One of the many restaurant recipe’s I’ve been dying to recreate has been the extremely delicious red sauce from Spago’s. For those that haven’t heard of Spago before, it is a restaurant started by Wolfgang Puck in the early 1980’s in Hollywood and probably one of the most famous purveyors of ‘California Cuisine’. Well, Spago’s red sauce is one of the dishes that people have been trying to copycat forever – and thanks to a friend who works at one of their locations I believe this is the authentic recipe!
Whatever people say about the ethics of publishing copycat recipes – the truth is they are always being searched for. And while this may just be a simple red sauce recipe, the fact that it is a Spago’s copycat makes it all the better. Why? Because who can afford to buy a $100 dinner for one these days. And you want to know a really cool thing about this pasta sauce; It is entirely vegan. Who knew! I sure didn’t.
I have chosen to feature this sauce with some regular spaghetti but you can put Spago’s red sauce on any type of pasta you like. From penne to ravioli to even gnocchi. Whatever you choose however, try to find a pasta that is ‘trafilata en bronzo‘ which is not just a higher quality pasta, but one with tiny ridges that help sauce cling.
Is This The Real Spago’s Recipe For Their Red Sauce?
Okay, let me be clear. I am not an employee at any of the Spago restaurants, nor have I ever worked there. What I do have is a good friend who is a chef at one of their locations and after years of pestering he finally gave me the recipe. So this Spago copycat is as real as it can be – unless my friend is a big ol’ liar. I like to give the benefit of the doubt. And you’ll see if you make this yourself it really is one of the best red sauce recipes out there.
How To Make Spago’s Red Sauce At Home
This red sauce recipe is entirely vegan so you can pretty much get almost everything you need right in the produce section. As with most of my recipes I do recommend buying the best quality ingredients as you can; They do show in the final result. One tidbit of information I do find important to share: Please make this the day before you plan to eat it. Allowing it to sit for a day in an airtight container in the fridge after cooking somehow makes this simple enough red sauce taste twice as good as right from the pot.
What You’ll Need
Pan or Pot
Immersion Blender – You can also use a regular blender in batches, but an immersion one is so good for blending things directly in your pot.
- 200 grams Dry Porcini Mushrooms – You can use other mushrooms if you like, but porcini are wonderful. Why dry? Because the rehydrating liquid is actually a key part of this red sauce recipe.
- 1600 grams San Marzano Tomatoes – These of course come whole in cans. You can use another type of whole peeled plum tomato, but as mentioned earlier you really do want to get the best you can.
- 250 grams Cherry Tomatoes – I actually used cherry San Marzano’s as well, which I realize might not be available for everyone. However as this ingredient gets roasted you can pick any ripe cherry tomatoes you like.
- 1 large Yellow Onion – Peeled and quartered or 8th’d
- 2 + 1 large Shallots – Peel and half two of them. The other finely dice.
- 1 large Red Bell Pepper – Cored and cut into wide strips
- 1 bulb Garlic
- 3-4 Calabrian Chilies – Chopped. You can use more or less to taste. The original recipe is not spicy so this Spago’s copycat does not need to be as well. I find 3-4 chilies add a lot of flavor without bringing the heat up.
- 2 tbsp Tomato Paste – The only tomato paste I buy is Mutti and for this recipe I used Mutti Triplo which is phenomenal. If you have a favorite brand go ahead and use it, but if you are going to buy one then you should give Mutti Triplo a shot.
- 100 grams Basil – Yes this is a lot, and yes this is how I make my red sauce now. Literally look in the photo above how much 100 grams of basil is, and note that is is glorious.
- 1 tbsp Salt – Roughly, it will be adjusted to taste so it might go up to 2 tbsp.
- 1-2 tsp Black Pepper – Freshly Cracked. Also adjust to taste.
- 1/2 tsp MSG – This was not on the recipe card given to me, but I add it anyways. If you don’t want to add it you don’t have to, but I always add a little MSG to my sauces (and pretty much all not dessert cooking).
Place your cherry tomatoes, shallot, onion, bell pepper, and garlic (wrapped in foil with a chimney) on a baking tray. You can use a silicone mat if you like. Drizzle with plenty of olive oil and generously sprinkle with salt. Place tray in an oven preheated to 180C or 350F and bake for 30 minutes, or less if you see some veggies getting burnt.
Bring 500 ml (2 cups) of water to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the mushrooms. Let them rehydrate for about 30 minutes – or as long as the vegetables are roasting in the oven.
In a pan on medium heat add some olive oil and the chopped chilies and diced shallot. Cook just long enough until the shallot is soft and translucent. I recommend using the largest sauce pan that you have. If you want to do this in a pot you can, I like using a pan in the beginning personally.
Once your shallots and chilies are soft and fragrant, add in the tomatoes and tomato paste. Continually stir the pan around, allowing much of the water in the liquid to evaporate.
At this point I move everything to a larger pot (medium-low heat). Add the roasted vegetables directly from the oven. With the garlic remove the foil and squeeze out the soft cloves. They will slide right out of their paper. Also add in the mushroom rehydrating liquid. Do not discard the rehydrated mushrooms, use them in things like a quiche, or chop them up to fill ravioli.
Let the sauce cook until it reduces about 1/5th of the way, then move the heat to low. Add in the basil and give everything a thorough blitz with your immersion blender. If you want to move everything to a large standing blender you can do that as well, but I find an immersion blender works best for sauces and soups.
