Home » Foods we love » CHANNELING GRANDMA


“You talked about your Grandma’s red sauce yesterday, too.”

“I did?  Oh…”

Apparently I am using my Italian Grandma’s delicious Sunday red sauce as a too-frequent metaphor in my work at The College of Saint Rose.

You see, Grandma was a genius in the kitchen.  As my mom often said, she could make dirt taste good.  Grandma could take anything in the refrigerator, and make it into an appetizer, a main course, or a dessert.  And you might ask her for the recipe, but she would never be able to produce one, because there was NEVER a recipe.  It was all by eye, and by taste.  Sheer creative genius.

Grandma’s red sauce was a Sunday specialty.  A few spare ribs get browned in a pot, some stew beef, then she deglazes the pan.  Add the veggies, sauté, add tomatoes and seasonings, and the magic begins.  It takes hours, and you have to walk by every 15-20 minutes to stir things around.  In the beginning it is just some vegetables and liquid, popping and making a general mess on the stove top.  After several hours, the flavors begin to meld.  This is when you need a full loaf of fresh, Italian bread, preferably from Columbus Bakery in Syracuse (click here).  Rip off a piece, stir up the sauce, and dip your bread to see how it’s coming along.  Repeat for 2-6 hours.  Or 12.

I was trying to tell my students this week how they might begin to brainstorm ideas for study abroad projects, and for Fulbright fellowships.  I was trying to encourage them to grab loose ideas, and let them turn over and around over time, banging against other ingredients, becoming a fuller flavored proposal.  I was channeling Grandma.

Clearly I needed to channel her in the kitchen.

Tonight I found her, as I prepared One-Pot Creamy Spinach Lentils (click here), and a second dish, Creamy Piquillo Pepper and Chickpea Soup with Chicken (click here).  Both were recipes that have been hanging around for several weeks.  Preparing both tonight, sans teenage son at home, means there will be some freezer action happening later.

I went rogue/Grandma right from the start.  The piquillo soup called for a rotisserie chicken.  Yeah, no.  No store-bought chicken gonna happen here.  Instead I boiled two bone-in breasts, and shredded them for the soup.  In a step backwards, I used store-bought hummus instead of pulling out the food processor and making a simple batch myself.  Score one for the other side.

In the meantime, I got the lentil dish going.  Veggies chopped.  Hmmm.  Jalapeños and scallions languishing in the fridge?  Chop them and add them, even though the recipe never considered their flavors.  With every variation, I kept thinking back to the student who reminded me that Grandma has been on my mind.  Grandma would always figure out how to make all the ingredients work, and would certainly be sure nothing ever went bad in the refrigerator.  Depression-era living, but the end result was top-quality cuisine.

Tonight: no white wine in the fridge?  An open bottle of red wine worked, and smelled delicious as it deglazed the pan.  Wait – chicken broth?  I just boiled two chicken breasts in water…  Homemade chicken broth!  Bam!  Kale in the fridge instead of spinach?  Holds up better.

I confessed to my student today that even though I [perhaps] use Grandma’s red sauce metaphor too often, I never knew enough to take the time to cook with her.  I ate her food and enjoyed every minute of it, but I never lingered with her in the kitchen.  She was full of life, and generous with hugs, but as a kid, I preferred to get outdoors and play with my cousins.

I believe this weekend calls for a Grandma red sauce on the back burner.

I believe this weekend calls for some crusty Italian bread for dipping.

Let the flavors blend over time.  Let Grandma’s smell permeate our home.

italian bread

About Claire Ziamandanis

Claire Ziamandanis is Professor of Spanish at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY. Over her 20 years at the college, she has been a champion for study abroad, establishing the first affiliation for Spanish students, and then working with the Study Abroad office to open the doors to students from other majors. Claire loves travel, food, wine and Spanish but not necessarily in that order!


  1. Today is Thursday. On Elm Street (at Grandma’s house), that was always the day a fresh batch of sauce was made – enough for 2-weeks. Why Thursday? This was because Friday was meatless and you had to have a hearty dinner on Thursday – to tide you over.

    At the heart of the process were 6-8 quart jars of home canned pear tomatoes – fleshy without too much liquid. These were picked at the peak of ripeness in August from the backyard garden and “muck” farmer plots on the NW outskirts of Syracuse. These were cold packed by willing and unwilling drafted family laborers with a generous sprig of fresh basil and tablespoon of salt. Twenty-two quart jars went into the gigantic wash tub straddling all 4 burners of the old basement stove and rolling boiled to seal the lids. A typical year’s supply was about 200 quarts! You didn’t want to be forced to buy inferior canned tomatoes.

    Thanks for the memory jog. I now know what I’ll be doing after work tonight

    • Claire Ziamandanis

      My most lasting memory of the Elm Street basement was the washing machine/ringer combination, and the great energy that went into washing clothing! As a kid, I was often co-opted, mighty unwillingly, to hang our clothes out on the line in the summer. I would LOVE to be able to hang my own clothes on the line now – not to save energy, but for that fresh smell.

      I think my recollection of Sunday and sauce was probably formed during the construction of the addition at our house. Sunday was a huge workday, and the smell of the sauce cooking made the labor well worth it!

      I do remember the tomato canning “parties” in the fall at Elm Street. They seemed fun to us kids. We were probably plied with food and candy to help out, since our hands more easily fit into the canning jars.

      Hope your sauce comes out well!

  2. Save me some

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Scroll To Top