In New Jersey, we’re serious about our tomatoes. And if you live in the northern half of the great Garden State with a last name like Giannetti, Marangi, or in my family’s case, DiAgostino, the red partner to your plate of rigatoni during Sunday afternoon dinners isn’t called tomato sauce. We’ve only ever called it red gravy – and my family has been jarring our own special recipe with ripe Jersey tomatoes for over 75 years.
Hello there! I’m Aimee, your 22-year-old guest writer, cook-in-training, and DIY extraordinaire from New Jersey! During my senior year of college, I had the great pleasure of working for and learning from Willi Galloway and the editors at Organic Gardening as their editorial intern! Willi helped me earn my very first national magazine byline, so when she called me to see if I wanted to share my Italian family’s garden fresh recipes, current work experience at an inspiring and unconventional garden center in Philadelphia, and traditions from growing up as the granddaughter of a landscaper I was so excited! I couldn’t think of a better post that would help introduce myself to the DigginFood community, and a post that I hope will help you get excited for your own tomato crop this season than sharing my family’s yearly September “Tomato Fest” tradition.
Everyone, no matter how old or young you are, gets assigned an important tomato job. (See photo above, 1999: My grandfather, Sonny DiAgostino, shows my brother, Justin and cousin, Jack how to stir the pot. The boys were 8 years old in that picture. Now they’re both 17!)
This truly is an all day extravaganza. We start at my uncle’s house at 6:30 AM, and after 12 hours of slicing bushels of tomatoes, stirring extra-large pots, processing the tomatoes through the electric passer, and filling over 250 mason jars we all sit down to savor the new year’s batch of red gravy. To an onlooker, this barebones meal of fresh cut pasta and homemade gravy may seem like nothing extraordinary, but it really is unlike any other dinner we share. This meal marks the start to another year. Like our parents and grandparents, my cousins and I plan to teach our own children all about our Italian heritage and the DiAgostino red gravy tradition. We even promised each other not to lose our patience when our future kids want “more exciting” jobs than picking the basil leaves off of the stems, or washing the tomatoes! (The responsibilities we thought we were too grown up for).
I realize that having a pickup truck of Jersey tomatoes delivered to your door (Especially those of you in Seattle) is unrealistic! So instead, I had my mom Patti (a truly masterful Italian cook), help translate our important tradition to the convenience of your kitchen! I hope this red gravy recipe gives you a new exciting reason to talk to your tomato crops this summer!
If you have any questions for me (or the executive chef) please don’t hesitate to contact me! I’d love to hear how it all works out! Until next time, Mangia!
DiAgostino’s Red Gravy (Stovetop edition)
Serves 4, Pour over 1lb of fresh cut pasta
12 plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons of olive oil (Preferably first pressed olive oil)
1 medium onion (Diced)
5-8 garlic cloves (Chopped)
½ cup fresh basil (Whole leaves)
Salt to taste
Fresh Italian parsley to sprinkle over pasta before serving
To make our red gravy, first bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 12 plum tomatoes. Let tomatoes cook for 2 minutes or until the skin visibly starts to peel off. Next, drain the hot tomatoes in a strainer, and use your hands to peel off all tomato skins. Put these tomatoes into a blender, and run on “high” for about 20 seconds. In a separate deep pot, heat oil on medium heat and cook onions until they become clear. Add the chopped garlic to the pot, and sauté for about 2 or 3 minutes more. Pour the puree tomatoes from the blender into the pot. Add salt (to your own taste) to gravy mix. Cook covered for 2 hours on low, or until smooth and thick. Add whole basil leaves (from your own garden if you have it in stock!) to the simmering gravy during the last ½ hour. Adding the basil at the end will ensure the fresh flavor of the herb doesn’t get cooked out. That’s it! Pour gravy over 1 lb of freshly cut pasta. Garnish with parsley and sprinkle with grated cheese. Serve and enjoy!