Let the red sauce sit on the lowest heat setting for about 30 minutes, then take off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature*. Place in an airtight container and put in the fridge until ready to use, or the freezer if you want to store it for long term.
* If you do want to use it right away you absolutely can do so hot straight from the pot. I find letting it sit for a day improves it’s flavor, but after you put forth all the effort you go and enjoy that bowl of spaghetti and Spago’s red sauce to your heart’s content.
What To Do With This Spago’s Copycat Red Sauce Recipe?
If you are looking at ways to use this Spago’s copycat red sauce, the sky is the limit. I mean seriously, just use it as you would any other red sauce, from homemade to jarred. Red sauce, often known as tomato sauce or marinara sauce, is a versatile and essential ingredient in Italian and Italian-American cuisine. You can use it in various ways to enhance the flavor of your dishes. Here are some different ways to use Italian red sauce:
- Tossed With Pasta – This is the easiest go to method to really make the most of this delicious red sauce recipe. Make sure to pull the pasta out of the water just before al dente and finish it in a pan of hot sauce. Garnish with some microplaned parmigiano reggiano or other hard, salty cheese if you like. If you do happen to use spaghetti make sure to make extra so you have leftovers for one of my favorite comfort foods: Day-old spaghetti.
- As A Pizza Base – Use this sauce as a base for a standard pizza sauce. You can zhuzh it up a bunch of different ways, or just spread it around the dough as is.
- On Chicken or Eggplant Parmisan – Both of these dishes use a basic marinara and that’s all this Spago’s copycat really is. Use this sauce between the base and the mozzarella for an extremely elevated parmesan.
- Ratatouille or Pisto – These French or Spanish vegetable stews respectively can be made quicker by simmering the vegetables in an already made sauce. Just add chunks of eggplant, zucchini, and more to the simmering sauce and cook until the veggies are soft.
- Sloppy Joes? – Why not simmer ground beef in this red sauce for a twist on the classic American sloppy Joe. Just cook until the beef is done and spoon onto a soft bun and enjoy!
Spago’s Red Sauce
- 1 Pan
- 1 Pot
- 1 Baking Tray | with or without a silicone mat
- 1 (Immersion) Blender | or a regular blender but that will be more work
- 200 grams Dry Porcini Mushrooms You can use other mushrooms if you like but porcini are wonderful. Why dry? Because the rehydrating liquid is actually a key part of this red sauce recipe.
- 1600 grams San Marzano Tomatoes These of course come whole in cans. You can use another type of whole peeled plum tomato but as mentioned earlier you really do want to get the best you can.
- 250 grams Cherry Tomatoes I actually used cherry San Marzano's as well which I realize might not be available for everyone. However as this ingredient gets roasted you can pick any ripe cherry tomatoes you like.
- 1 large Yellow Onion Peeled and quartered or 8th'd
- 2 + 1 large Shallots Peel and half two of them. The other finely dice.
- 1 large Red Bell Pepper Cored and cut into wide strips
- 1 bulb Garlic
- 3-4 Calabrian Chilies Chopped. You can use more or less to taste. The original recipe is not spicy so this Spago's copycat does not need to be as well. I find 3-4 chilies add a lot of flavor without bringing the heat up.
- 2 tbsp Tomato Paste The only tomato paste I buy is Mutti and for this recipe I used Mutti Triplo which is phenomenal. If you have a favorite brand go ahead and use it but if you are going to buy one then you should give Mutti Triplo a shot.
- 100 grams Basil Yes this is a lot and yes this is how I make my red sauce now. Literally look in the photo above how much 100 grams of basil is, and note that is is glorious.
- 1 tbsp Salt Roughly it will be adjusted to taste so it might go up to 2 tbsp.
- 1-2 tsp Black Pepper Freshly Cracked. Also adjust to taste.
- 1/2 tsp MSG This was not on the recipe card given to me but I add it anyways. If you don't want to add it you don't have to, but I always add a little MSG to my sauces (and pretty much all not dessert cooking).
- Olive Oil As needed
- Set 500 ml (2 cups) of water in a pot and bring to a boil. Take off the heat and add the dry mushrooms. Let sit for as long as the vegetables are in the oven.
- Place the cherry tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, shallot, and garlic (top cut off and wrapped in foil with a chimney) on a baking tray. Generously drizzle with olive oil and liberally sprinkle with salt. Place in an oven at 180C/350F for 25-30 minutes.
- Set a pan on medium heat and add a little olive oil. Add the calabrian chilies and finely diced shallot with a pinch of salt and saute until soft. Then add the canned tomatoes and tomato paste and mix everything together. Cook on medium heat until the vegetables are done roasting (about 10-15 more minutes).
- Move the contents of the pan to a large pot on medium heat. Also add the mushroom rehydrating liquid (save the mushrooms for another recipe) and all of the roasted vegetables. Squeeze the garlic from the skins, they should just pop right out. Blend everything with the immersion blender.
- Let the sauce reduce by about 20% then turn the heat to low. Add all the basil and blend again until you have a nice, smooth sauce. Let simmer on the lowest heat setting for 30 minutes.
- If you are saving the sauce for future use, let it come to room temperature then place it in a container(s) for the fridge or freezer. If you are using it right away you can do so as well.