Mamma Palanca’s Tomato Sauce

I would love to take full credit, but I can’t…

In 2004 I moved from Montreal to Halifax. One of my top requests before leaving my Italian neighbourhood and friends was to get a great tomato sauce recipe from a nearest and dearest, Adriana Palanca. She’s a long-time friend from NDG whose mother’s food has made me cry. I mean, this woman makes her own salumi for crying out loud! And it’s divine.

So they gave me the recipe along with an awesome method for pesto, and since the move I have learned to make the sauce with my eyes closed. Recently I’ve come to modify it a bit by adding my own ingredients, but I always respect the main gist of the recipe and the results are awesome.

For the meatballs, Adriana introduced me years ago to Boucherie Tranzo. It’s a small Italian grocery store on Somerled Ave. in NDG and I still shop there with each trip home. Tranzo make their sausages by hand on site, carry all sorts of Italian delicacies and roast a small pig in the shop every Friday. The sandwiches! I’ll buy six to seven pounds of sausage, load them into my luggage, vacuum-seal bags with four to five sausages each, freeze them and that allows for many meatballs for sauce until my next trip.

Mamma Palanca’s Tomato Sauce (My modified version)

  • 3 tbsp Good Olive Oil
  • 3 Garlic cloves (thinly sliced)
  • 2-3 Yellow onions (chopped)
  • ½ Red onion (chopped)
  • Chili flakes
  • 2 Anchovies and some oil
  • 1-2 Celery stalk (chopped)
  • 1 Carrot (chopped)
  • 5-6 Mushrooms (chopped)
  • 1 can Whole tomatoes (the best you can find)
  • 1 can Tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp Sugar
  • Water
  1. Heat the olive oil in a pot until it shimmers. Add the onions and let them soften a bit. Add a bit of salt & pepper.
  2. After a few minutes add the garlic and stir. Make a clear spot in the pot and add a pinch of chili flakes. Let them toast a little.
  3. Next, make another clearing and add the anchovies and a little of their oil from the container. Let them melt a bit, you’ll smell them! Stir everything around and then add the chopped celery, carrots and mushrooms. Another touch of salt & pepper and then let everything cook for 3-4 minutes.
  4. While this is happening, open the canned tomatoes and tomato paste. Put the tomatoes in a bowl and break off the harder end parts.
  5. Once again, make a big clearing and add the tomato paste. Caramelize the paste for a few minutes. Slowly mix in some of the cooking vegetables into the paste until everything is blended in the pot and is a deep red from the paste.
  6. Now pour in the tomatoes. As to not waste anything, rinse the tomato can with water to about half full. Now use that water to clean out the bowl you had the tomatoes in. Last, pour that water into the pot. Stir things around and get a feel for how thick the sauce is. You may want to add more water or leave it as it is.
  7. Put the heat to almost full to bring to a boil. Add some more salt & pepper and finally the sugar. One last stir and then reduce the heat to low and cover. Stir every so often.
  8. After an hour you can remove the pot from the heat and blend with a hand blender until smooth or leave it chunky.
  9. The sauce is now ready or you can go over the top by adding meatballs and placing it back on the heat from another 45 minutes to an hour. The fat from the sausage will change the flavour of the sauce.


  • 4-5 Italian sausages
  • 3 Garlic cloves (minced)
  • 1 Tbsp Fennel seeds
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbsp Breadcrumbs
  • 1 Egg
  • 1½ cup Flour (Optional)
  • Olive Oil (Optional)
  1. Remove sausage meat from casing and put in bowl. Add garlic, fennel seeds, mustard, breadcrumbs and the egg. Mix together well with your hands.
  2. Roll together meatballs to about the size of a golf ball. From here you can place them into the sauce as listed above.
  3. For more insanity roll the meatballs in the flour, shake off the excess, and fry in the olive oil. Once browned all over, let them drain on a wire rack and then place in the sauce to continue cooking.

Do it!