Spaghetti sauce aka tomato sauce


Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.

Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

Philosophy is wondering if that means ketchup is a smoothie


Tomatoes, yep tomatoes are considered by most food historians as a “new world” fruit.

Yep, tomatoes are considered a fruit.

Tilly: The tomato’s formal botanical classification, Lycopersicon esculentum, translates as “edible wolf peach”.

So, where did the first tomato sauce recipe was made? Look way down south to South America. So what was the first recipe?  You can thank Bernardino de Sahagun a Spanish Franciscan friar.

“They sell some stews made of peppers and tomatoes – usually put in them peppers, pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, green peppers and fat tomatoes and other things that make tasty stews.

Florentine Codex (1540–1585)

Tilly: Nope –  it was cannabilism! We can thank the Aztecs for the tomato: the name in English is derived from the Aztec word “tomatl” and the food itself. One of the first references to tomatoes in historical documents mentions that Aztecs who practiced cannibalism used the red fruit as a side dish to the main course of human flesh. So how did a food associated with cannibalism and believed to be toxic become known as the love apple?

So how and when did tomatoes get to Europe? Thank the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes. Many historians believe he was the first to transfer a small yellow tomato to Europe after capturing the Aztec city Tenochtitlan, in 1521. Known as Mexico City today.

Tilly: When the tomato arrived in Europe, it was classified alongside the deadly belladonna and nightshade and many were convinced the fruit was poisonous.

Olive: In 18th century Europe, the tomato was nicknamed “the poison apple,” because aristocrats would oftentimes get sick and die after eating them.

Little did they know that the explanation had to do with their choice of tableware, not the tomatoes. According to the historical cookbook, “Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday’s Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs for Today’s Cook,” the high acidity of tomatoes would cause lead to leach from the pewter plates used by rich aristocrats and cause lead poisoning. The aristocrats attributed the issue to the tomato itself.

Here is a bit of trivia, in 1544 and Italian physician and botanist Pietro Andrea Mattioli suggested that it was a new type of eggplant that was blood red or golden in color. It would be cooked and seasoned with salt, pepper and oil. It took 10 more years before tomatoes were named in print as pomi d’oro or “golden apples”.

Tilly: Spanish travelers took tomatoes to Europe in the 16th century; as mentioned, the Italians deemed them pomi d’oro. But the Moors in Spain took the tomato back to Morocco, where they called it pomi dei mori, or “apple of the Moors.” When the French got hold of the tomato, they called it “pommes d’amour,” or apples of love. Was that because of its association with the mandrake plant, or was it simply a linguistic slip-up?

Maybe that’s why some foods prominently featuring spaghetti are associated with sex to this day; for example the 20th century puttanesca sauce, which is translated as “whore’s or prostiture’s spaghetti”.

I make a belter puttanesca. Recipe below.

Tomatoes are full of anti-oxidant lycopene,  which helps helps fight off diseases and various cancers and can even help lower our cholesterol levels. Medieval herbalists recommended tomato juice for cataracts. They are also thought to be be an aphrodisiac. What’s not to like?

Leaping forward to 1692, Latini’s recipe produced something similar to salsa:

Salsa di pomodoro alla spagnola (tomato sauce, Spanish style). Take half a fresh tomatoes dozen ripe tomatoes and roast them in embers, and when they are charred, carefully remove the skin, and mince them finely with a knife. Add as many onions, finely minced, as desired; chilies [peparolo, in Neapolitan dialect], also finely minced; and a small amount of thyme. After mixing everything together, add a little salt, oil, and vinegar as needed. It is a very tasty sauce, for boiled dishes or anything else.”

“This salsa would have been placed in small dishes as a condiment to meats.”

What do they call tomato sauce in Spain?

Tomato sauce can be called salsa roja, literally meaning “red sauce,” or it can be called salsa de tomate, which means “tomato sauce.”

When did Tomato sauce start being used on pasta? Well, it was not in Italy, it is in fact French. Yep, French.

Alexander Balthazar-Laurent Grimod de la Reyniere in 1807 recommended that in the autumn tomatoes be substituted for the purees and cheese. “Mix into vermicelli before serving. Stating the juice of this fruit gives agreeable acidity to soups in which it is put.”

Forward to 1837 and Cavalcanti wrote that a successful dish of baked vermicelli with tomatoes, was to make the sauce dense and cook the pasta just until firm, and toss everything together in a pan

‘Macaroni a la napolitana,’ combining pasta and tomatoes, first appeared in an American cookbook a few years later, in 1847. By the 1880s, the tomato had been accepted as the condiment of choice for pasta for the peasants of the Campania region, and pasta itself had become a staple.”

