Clemenza might be my favorite character in the 1972 Italian American classic The Godfather.  Not only does this man mutter my favorite line of the whole movie (“Leave the gun, Take the cannoli”), but he also tries to teach a young Michael Corleone how to make marinara.  Clemenza sautés garlic in olive oil before adding tomatoes and tomato paste.  He then adds sausage and meatballs as well as wine and a touch of sugar to complete the sauce. 

While my marinara differs from Clemenza’s and most traditional Italian recipes, it has evolved over the last twenty years into a flavor that is woven into the proverbial fabric of my kitchen.  I like the sweetness that the onions and carrots give to the acidic tomatoes and wine.  I have made this sauce without the wine just to meet comments that my sauce tasted less delicious.  So, I always add the wine.  I always have Italian oregano growing in my garden and hence I throw it into my sauce along with basil and parsley from my herb garden.  When I try to leave one of the herbs out, it just feels like it is missing an ingredient.  But feel free to experiment with the herbs here and use what you have readily on hand.

The baking soda I borrowed from my grandmother’s recipe, which was composed of mostly tomatoes, sausage, and beef or veal bones.  Sebastiana, who everyone called Nella, was a powerhouse in the kitchen.  She seemed to come alive in the kitchen, especially when showing me her fried eggplant, roasted peppers, or homemade fig preserves, which were staples in her refrigerator.  I thought adding baking soda to marinara was something that only she did until I visited Sicily and took a cooking class.  The baking soda balances the acidity of the tomatoes, functioning similarly to Clemenza’s touch of sugar. 

I so deeply regret not spending more time in the kitchen with my grandmother to learn her recipes.  She made everything look so simple and taste so good that I never questioned the process by which she created it.  She was of an era that wrote down very little, if anything at all.  Her small handwritten recipe book consists only of baking recipes that required measurements.  Even these recipes only consist of the ingredients…she knew the instructions so there was no reason to write those down.  When she turned 99, I moved back to Jackson.  Realizing that she might not be around for forever, I made efforts to take short videos and pictures of her making some of her favorite sweets, including her fig preserves, fig cookies, and ricotta pie.  I am so grateful for these priceless teachings.  I think they meant just much to her as they did me.  She used to love when I videoed her because she felt the tangible insurance that I would always remember her. 

At 100, she was still hoisting her metal scale onto the countertop to weigh the sugar and flour and rolling out cookie dough with her small hands.  Her fingers looked mangled like twisted oak branches due to years of arthritis.  When she lost the ability to cook due to her arthritis around age 101, a deep-seated light within her was extinguished.  As my great grandmother used to tell my father, “La vecchia e schifosa”.

clock clock iconcutlery cutlery iconflag flag iconfolder folder iconinstagram instagram iconpinterest pinterest iconfacebook facebook iconprint print iconsquares squares iconheart heart iconheart solid heart solid icon


  • Author: Christina
  • Total Time: 2 hours
  • Yield: 16 cups 1x


While my marinara differs from Clemenza’s and most traditional Italian recipes, it has evolved over the last twenty years into a flavor that is woven into the proverbial fabric of my kitchen. 


Units Scale
  • 5 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper (optional)
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped
  • 5 cups onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • Salt, to taste
  • 4 Tbs garlic, finely diced
  • 4 28ounce cans san Marzano tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste (about on 4.5-ounce tube)
  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 2/3 cup fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup fresh oregano (optional)
  • 1/4 cup parsley (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. In a large pot or dutch oven, heat olive oil and red pepper over medium heat.  Add the carrots and stir to combine. Cook for 4-5 minutes.
  2. Then, add the onions as well as pepper and salt to taste and cover. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the onions don’t burn.  Uncover and cook an additional 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. (It’s important not to burn the garlic.)
  3. Open a bottle of wine and pour yourself a glass. It is important to make sure that the wine you add to the sauce is drinkable…and why not enjoy a sip of wine while you cook?  Stir the remainder of the bottle of wine (3 cups) into the sauce. Reduce the heat to a simmer.  Simmer for about 20-30 minutes to reduce the wine.
  4. Then, add the canned tomatoes and tomato paste. Stir to combine.  Simmer for about 20-25 minutes. Reduce the marinara by about ¼ volume by simmering for at least 45 minutes but up to 1 ½ hours. The marinara does need stirred occasionally to prevent the bottom from burning.
  5. Just before serving, add the herbs, salt and pepper to taste, and baking soda.  Puree with an immersion blender.
  6. If making meatballs, dunk the meatballs into the sauce and let simmer for about 30 minutes for the flavors to combine. Otherwise, spoon the sauce over whatever pasta your heart desires.
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Category: Sauces
  • Cuisine: Italianish

Keywords: Pasta Sauce, Italian, Weeknight Dinner

(Visited 29 times, 1 visits today)