italy (part 2) ravello & a recipe for the best ever tomato sauce

On the second leg of our trip, we spent a few days in a little mountain town called Ravello which is perched high above the Almalfi coast. Ravello is home to some of the most breathtaking views in the whole world, and one very special cooking school.

If you want to learn real, authentic, no-fuss Italian cooking, what better way to do it than in the home of an Italian woman who has been cooking professionally for decades for some incredibly famous people like Frank Sinatra and Jackie O. 

Mama Agata is the beloved woman at the heart of the cooking school. Her daughter Chiara, the soul of the school, is the one who runs the day to day, assists and translates for her mother who speaks very little english. They teach out of their home, perched high on a mountainside overlooking the Mediterranean, which has been in their family for over 200 years. 

Mama's recipes are simple, clean, and all about the ingredients. Her technique has been perfected in both her kitchen as well as her garden.  On their property their garden stretches down the mountainside where they grow everything from capers, to lemons, and of course plenty of tomatoes. In August, the family closes down the cooking school so that they can harvest and preserve their tomatoes so they have plenty to last through the year.  

After a day of learning, helping mama cook, and wandering through her gardens, it was time to sit down an enjoy our lunch.  It was a meal I will never ever forget.  The eggplant parmesan was the best I have ever had, and the pasta dishes were so fresh tasting and absolutely incredible.  

The most important lesson from the day ...... that good food comes from the heart. Love is the secret ingredient in every great meal.  This was evident from seed to plate at mama's home, and will be something I strive for in every meal served in our home. 

the best ever tomato sauce

This recipe is inspired by my mama agata's salsa di pomodoro. Although I have been perfecting my own tomato sauce recipe for years, her tips have allowed me to take my own sauce to the next level. Since it is hard for us to use fresh from the garden ingredients and preserves all the time like mama does, I show this recipe using canned tomatoes which, depending on the quality and how ripe the tomatoes were when they were canned, should be equally as tasty. 


several tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
2-3 large cloves of garlic 
a handful of fresh basil leaves
a heaping pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)
1 16oz can of whole, peeled plum tomatoes (preferably a good quality brand from Italy)
a dozen ripe cherry tomatoes


  • In a large saucepan, add the olive oil (so it generously covers the bottom of the pan), garlic, basil, a the crushed red pepper (if using), then turn on the heat to medium high.  Heat the ingredients allowing their natural oils to release being careful not to burn the garlic. 
  • After 2-3 minutes add in your whole peeled tomatoes and bring the sauce to a boil.  Once it is boiling bring the heat to low and simmer the tomatoes for about 20 minutes until they become soft. 
  • Using a potato masher, crush the tomatoes until they are smooth. 
  • Add in the cherry tomatoes, cover, and cook for about an hour allowing the flavors to develop and for the sauce to thicken.  
  • Once your sauce is ready, you can either use it immediately over any pasta or vegetable dish, or you can can it and refrigerate or freeze it for later use.