EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a new monthly column in which staff writer Meredith Goad will watch as a local cook makes his or her signature dish. Soup to Nuts, a column that Goad has written with flair for a decade, is being retired, but Goad herself isn’t going anywhere; as usual, you’ll find her byline in Food & Dining and Source every week.

SCARBOROUGH — Bob Lynch’s mother, Marie, was French-Irish and so skinny that when she lay down, her hip bones poked out.

This worried Katherine Masucci, Lynch’s Italian grandmother on his father’s side, and Katherine’s sisters. They fretted that Marie was so skinny she’d never be able to bear children.

Their solution? Teach her to cook Italian.

Their meddling – er, intervention – worked. Marie went on to have four children. And two generations later, the family red sauce still gets all the credit.

Lynch, a chiropractor who has an office in South Portland, grew up eating the red sauce with pasta and now makes it regularly for his children. It’s a two-day sauce, so Lynch’s mother would make it on a Saturday, then finish it the next day in time for the Sunday family dinner. The kids’ favorite part? Leftovers. “We’d be all excited because we would have meatball sandwiches the next day,” Lynch recalled.


Lynch has held the family recipe so close that if his children wanted their “grammy’s spaghetti,” they had to come to his house for Sunday dinner. Sometimes, at his kids’ request, it has replaced the Thanksgiving turkey.

Over the years, his daughter Erin, who works as the kitchen manager for the Rosemont Markets, tried her best to pry the recipe from her father. She watched parts of the sauce being made at family gatherings, but could only store so many details away in her brain. She collected many pieces to the puzzle, but was missing the big picture.

“I’d ask him for the recipe, and he’d tell me part of the recipe,” Erin said. “I’d come over and I’d see him putting something else into it. ‘You put wine in the sauce?’ ”

No surprise, then, that as I drove up to Bob Lynch’s seaside home, I felt a bit like CIA agent Carrie Mathison, Claire Dane’s character in “Homeland,” about to score long-held secrets from the Pakistanis. A blustery nor’easter was making its way up the coast, churning up huge waves outside of Lynch’s kitchen and dining room windows. It was the perfect day for making Italian comfort food.

After years of sidestepping their requests, Lynch finally taught Erin and her younger brother Patrick how to make the sauce, and now had agreed to share it with me – and the readers of Food & Dining. He invited me over to join his daughter and two of his sisters in preparing the sauce for lunch.

Actually, since it’s a two-day sauce, our lunch was already in the refrigerator. Lynch had made a batch the day before so we’d have finished sauce to eat, and the plan was to make a new batch so I could learn the recipe. Ultimately, there would be lots of leftovers for sharing or freezing or meatball sandwiches.


“We build a sauce and let it simmer for three or four hours, then put it in the refrigerator,” Lynch explained. “Then when we’re ready to eat it, we simmer it for another two or three hours. What happens is all the spices you put in and the flavors from the meat get emancipated and filter into the sauce.”

Joining us, in addition to daughter Erin, were Bob’s sisters Bridgette Vermette and Karen Haase. A love of food is embedded in this family’s DNA. Haase is one of the founders of Cranberry Island Kitchen and has worked with the likes of Martha Stewart and Bobby Flay. (She’s no longer involved with the company, but still wishes her mother had lived to see her success in the food world.)

Bob Lynch got the tomato sauce going for our fresh batch, the one being made entirely for my benefit. While the Italian sausage sizzled on the stovetop, I helped Karen and Bridgette roll meatballs, each a little larger than a golf ball. “Erin’s a wizard with a knife,” Lynch said turning toward his daughter. “I’m going to have you chop up the garlic.”

The browned sausage was gently lowered into the pot of sauce, the meatballs were tucked into the oven. The thin-cut, bone-in pork chops were last, browned in the same pan as the sausage and then added to the sauce.

All of the meat came, of course, from Rosemont Market, where Erin’s husband is the butcher. His job at family dinners is to make fresh pasta to go with the sauce, but he had to work the day I visited. Lynch planned to serve it instead over rigatoni because he thinks its shape stands up to the thick sauce and holds it best.

The family believes the recipe can be traced all the way back to Naples; they came from there, through Ellis Island, the year lost in time. But they also assume it has been modified over the years – even recently. Lynch’s mother, for example, made bread crumbs for the meatballs using scala bread from Uncle Andy’s bakery in South Portland; today, Lynch buys ready-made bread crumbs. And Lynch’s father didn’t like tomato seeds getting stuck in his teeth, so they filtered the tomatoes to get all the seeds out.


“The recipe my mom has that she also got from my dad’s mother is different, so I think it must have been tweaked at some point,” Erin Lynch said. “And hers is probably 30 years old. So I don’t know how many times it’s been tweaked and changed.”

As the fresh batch of sauce bubbled away, filling the house with a rich, comforting aroma, Lynch pulled yesterday’s sauce out of the fridge to warm it up. The differences were obvious. The day-old sauce was thick and dark. After it heated up, the spoons came out and I had a taste of each. The day-old sauce was much meatier-tasting, and had more depth of flavor. Its warm spiciness lingered a bit longer in my mouth. The new sauce was lighter and brighter, but tasted a little bitter and needed a touch of sugar for balance.

“You know,” Lynch said, “it’s not really a hard thing to make for a bunch of people, and it’s impressive.”

Someone’s cellphone rang. It was Lynch’s other sibling, a sister named Merry, calling from her home in Warsaw, Poland.

“I want to make sure everything’s being done just right,” she joked when she introduced herself to me over FaceTime.

“I’m going to take you over to the stove,” Haase said, carrying the phone over to the giant bubbling pots so Merry could see what was cooking.


“Oh yah, that’s what I’m talkin’ about,” Merry exclaimed, and everyone in the kitchen burst into laughter.

Bob showed Merry the table, all the places set except for hers. All that was left was to open a bottle of Chianti.

“You want to see the weather?” he asked. “It was just thundering and lightning. It’s a good day for my sauce.”

Now that the tradition has been passed on, Erin has tried making the sauce on her own, for her own family, a version without pork chops. But it just isn’t the same.

“It’s better over here, I think,” she said. “It’s better with family.”


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