Classic cinnamon-tomato sauce recipe

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A few of those little secrets come into play in this classic Greek tomato sauce, seasoned with the trio of cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. It’s wonderful with pasta and is also the basic support sauce for ground meat dishes from moussaka to pastitsio to good old galley cook’s spaghetti with kima (ground meat).

  • Yield: 5 cups (1.2 L)


  • ¼ cup (60 ml) extra-virgin Greek olive oil
  • 2 large red onions, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried mushroom powder
  • Pinch of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 6 cups (1.4 L) chopped or pureed fresh or good-quality canned tomatoes
  • ⅔ cup (180 ml) white wine
  • 1 large cinnamon stick
  • 8 allspice berries
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons petimezi (grape molasses) or honey
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Cooked pasta or rice, for serving
  • Grated Greek myzithra or Kefalotyri cheese or Greek yogurt, for serving
How to Make It
  1. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the onions and cook until wilted and lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Add in the garlic and stir a few times to soften it. Stir in the mushroom powder and cocoa and cook for a minute or so to release their flavors.
  2. Add the tomatoes, wine, cinnamon stick, allspice, nutmeg, and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer and add 2 cups (480 ml) water. Bring back to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over low heat for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the sauce is thick and has reduced to about 5 cups (1.2 L). Add additional water during the cooking if the sauce thickens too much.
  3. Taste the sauce and add the petimezi and vinegar as needed to adjust the balance of flavors. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Remove the cinnamon stick, allspice berries, and bay leaves before serving.
  4. Serve the sauce over pasta or rice, accompanied by grated cheese or Greek yogurt. Or use it as the base in a ground meat sauce that stands on its own or to make pastitsio or moussaka.

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