This Italian-American family’s cooking tradition spans three generations

Emerald Pellot
·2 min read

An Italian-American family in Chicago is keeping their tradition alive by making tomato sauce or passata together.

The Cortese family has regularly cooked their own pasta sauce together for over three generations. When Steve Cortese’s grandmother immigrated to the United States, she brought the ritual with her from a small town in Calabria, Italy. Now almost every summer Steve, his daughter Amanda and the rest of the family get together to make 70 jars of tomato sauce.

“Growing up … we would go to a farm and pick the tomatoes and pick several bushels, bring them home and cook them up and cut them up and cook them up in the basement,” Steve told In The Know. “So it was a maybe [a] three, four-hour process. But [I] learned that from my dad and his mother.”

Steve said that as he has gotten older he has noticed that a lot of other neighborhood Italian families have the same tradition. The father shared a bit of the process which requires reducing plum tomato halves in a pot, stirring until they become soft, then straining the skin and seeds away. The Cortese family finishes the process off with a few spices.

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“There’s a lot of people now that they put it in all the spices, actually,” Steve told In The Know. “We put in basic spices and salt and things like that. But a lot of people put in everything to make a spaghetti sauce. So they’ll put in garlic and, you know, whatever other things they put in.”

Amanda has a lot of siblings and looks forward to coming home for the passata-making. She even documents the process on YouTube.

“It’s nice to have everyone kind of in one place and working on this,” Amanda told In The Know. “And it’s something that we’ve been doing our whole life. Like, growing up, I would do it with my cousins. And so it’s cool to kind of keep that tradition going, even though we’re older and kind of doing our own things.”

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