Art's Special Sauce

Art’s Special Sauce (as I call it) is not on the Diner menu very much, but I love making this sauce. It is an all day process, with the sauce cooking on the stove, having a sour dough baguette sliced up and sitting on the counter beside the pot just waiting to dunk in and test the progress. Art’s Special Sauce is warm, delicious and every bit of this process reminds me of Art.

Here’s the back story:
I had sampled Art’s red sauce for a few years, and one day I asked him to take the time to write the recipe down so I could try to replicate it myself. I always saw Art make this in his catering kitchen in the garage, with lots of space and plenty of room for steam. He would use the biggest stock pot I have ever seen in a home kitchen and a wooden paddle that looked like a mini-oar to stir.

Art was passionate about the ingredients that went into the sauce, “The best you can afford,” he would say. I remember he always had Contadina cans of tomato sauce, puree and crushed tomatoes. I asked him about tomato paste and he said he never used tomato paste – too bitter.

I usually make Art’s Special Sauce, as I call it, during the holidays to prepare sauce for homemade lasagna, then freezing some for spaghetti later on in the winter. I happen to be cooking it today, and therefore writing about it, because there’s going to be a party at the Diner - I thought lasagna would be a good choice. So I’m spending the day browning the beef and Italian sausage, grating the carrots and zucchini (I use this instead of the mushrooms, since we DO NOT serve mushrooms at Holly’s Diner!), opening cans, sautéing onions and garlic, and dunking slices of a fresh baguette into the biggest stock pot I have measuring the progress all day. Most of all I honor and remember Art – his enthusiastic Irish soul exuding the Italian spirit that rubbed off while being married to Donna for so many years. I miss Art, but he lives on at Holly’s Diner through his sauce.

Some history on my “making of the sauce”:
I made lasagna with Art’s Special Sauce for HH’s and my wedding a few years ago. The one of the stock pots I had at the time did not have a thick enough bottom and some of the ingredients burned during the day-long cooking. The timing was such that I didn’t have enough time to start again once I discovered the miss-cue. I combined the slightly burned sauce with the sauce in the other pot that did not burn and moved forward, hoping no one would notice. SS was kind enough to ask if I had used a smoked cheese (and I just hope everyone else thought that too!), but Art noticed. He did not say anything to me, Donna told me a while later that he had noticed. But he was kind enough to just smile and enjoy –or at least pretend to. I got a very large thick bottomed stock pot shortly after that, so I haven’t had that challenge again.

I love reading the recipe that Art wrote down for me over ten years ago, misspellings and all.

The next time you stop by the Diner, definitely about the lasagna or if there’s any pasta with Art’s Special Sauce, I would love to share his memories with you.

Art’s Special Sauce (as Art wrote it July 18, 1998)
3 - #2 cans tomato sauce
3 - #2 cans tomato puree
3 - #2 cans crushed tomatoes
3 onions, processed (chopped finely)
1 cup processed garlic (I don’t ever use this much, but still a healthy portion)
2 lbs good ground beef
1 lb ground pork (try ground Italian sausage)
10 mushrooms processed (I use a grated zucchini instead)
½ cup Italian parsley, minced
3 green onions, minced
1 carrot grated (for sugar)
1 tbsp oregano, dry or fresh
1 cup red wine
1 – 2 Basil leaves, fresh or dry
(Olive oil, salt, pepper)

1. Fry beef and pork and drain, set aside.
2. Mince onions and garlic.
3. In pot, cover bottom with coast of olive oil, sauté onions and garlic ‘til limp.
4. Add meat to onions and garlic, and add all liquids; stir and add all other ingredients; salt and pepper to taste; add up to one #2 can of hot water
5. Stir often; cook on low heat just a bubble for five or six hours.

Note 1– the #2 cans are the 28 ounce cans
Note 2 – Art showed me that the way to get everything out of the #2 cans the tomatoes came in was to put the cup of wine in one and slosh around, pour the liquid in the next can, etc. When you get done with the last can you will have a very thick wine, but have gathered the majority of the tomatoes left in the cans.



I have quite a few cookbooks. Some because the “idea” of the cookbook sounded good at the time; some because I was in the mood or fell "in love" with it as I was browsing the book store; some because someone I care about gave it to me and I’m just attached to them. Here’s just a sampling:

The Sneaky Chef – about getting more vegetables into what you cook, in a sneaky way; great idea, never made a thing
Betty Crocker’s’ Cookie Book – my friend Christine gave this to me years ago, and there’s a note on the front from my sister when I lent it to her
Paula Deen’s Kitchen Classics – this is a combo of her first two cookbooks and I thought it would be great fun to cook some of her southern recipes; when I went through it one night with HH occasionally peeking over my shoulder, I would exclaim “Ohh!” getting excited about a recipe, HH would ask what it was, I would tell him, then I would read the ingredients and sigh “oh”, “What?!” he would say, “There’s lard in it.” He knew what that meant – the recipe would never see the light of day in Holly’s Diner
Paula Deen Celebrates – my mother-in-law got this for me
Deen Brothers Cookbook and Deen Brothers Y’all Come Eat – one of these is where baked spaghetti came from
Guy Fieri Diners, Drive-ins and Dives – not that I’m making anything from this, but I love the show, and HH and I are excited about trying to see many of them
Any Bozzo Can Cook – by Sakabozo of the Gilroy Garlic Festival
Joy of Cooking Christmas Cookies – from my friends I bake every Christmas with
Frank Stitt’s Southern Table – I fell in love with this one on my last visit to Birmingham to see SS and her family (including my new waitress Miss Audrey Rose), they got it for my birthday, but there’s no fried chicken in it! How is that possible?!
 A variety of Crock Pot cookbooks
Vermont Recipe Collections – this was from SS in the mid-80’s
The Frugal Gourmet – remember him? I had these signed at a PBS function, not worth much now
Intercourses, An Aphrodisiac Cookbook – recipes with raspberries and chocolate, etc., interesting photos; I bought this when I was single and there wasn’t much going on at the Diner
The Joy of Cooking – I still use this cookbook the most, with reference guides, sauces and how to cook a turkey

The reality of cookbooks for me, if I find one good recipe that tastes good, gets positive feedback in the Diner and staying in the menu rotation, it’s a good cookbook. I use more recipes from magazines, clippings from the paper, something I saw on the Food Network and recipes that I have tried at friends and family then requested the recipe more than anything else. And I’m not sure why, with all the references at my finger tips. For some reason it is always easier, and more “cozy,” to take down my recipe binder and flip through the recipes protected by plastic sleeves than to open up a cookbook each time.

But I’m still on my quest for a well seasoned copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child that needs to be rescued from someone’s “after thought” pile. I’ve already included one recipe from MTAOFC in my recipe rotation, her potato and leek soup, just image what will happen when I actually have it at the Diner!