Cleo is not a member of my family, but at times, I could swear she is. Truthfully, the closest I ever got to even meeting her is by whipping up a batch of her delicious marinara. Minor details aside, I do consider this a family recipe thanks to two wonderful people – my Aunt Bee and Uncle Dick.
Cleo was a friend of my aunt and uncle’s that was born and raised in Greece. True to her heritage, this sauce is definitively Greek with its strong nods to oregano and paprika. I can’t pinpoint the first time I had this sauce as a child, but undoubtedly, my aunt and uncle were manning the stove. Now, it regularly occupies a burner on mine.
And while I never knew Cleo this recipe always evokes fond memories of the man that did, my late Uncle Dick. His child-like and giddy love for excellent food was infectious to all those around him. He and my Aunt Bee always arrived for visits with their suitcases jammed with food and special ingredients. According to my aunt, one such visit included boarding a plane with a custom pork loin wrapped in prosciutto and veal – straight from the butcher and packed in dry ice. He was determined to re-create his recent revelation with Roast Veal and Pork in Cream Sauce for my parents and was not about to let the inferior mountain grocers of Princeton, WV stand in his way.
I can’t imagine the looks he must have elicited at security – but I can most definitely relate to his motives. Needless to say he fit in immediately with my family and coupled with my equally food-obsessed aunt, the two were quite the pair.
This recipe is perfect for a quick weeknight dinner and is definitely better than any out-of-the-jar sauce you may be tempted to buy. I have made a couple changes throughout the years including substituting fresh herbs in place of dry when I can. But if you find yourself with none on hand, the dry still work just fine.
1/2-3/4 cup onion, chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 TB olive oil
2, 32 oz cans of diced tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp red pepper
1/4 cup red wine
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, saute the onions over medium high heat until translucent – about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add all the remaining ingredients, including the wine, and stir to combine. Let the sauce simmer, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes.
Toss finished sauce with any pasta, protein or vegetable of your choice. I find it that spiciness pairs well with seafood.
*Note: My mom always left the sauce as is with this chunky consistency. However, Zach has a texture issue with canned tomatoes, so I give the sauce a quick buzz with the immersion blender to smooth out the large tomato pieces just a bit.