomatoes
In a food processor, chop the first five ingredients together somewhat fine.
Heat olive oil in a pan that makes you happy, (maybe by now you have the turquoise Le Creuset pan that Aunt Kiley gave to me) on medium heat.
Add garlic, carrots, celery, onion and basil mixture and sauté until fragrant and soft tender. Do not let it brown or golden. Add salt and pepper, crushed pepper and oregano. Once the mixture is soft, add the crushed tomatoes and mix well.
Add the bay leaves.
Bring to an easy and brief boil. Turn down to low and simmer for at least thirty minutes. You can cover it once you turn it off and let it sit on the stove for the day. I always let it sit for the day because I like to get this ready in the morning.
If you are going to make meatballs, then get them ready (recipe to follow at another time) and add them to this and simmer for a few hours. They will cook in the sauce and Holy Yummy. If and when you do this, you will need to make a bit more sauce, so you may need to add an additional can of crushed tomatoes. Trust your vibe. Cooking is about experimenting with not only ingredients and timing but also quantity and portions.
I hope the first time you make this, you will smile with the memories of my kitchen and the thoughts of your childhood adventures.