Lilia is one of my favorite restaurants in New York so I was happy to discover that the chef and owner, Missy Robbins, has a cookbook. Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner...Life is a collection of recipes from her home kitchen making it a fun mix of ideas and inspiration.

This 30 Clove Pasta Sauce is the first dish I made and it's already a weeknight regular. The sauce is basically garlic confit (i.e. sweet and savory excellence) mashed together with a few well-chosen ingredients. The recipe is straightforward to make, tastes even better on day 2, and can be frozen.

If you want a little protein, I include an optional (but not necessary) addition of Calabrese sausage. This 30 Clove Pasta Sauce would also be great to freeze for an Airstream trip. Throw it in the cooler with a box of pasta for a post-hike dinner that's several steps up from jarred sauce.

Canned Tomatoes

Not all canned tomatoes are created equal. Rather than perform a taste test at home, I decided to pull up the "best of" lists from 15+ websites and compare what they had to say against my own experience. During said research, I came across this article about tomato fraud (add that to the list of olive oil, olive, and honey fraud), which prompted me to take a pause and sigh.

I put my computer down and paid a visit to the local Italian importer, Guidi Marcello, to see what canned tomatoes they had. The tomato shelves were stocked with La Valle DOP and non DOP (the former being more expensive). Interestingly, this is the brand I discovered last year at the West Shore Farmers Market in Pennsylvania. I made Gjelina's braised meatballs for my mother-in-law and the accompanying pomodoro sauce was some of the best I've turned out with canned tomatoes. The brand also happens to be on a number of lists that I reviewed. Seems that's several votes for La Valle.

Other than La Valle, I've used Cento and Bianco DiNapoli whole peeled tomatoes with fine results. I'm bailing on compiling a list beyond that. Except...I would like to try Gustarosso. I guess four brands makes a list.

Recipe Tips

Liquid Gold

The Gjelina garlic confit method I posted a while back involves the oven but Missy Robbins' version uses the stovetop. Take your time with this step as it's the heart of the dish. To tame the flame, I place the pot on a homemade aluminum ring that measures about 1-inch tall. Just scrunch some heavy-duty foil together and connect it at the end. Make sure the ring is wider than the flame and also very compact and sturdy. I've had the same ring for years so you should only have to make it once.

Make Ahead

As with many sauces, this one benefits from a night in the refrigerator or at least several hours.


I've cut this recipe down by a third without issue. If you make a smaller portion, use a smaller pot for the garlic and oil step.

Original vs. Adapted

Fennel Seed

I reduced the fennel seed from 6 teaspoons to 4 1/2 (1 1/2 tablespoons). Though the fennel mellows a touch when you make it a day ahead, I still prefer to reduce the quantity.


I increased the red pepper flakes slightly.

They Did The Mash

There is a step in the cookbook that involves mashing half of the garlic with a fork. I mash all of it.

Garlic at The Garden Of... // Santa Monica Farmers Market

Farmers | Artisans

I make an effort to source my food from California artisans with a special focus on the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Below is a list of the folks who contributed to this dish.


My Favorite Cooking Tools spotlights the kitchen equipment I have owned and used for years.

Ingredients (From Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner...Life)


  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 30 (about 125 grams or 4 1/2 ounces) peeled garlic cloves Note: Some of my garlic cloves were Jurassic in size and some were small so I prefer to rely on weight.
  • (3) 28-ounce cans whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 sprigs fresh basil
  • 3-4 teaspoons Diamond kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper


  • Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 10 ounces dry pasta (for 2-3 people) Note: This recipe makes more sauce than you will need for that amount of pasta.


Garlic Prep

  • Place the side of a chef's knife or similar on the clove and give it a gentle whack. You're not looking to smash the garlic, just loosen the skin.
  • Cut the rough/root end off the clove. Lift the garlic with your free hand before lifting the knife off of the cutting board. Half of the skin will come off in that motion.
  • The rest of the skin can be easily removed by hand.

Garlic Confit

  • In a Dutch oven or similar, add the olive oil and garlic cloves. The cloves should sit in an even layer and will be partially submerged.
  • Cook over medium-low heat until the garlic softens and starts to develop a golden color, 40-50 minutes. Stir and flip the garlic once or twice so that each side develops color. The texture should be very soft and mashable when finished. Note: I use a tinfoil ring as mentioned under "Recipe Tips".


  • Smash the garlic with the back of a fork.
  • Set a strainer over a bowl and dump one can of tomatoes into the strainer. Jiggle it a few times to allow the watery liquid to run off (yields about 1/4 cup liquid). Do this for all of the tomatoes.
  • Crush the tomatoes with your hands. If you feel any hard bits (usually the end of the tomatoes) discard those. I only found 3 or 4.
  • Add the fennel seeds, crushed red pepper, 2 teaspoons of salt, and hand-crushed tomatoes to the pot with the garlic. Simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the sauce thickens too much, partially cover the pot. Note: I partially cover the sauce halfway through.
  • After the sauce has simmered for 30 minutes, add the basil and 1 additional teaspoon of kosher salt. Cook for 15 minutes and then remove the basil and discard. Taste for seasoning. Note: You will be adding salty pasta water and cheese to marry the dish at the end so don't go overboard salting the sauce. It should be delicious but still need a little something.
  • Cool and refrigerate in an airtight container. This step is highly recommended as it gives the flavors time to marry up.


Ratio Note: I used 11 ounces of sauce (about 1 1/4 cups) for 10 ounces of pasta. This is a higher sauce to pasta ratio than many websites suggest but I'm a saucy lady. If you like what you see in the photos, go with this amount.

  • Set up your pasta station including 2 large spoons for tossing the pasta, pepper mill, Diamond kosher salt, and grated parmesan.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil then salt the water.
  • Add the pasta to salted water and cook until 2 minutes shy of al dente. Note: I always add 3-5 extra pieces of pasta for tasting.
  • Meanwhile, add the sauce to a large nonstick pan.
  • A few minutes before pasta is done, bring the sauce to a simmer then turn off the heat.
  • When the pasta is 2 minutes shy of being done (as mentioned above), transfer it with a wire skimmer to the sauce, add 1/4 cup pasta water, then toss continuously on med-high. The sauce will thicken and be absorbed by the noodles as they finish cooking. If the sauce gets too thick, add a couple tablespoons of pasta water. Don't forget you are going to add cheese which will make it even thicker.
  • Add a five-finger pinch of parm, several cranks of fresh pepper, then taste for salt. Note: I am a big fresh pepper fan and find myself using a lot in this dish.

Optional Calabrese Sausage

  • While the water is coming to a boil, remove the casing from a 5-ounce piece of Calabrese sausage. Crumble into small/medium pieces.
  • Brown the sausage in a large nonstick pan. When finished, transfer to a plate and loosely tent to keep warm.
  • Remove most of the oil in the pan but leave the fond.
  • Deglaze by adding the sauce to the pan.
  • Continue on from bullet five under "Serve".
  • Add the sausage back in when you add the pasta.

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