By the end of the 1800’s ragu (that is meat in tomato sauce) was popular but only within the wealthy class. Pasta with meat sauce took off internationally at the end of WW2. According to De Vita[1] 80% of the rural Italian population pasta was reserved for feast days and was served in a legume soup.

There are approximately 350 different pasta shapes around the world.

Italians often insist that the shape you cook with can affect the taste so you should make sure you pick the right one if you want to impress.

Tilly: Puttanesca: . 5 tablespoons olive oil, 50g butter – or more olive oil; 2 (minimum) cloves garlic; 50g can anchovy fillets; 2 or more tablespoons capers; 150g black olives; 350g or more of fresh tomatoes (or canned or passata); sea salt and fresh black pepper; fresh parsley to garnish.

Heat the olive oil (or oil and butter). Saute the garlic and anchovies – they will melt into the sauce – until the garlic just colours. Add the tomaties, capers and olives, simmer for 20 minutes or so. Season to taste. Serve with spaghetti or vermicelli and chopped parsley. Will serve 4 or 5, depending on appetites. Feel free to add more of any of the ingredients to suit your palate! If you are a fan of anchovies, add the oil from the can, too in place of some of olive oil or butter. Sometimes I drive Italian friends mad by adding mushrooms … rules is made to be broked.


A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins.

Laurie Colwin


Don’t ripen picked tomatoes in the sun. Put under ripe tomatoes and stone fruits in a paper bag in cool, dark place, and magic happens. And never, ever store them in the fridge: they turn mushy and flavorless.

Andrew Zimmern


Olive and Tilly

[1] Oretta Zanini De Vita is a leading Italian food critic and author of several books on Italian cuisine



  • Jeff Dawson

    I apologize for all the misspellings in that post that was just absolutely horrible! I will do better in the future

  • Jeff Dawson

    I forgot about putting them in brown bags to ripen. Need to give that a go since the ones in the grocery store asre usually not quite right. Now, the one thing the didn’t mention was some of the fine jokes we have avout the tomat. If you’ve seen “Pulp Fiction,” you know the punc line, “Ketch-up.” Should have touch a little on how Heinze made Ketchup one of the staples of condimnets in America and then the world. Still more fascinationg tidbits to digest. No pun ntended! Keep the posts flowing!

    • Tilly

      GLad you emnjoyed it, Jeff. I confess I hd forgottn the line in ‘Pulp Fiction’. WIll have to watch it again – sure to be on the idiot’s lantern (again) sometime soon. We did a post on ketchup some time ago – the website has been revamped and I think it has gone into the ether . But the origins were well described with a few snarky comments to liven proceedings. May Olive can provide a link. Olive?

  • Nicholas

    I only recently discovered puttanesca but it’s already one of my favourite pasta dishes. The recipe I used included red pepper flakes and dried oregano but was otherwise fairly similar to Tilly’s.

    • Tilly

      Ecstatic that you add chilli! I do usually. I often don’t mention it because so many Italian recipes do not – but that extra bit of bite is magi. As are fresh herbs of any kind.

  • Jerry Bell

    Once again ladies you hit the taste buds on target. I love tomsto sauce in all it variations, frequently experimenting as I go. My kids love tomatoes in a sauce, they are not too fond of them when fresh, although my salsa does not always get cooked. Ah well, kids.
    I will try these recipes out.
    The histories you two presented are alway eye opening. I love pulsing up my knowledge with them. Wonderful blog!

    • Olive

      Thank you for your comments… I dearly love raw fresh tomatoes with just a touch of salt and pepper… so good…
      Did you know you can use salsa as a soup base…?

    • Tilly

      Well, Mr Bell it is delightful to have you as a fan! So pleased the posts inform and entertain. Hopefully your offspring will get over the raw tomato thing – like Olive, they are wonderful when sliced thinly, seasoned well and drizzled with a good olive oil. Rather partial to them in crusty French bread, or a sourdough stick.

  • Cristie

    Hmmmmmm, in my humble opinion spaghetti sauce needs thyme, oregano, basil, and a few bay leaves added. Also, it needs to simmer most of the day even though it’s always better the next day. As for adding fish 🤑🤮🤢

    • Tilly

      I heartily agree, Cristie. Fresh herbs are de rigeur – and I assume everyone adds them without being told to. I shall not do so in furture. I also like to add a smack of chilli!

    • Tilly

      Oh, Cristie … the anchovies are for the puttanesca. It ain’t puttanesca without them! But as been discussed before, the original tomato sauces had fish added. NO idea why. I imagine not much and that it didn’t affect the flavpour too much. And,yes, yes, yes to the fresh herbs. I tend to assume everyone adds them as a matter of course.

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