Grim's Grub: Anything but the red sauce

Tips to expand your pasta game beyond traditional tomato sauce.

Travis G. Grimler / Echo Journal
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With a cold breeze in the air I can't help but want to carb load, but over the past few years I've been straying from traditional red sauces, which it turns out aren't even that traditional.

It turns out this tradition came from the way that Italian immigrants were introduced to the United States. That red sauce, while it somewhat brings back the memory of the sauce in a bolognese sauce, is not old-world Italian by itself.

In Italy there were certainly red sauces, but they weren't really what you find in the Prego can. Most of their pasta sauce was much simpler.

These sauces might be fat based, wine based, or cream based, even lemon juice based or ground meat based like a bolognese, but rarely was it quite so tomato-y, but that's what Italian immigrants had available to them in place of traditional olive oil, truffles and a bounty of marine ingredients.

The peak of Italian immigration to the United States was between 1880 and 1921. The vast majority of them were from Southern Italy. By the end of what was dubbed "The Great Arrival", there were an estimated 4 million Italian immigrants in the United States, representing more than 10 percent of our foreign born population.


Many of these immigrants were driven to the United States by their differences with those in control of Italy itself. Though the nation was under one rule, the country was still suffering from the scars of generations of civil conflict, and after the smoke cleared not everyone was better for having experienced it. Many were impoverished with little hope of improvement, so rumors of the vast riches available in the United States were virtually irresistible.

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They brought with them Italian tastes, but they found a market that didn't necessarily provide what they needed for completely familiar comforts and dishes. So they made approximations and they used what they had, and what they had in cheap abundance was tomatoes.

Sure, they certainly used these fruits in Italy, but they were companions and side-kicks to other ingredients. The tomatoes weren't the only thing they could ramp up either. Though life was still hard for Italian immigrants (like immigrants of today, there was often anti-Italian sentiment) the stories of American prosperity proved true in some factors, for example, the abundance. Not only were tomatoes cheap, but meats and cheeses were more affordable now, and they made use of it.

Italians embraced tomato sauce and according to, they made it a competition among Italian neighborhoods. Who could make the most rich and delicious tomato sauce? And they paired it with other abundant ingredients in celebration of the food luxuries of their new lives. Italians back home never had enough ground beef for tennis ball sized meatballs in their pasta, but Italian-Americans did. Italians back home didn't have fried chicken smothered in red sauce and cheese (too expensive by far), but Italian Americans did. And thus were many authentic Italian dishes born, not overseas, but in the Italian neighborhoods of the United States, and red sauce was king....but that being said, lets mix it up a bit.

Bell pepper pasta sauce (inspired by Steve Cusato, but with substitutions)

This bell pepper pasta sauce has a complex flavor to mix up your pasta game in time for the winter of 2022.
Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

  • 1 Lb of bowtie pasta
  • 3 red peppers, peeled and sliced thin (Google how to steam/skin them)
  • 1 onion, sliced thin
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 anaheim or serrano peppers, seeded and sliced thin
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons roasted garlic
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • Romano or Parmesan to taste
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon cold butter

Begin by starting a pan of salted water for your pasta. Heat this while you are cooking the rest of your ingredients and add the noodles once the water begins to boil. They should get done at just the right time.

In a Saute pan over medium-high heat, add a few tablespoons of olive oil and once hot, sautee your onions. Season them lightly with salt. Once they begin to turn translucent, add the bell peppers. Once the onion is fully translucent and tender, add in the garlic, chili flakes, remaining peppers and paprika.


Cook until the garlic browns slightly around the edges, then add the tomato paste. Stir thoroughly and cook 2-3 minutes before adding the cream. Lower the heat to medium and cook five minutes to combine the flavors and thicken the cream. Allow to cool slightly before putting in a blender (cooling will prevent a steam explosion). Blend until completely smooth.

Around this time your pasta should hopefully be just short of al dente. Return your sauce to the pan over medium low heat then slowly melt the butter into the sauce. Sample the sauce and determine if it needs salt (don't add too much as the cheese is salty too). Add the noodles, along with a little water, to your sauce and stir to combine. Turn off the heat. If it is very thick, add more pasta water. Lift the pan off the burner and sprinkle in your cheese. Stir to melt. You may thin with more water, or thicken to your liking by adding more cheese. Once you reach your preferred thickness, serve your pasta.

Braised onion pasta (Erin Alexander, Food52)

  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 pounds yellow onions, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1/4 cup Madeira
  • 3/4 pounds cooked peppardelle or similar flat noodle
  • grated parmesan to taste

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Once melted, add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally until they are soft and translucent.

Add the sugar and a pinch of salt then reduce the heat to low. Cook the onions slowly for approximately 1 hour, stirring occasionally. They are done when they are dark, caramelized with an almost jam like consistency. Stir in Madeira, using it to deglaze the pan and allow to cook a few more minutes, then add the cooked pasta to the pan. Sprinkle a generous amount of parmesan on the pasta and toss the pasta well with the sauce. Serve with additional grated Parmesan, flaky salt and pepper to taste.


Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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