Montalcino Red Sauce

We are very fortunate to know the Italian hillside town of Montalcino in Tuscany through a very special trip that we took there one September to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Perched on a hilltop in Tuscany, the ancient stone village of Montalcino was founded in Etruscan times. A large fort that now houses a wine shop (enoteca)  towers above the town and the rolling hills covered with the vineyards of the precious Sangiovese grosso grapes that produce the Brunello and other local wines. There are wines shops on every street because this is the heart of the Brunello region. Narrow cobblestone streets and steep paths rimmed by flowers connect one level to another in this delightful village.  You walk across stone ramparts and everywhere there are breathtaking views of the Tuscan countryside. Remnants of the ancient stone walls remain around the town center. Cypress trees dot the hills as the vineyards drape the hollows. The sun bathes everything in a light no painter could match. It’s heaven.

Wine is sunlight, held together by water.

Galileo Galilei

And Brunello is also the perfect complement to food, turning every meal into a special feast. Here is a pasta recipe for what I’ve come to call Montalcino Red Sauce. It’s from our favorite restaurant in Montalcino, a place called Taverna Il Grappola Blu. It couldn’t be more simple. There the chef/owner makes it with handmade pasta and crushed cherry tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and fresh basil. In my recipe, I have substituted San Marzano tomatoes unless you are in the heart of summer and can actually find garden fresh cherry tomatoes similar to what you could find in Tuscany. It’s couldn’t be more simple but it’s just delicious. The recipe is below and there is a video on our site where I make it for you. Enjoy!


by Cheryl Carlesimo

photo John McCally


  • 2 28-oz cans Italian San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
  • 12 whole cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • Red pepper flakes to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil: enough to generously cover the bottom of your sauce pan
  • 12 fresh basil leaves, washed
  • 1 pound long pasta
  • Fresh basil leaf
  • Fresh Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese for grating
  • Fresh pepper


This recipe can be made in under a half hour if you cook the pasta while the sauce is simmering. Start by putting a large pot of water on high heat. Salt the water by measuring a little mound into the palm of your hand. Put an oven safe pasta serving bowl into the oven on warm so it will be ready for serving.

Next, pour the tomatoes into a large mixing bowl, keeping all the juice from the cans. Break the tomatoes by hand, until the larger chunks are about the size of grapes. Heat the oil in a 6 quart or larger sauce pan. When hot, add the pepper flakes, a pinch of salt, and the diced onions. When the onions are translucent, add the whole cloves of garlic. As the onions turn golden brown, add the tomatoes to the pan. Cook on medium for about 15 minutes.

At this point, you can add the pasta to the water, and cook as/per the package directions until al dente (probably about 14 minutes, but be sure to test a few minutes before the cooking time marked on the package so it doesn’t get soft).

While the pasta cooks, gently tear the basil leaf into large pieces, and stir into the sauce pot. Salt to taste, but remember not to overdo it because you’ll be adding grated cheese when you serve. Grind in fresh pepper from the pepper mill to taste. Cook on low for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and put about a third of the sauce in the bottom of the warm serving bowl. Drain the pasta into a colander, and put it into the bowl with the sauce while piping hot. Toss the sauce in the bowl with the pasta, and then add most of the remaining sauce, keeping a cup or two for the table.

Serve hot into individual bowls. Add basil leaf for garnish, and top with fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Mangia!

Recommended side dishes are an Insalata Tricolore, and Grilled Italian Sausages or Pork Chops. And of course, you must eat all of this with a large glass of Tuscan red wine. If you’re very lucky, enjoy a glass of Brunello di Montalcino, the king of Tuscan reds! But if saving for a trip to Italy, any Tuscan red would be magnifico! Buon appetito!

This recipe and many other family favorites are available on  Stop by and become part of this grass roots global food community!

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