On the ‘Red Sauce Trail’ in Italy

Travel Blog  •  Sarah Schmelling  •  02.21.07 | 1:02 PM ET

We’ve read a lot of great culinary travel tales, but this one in today’s New York Times takes the, well, sauce. Kim Severson recently became obsessed with tracking the source, or at least the ancestry, of her mother’s beloved spaghetti sauce. It’s a sauce that she’s been eating—and trying to measure up to in her own kitchen—her whole life. Her quest led her to the Italian village of Ateleta, where her maternal grandmother grew up and where she’s told she’s “luckier than Madonna” because, unlike the pop star, she was able to find distant Italian relatives—and perhaps the key to unlocking her own personal “spaghetti code.”

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.

Severson realizes she’s so determined to solve the mystery behind the sauce because that spaghetti dinner has been one constant in a lifetime of moving from place to place. Through her search, she learns about Italian cooking, yes, but also about her family history, how food adaptations happen, and, of course, about her mother and the very American life she’s ended up living.

Lucky for us, Severson also shares the recipe.

Related on World Hum:
* The Pasta Nazi
* Chinese Noodles Predate Marco Polo


Sarah Schmelling has written for The Washington Post, Salon, Spin, the Los Angeles Times, Variety, McSweeney's Internet Tendency and other publications. She lives in Maryland.


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