All in the Sauce: How Sicilian Nonna’s Family Recipe Helped Two Halifax Brothers Start a Business
Antonina Rinaldo was a kind of “a pinch of this and a handful of that” cook who would lure every member of the family into the kitchen and task them with making the perfect pasta sauce.
Tomato sauce became the key ingredient that made every dish complete, says Tony Rinaldo, fondly recalling his childhood and his Sicilian grandmother.
“My grandmother was a classic Italian, the major of the family. My dad (Salvatore) learned a lot of recipes from her, and the same with my aunt, Francesca,” he explains.
“So cooking has always been an integral part of our family. Special occasions were celebrated with meals and brought everyone together – and paved the way for successful careers.”
His family, originally from Sicily, moved to Buffalo, New York, before settling in Nova Scotia, where Rinaldo’s father met his mother.
As a result, his father became the founder of the original Salvatore’s New York Pizza (now Salvatore’s Pizzaiolo Trattoria).
Rinaldo followed the same passion, attributing his culinary turn to Italian and American cuisine to his family experiences and thoughts on travel and culture.
Then, in March 2020, the pandemic swept through the provinces and hit the restaurant industry the hardest.
“It’s been a tough road with the pandemic,” says Rinaldo, who co-owns the restaurant with his brother, Sam.
“Sam and I have had to be innovative during the lockdowns. The pandemic has forced us to focus, become more organized, and keep improving and adapting to the changing environment.”
According to a Restaurants Canada survey, between March and April 2020, more than 800,000 Canadian restaurant workers lost their jobs or had their hours reduced.
“Before the pandemic, the restaurant industry was the fourth largest employer in Canada, directly employing 1.2 million people,” the report said.
Ilona Daniel, a PEI food and lifestyle writer, culinary culture developer and chef instructor, says the outbreak has introduced many variables that leave the view of the future still somewhat hazy.
“The culture of sharing food at the table for many throughout the pandemic is no longer an option. As we move forward, will these customers quickly return to their previous dining styles, or will the change happen over a longer period of time? she asks.
She confidently adds, “The hospitality industry is resilient and has come forward over the past couple of years. It is also clearly poised to grow thanks to people’s pent up desire for many tourist and hotel experiences. People are looking to fill their bucket list with travel and dining desires.
“For now, the industry’s ability to remain nimble and responsive to emerging data will likely continue to drive the market segment’s recovery.”
Rinaldo says he is “grateful” for the support from locals.
April marks the fifth anniversary of Rinaldo’s Restaurant, located on Windsor Street in Halifax. He and his brother Sam aim to offer their guests more than a meal, but a sensory experience.
“It’s a red sauce restaurant with an Italian-American flair. And we create new sandwiches, pizzas and pasta dishes (made fresh) every week. Our second location is in the same town, on Dutch Village Road,” says Rinaldo.
The travels helped build the company’s narrative, he notes.
“I lived in France and cooked there for a while, and cooked all around. I went to Montreal, to other parts of North America,” lists Rinaldo.
“I decided from these tabletop travel experiences that I knew the vision of where I wanted to go when it came to opening a restaurant.”
With sound technique and quality ingredients, Rinaldo adds, “Anyone can have the confidence to make sauces that rival, and even beat, the taste and texture of manufactured goods bought at a grocery store.
Grocery prices on the rise
Additionally, the 2022 Canadian Food Price Report predicts an overall increase in food prices of 5-7% for the coming year – the largest predicted increase in more than a decade.
The report predicts significant increases for dairy and restaurant products, baked goods, and vegetables and fruits.
“In every Canadian grocery aisle, rising market prices are evident and continue to climb across the board, driving up grocery bills and forcing some households to find new ways to make ends meet. “, explains Daniels.
Fortunately, there are ways to save money and reduce food waste.
Making a clear plan when buying food at the grocery store and creating a simple red sauce at home — it’s the base of so many dishes — can give you better control over a food budget.
“You can make the sauce in bulk and then freeze it in bottles for later, which will save you money. Plus, the real value is the satisfaction of making something from scratch,” says- he.
“Homemade gravy is a healthier option because it has no additives and preservatives (why they have a shelf life of several years), and it’s tastier because you can tailor it to your taste.”
do it at home
Rinaldo takes us back to Sicily with his simple family recipe for tomato sauce:
- 2 cans 28 oz San Marzano tomatoes
- 1 finely chopped onion
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 bunch of fresh basil (chopped)
- 1 sprig of basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 pinch of baking soda
- Chilli flakes.
- Sweat the onions in olive oil until translucent in a pan.
- Add the garlic and continue cooking until a light golden color is obtained.
- Crush the tomatoes with your hands and add them to the pan.
- Add dry oregano, salt, pepper, chili flakes and basil stems to the sauce.
- Allow the sauce to cook for about two hours over medium-low heat and stir the sauce periodically throughout the cooking process.
- Finish the sauce with fresh basil and olive oil, check the seasoning and adjust the salt or pepper to your preference.
Rinaldo adds one last useful tip: “My grandmother added a pinch of baking soda to her tomato sauce to reduce the acidity.”