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Steve Gilliard, 1964-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog, passed away June 2, 2007. He was 42.

To those who have come to trust The News Blog and its insightful, brash and unapologetic editorial tone, we have Steve to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Steve helped lead many discussions that mattered to all of us, and he tackled subjects and interest categories where others feared to tread.

Please keep Steve's friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Steve meant so much to us.

We will miss him terribly.

photo by lindsay beyerstein


Where did it come from?

Eolo Perfido for The New York Times
Filomena Sciullo Ranallo, a great-aunt of the author,
cooks tomato sauce and tagliatelle in Ateleta, Italy.
But is her sauce the one her American relatives make?
Therein lies a culinary tale

A Grandchild of Italy Cracks the Spaghetti Code
I wanted to know where the recipe came from. And in a way, where I came from. So I became a culinary detective.

But back in the Italian village where it all supposedly began, things weren’t going so great. I was sitting with the closest relative I could find, Filomena Sciullo Ranallo, my grandmother’s sister-in-law. We were at a table at La Bottega dell’Arte Salata, the small rosticceria my distant cousins run. They were thrilled each time one of the American relatives came to visit, explaining with great pride how Madonna had tried to find her relatives at a nearby village a few years ago and failed. But not you, they told me. You are luckier than Madonna.

I was trying to write down recipes when the old woman grabbed my arm, shaking it hard. Why didn’t I speak any Italian? And even worse, why did I think oregano had any place in tomato sauce?

Well, because my mother put oregano in her sauce. But oregano, like the meatballs I add to the pot, was only one of the twists and turns the recipe had taken during nearly a century in America.

In fact, it turns out that there is no single iconic red sauce in my grandmother’s village. There are sauces with lamb, an animal the village organizes an entire festival around. There are sauces with only tomato and basil, sauces just for the lasagna and sauces just for grilled meats. Small meatballs might go in a broth, but never in sauce for pasta.

In fact, only two things in the village reminded me of anything I grew up with. The fat pork sausages were cooked and served the same way, and my Italian cousins looked just like my brothers.

To understand why I made my sauce the way I did, I needed to start closer to home, with my mother. She has been making spaghetti sauce for almost 60 years, from a recipe she learned from her mother, who had been making it with American ingredients since the early 1900s.


I was stumped about why the family sauce ended up heavy with oregano and meat. So I called Lidia Bastianich, the New York chef who has written much about the transfer of Italian food to America.

“This is a cuisine of adaptation, of nostalgia, of comfort,” she said. By overemphasizing some of the seasonings Italian immigrants brought from home, they could more easily conjure it up. And sometimes the adaptations were simply practical. Using tomato paste, for example, was a way to make the watery tomatoes in the United States taste more like the thick-fleshed kind that grew in Italy.

My family’s serving style is to pile the pork and beef and meatballs onto a big platter of spaghetti, sometimes with sausage. That mountain of meat might be a homage to my grandmother, who found such abundance when she arrived. Or maybe she was just overwhelmed: on a farm with no refrigerator, not a lot of money and 11 children, she didn’t have time for a separate meat and pasta course.

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