I’ve been fortunate to live in two cities that have large Italian populations: Birmingham and New Orleans. In Birmingham, little Italian cafes are in abundance, tucked away in nearly forgotten neighborhoods where the great grandchildren of emigres who made their way to the Deep South in the 19th century cook and serve the food of their forebears.

If you’re ever in central Alabama do not miss a visit to Bongiorno Restaurant. While it’s practically brand new (est. 1988 by Giuseppe Magnolia) it feels like it’s been around since the Corfu Incident. You’ll leave reeking of garlic with your jowls slicked with olive oil.

I was never able to pry the red gravy recipe out of Bongiorno’s cook but over the years I have slowly developed my own version. It’s an homage to New Orleans’ Little Palermo neighborhood, and laced with plenty peppers, onions and celery.

Recipe: Italian Red Sauce With The Holy Trinity

3 each Onions, Yellow, Sweet, chopped
2 each Peppers, Green, Bell, chopped
4 ribs, Celery, chopped fine
1 T. Chile flakes
1 Bulb Garlic, minced
28 Oz can, Tomatoes, Whole, Peeled
2 T. Tomato Paste
Salt to taste
Non-virgin olive oil

* Cook onions, peppers, celery and chile flakes on low heat in a good, fruity non-virgin olive oil for a minimum of one hour (melange should be a deep caramel color)
* Add garlic, cook 15 minutes more
* Add tomatoes, cook 30 minutes taking care to break them down
* Add tomato paste, cook 15 minutes

Cooking notes: This sauce is divine. It goes good on any pasta but we really adore it on cappellini or linguine.

Don’t be afraid to put some good, fennel-heavy Italian sausage in it either. We smoke Terranova Brothers links then slice them up and add them to the sauce right when we put the tomatoes in. If you don’t live in New Orleans just run down to your corner butcher and buy their best house-made sausage and incorporate it in your sauce.

Brush this sauce on sliced, stale baguettes then broil some cheese on top of the entire affair and you have an estimable bruschetta.

Need a lasagna sauce? This will serve in that capacity as well.

You could probably pour it in a glass and drink it

It is that good

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  1. I was a little afraid of the spice level of a tablespoon of chili flakes, so I went light on those. I’m sorry I doubted you, I can tell already this would be even better if it were spicier.

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