Cooking Lesson #364: Frank Sinatra’s Mama’s Italian Tomato Sauce and Meatballs
… from the California Kitchen
How you doin’? When I think of the people I had the opportunity to work with in Hollywood, I get all nostalgic. There were the great ones—Bob Hope, Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby, George Burns, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. The not-so-great ones may be the subject for another time or my next book.
But one celebrity who stands out above all others was Frank Sinatra. He was the man’s man! I worked on his special at CBS in 1969. That was the same month we opened The Warehouse Restaurant in Marina del Rey. It was the last TV special I did. There are all kinds of stories about Mr. Sinatra, but I remember him to have a great sense of humor and a strong feeling about family.
Old Blue Eyes loved his mama—Natalina Della Garaventa, aka Dolly Sinatra—and used to talk about her fantastic Italian recipes. He often spoke of her “perfect” Mama Mia Marinara sauce—it was one of his culinary passions. Frank even published the recipe for his mother’s tomato sauce in a cookbook and later launched his own line of jarred sauces in the late 1980s.
As a side note, I invited Mr. Sinatra to my restaurant opening, but he was unable to attend. A few weeks later he did arrive with an entourage of about 20 people including his Rat Pack buddies. His group was secreted up in the second-floor loft for privacy. To my and everyone else’s amazement, before leaving he took to the stage and sang My Way. He made me a hero with our staff and guests.
Dolly’s old-fashioned sauce with meatballs and spaghetti is as good as it gets. It’s easy to make and you can dream that you are having a wonderful Italian meal with “Old Blue Eyes” himself.
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 5 minutes
For the meatballs
1/2-pound lean ground beef
1/2-pound ground pork
1 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs (Progresso)
1/2 cup Italian grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh chopped Italian parsley
4 cloves minced garlic
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
olive oil (for browning the meatballs)
For the sauce
1/2 cup virgin olive oil
1 medium finely diced yellow onion
4 cloves garlic minced
1-28-ounce can of San Marzano Italian-style tomatoes (imported from Italy)
1-28-ounce can of tomato purée
3 tablespoons freshly chopped Italian parsley
2 teaspoons dried thyme
kosher salt to own taste
fresh ground black pepper to own taste
1-pound dried spaghetti
Extra chopped parsley for serving
Red pepper flakes for serving
Grated Pecorino Romano
To make the meatballs
Chefs Secret: No need to add olive oil to the drained pasta… you’ll just end up with unnecessarily oily pasta.
Quip of the Day: “You know the only people who are always sure about the proper way to raise children? Those who’ve never had any.”
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