Italian Sausage Spaghetti Sauce – Throwback Thursday

02 October
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When the weather starts to cool down, comfort food is on the menu.  For today’s “Throwback Thursday” recipe, we go all the way back to 1985 and the “Hunt’s Great Spaghetti Hunt” contest in New York City.  This Italian Sausage Spaghetti Sauce earned top honors, and I think it will receive rave reviews from your family too!

Italian sausage spaghetti sauce-2

This particular cook-off became an unforgettable journey for me.  As you can see, I was only 5 years old at the time, but impact of the contest would stick with me to this day.  The contest was held at the posh Water Club in New York City which was specially decorated to resemble a Venetian canal-side cafe, complete with gondola.


My mom, Debbie Vanni, was one of the finalists in the contest, having won her regional cook-off in Chicago.  My dad, my sister, and I all got to come along for the ride as she went on to compete in New York City for the finals and a chance at the grand prize –  a trip to Italy.

The contest sponsor went all out for this cook-off.  We stayed at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel, took horse and buggy rides through Central Park and were treated to front row seats at a Broadway show.  I remember every detail like it was yesterday.  You see, I was the lucky one to accompany my mom on these adventures around the city.  My dad was delegated with baby sitting duties for my little sister, so this little 5 year old got to paint the town red!


This experience summarizes for me what recipe contests are all about – making memories.  The bright lights of Broadway and the never ending excitement of the hustle and bustle of the city shaped my little mind.  I am convinced that this trip has something to do with the fact that I live in New York City today.

Something else was instilled through this contest – brand loyalty.  To this day, my mom and I both will always buy Hunt’s products whenever available.  Even if another can might be a few cents cheaper, I don’t care.  That Hunt’s label brings back memories and a smile to my face.

Italian sausage spaghetti sauce

Here are the regional finalists, ready to compete for the grand prize.  My mom is the second from the left.  I am guessing two little girls were distracting her on the side lines and that’s why she looked away from the camera!

Hunts contestants

The grand prize went to Rita Futral for her Italian Sausage Spaghetti Sauce.  She used a really interesting technique in this recipe, one I have never seen before.  Instead of chopping up onion and green pepper for the sauce, she calls for a whole onion and half a green bell pepper to simmer with the meat and tomatoes.  The flavor infuses into the sauce and the onion and pepper are discarded before serving.


My mom said she remembered one judge in particular who was there from an Italian radio station.  She walked from contestant to contestant with a spoon tasting their sauces.  My mom’s entry was a Creole Spaghetti Sauce while another entrant also showcased a fusion concept with a Yugoslav “Moochat” Spaghetti sauce.  Well, apparently this judge wasn’t about breaking the mold.  As she tried each sauce down the line, after one bite she would say “Not Italian.”  Next contestant, “NOT Italian.”  And so on.  When she reached this recipe, she said “Now THAT’S Italian!”  Needless to say, “Italian Sausage Spaghetti Sauce” won the top prize.


Here is the original newspaper ad announcing the contest.  Remember back when we used to have to scour the Sunday papers for contest announcements?   So glad the internet makes the information so much easier to find today!

(By the way, if you aren’t already a subscriber here at CCC, what are you waiting for?  Join today!)

If you are looking for a new spaghetti sauce to make this fall, I highly recommend trying this one.  There’s something about the combination of Italian sausage, mushrooms and Parmesan cheese in the sauce that tastes like eating a pizza!

Please follow the link below to view or print the recipe:

Italian Sausage Spaghetti Sauce

Italian Sausage Spaghetti Sauce

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7 Responses to “Italian Sausage Spaghetti Sauce – Throwback Thursday”

  1. lisakeys October 2, 2014 at 7:21 am #

    I think that “not Italian” judge might have been my grandmother (lol)

  2. Debbie October 2, 2014 at 9:41 am #

    I loved that contest! How nice to see it in a story form. The regional contest was really fun, too. I think there were a dozen or so contestants at each regional competition, and I remember I won on my birthday. It was one of those contests of a lifetime. Too bad they don’t do it anymore. And Kristina is right; I also believe her love of New York City began at the contest. We had to pry her away from the window at the elegant Sherry-Netherland when it was time to go back home. She loved just gazing out the the window and watching the excitement of the city. Isn’t it amazing how cooking competitions make such an influence on our children?

  3. Karen Rawley October 8, 2014 at 8:30 am #

    Wonderful got your love of cooking from your Mom, as I did! And, what a better place to be than New York City for a contest! I also have a recipe from an Italian friend who uses a whole onion in the sauce, and then we discard. Delicious! Best!

  4. sbobet November 11, 2014 at 2:04 am #

    This is a very good article. Thank you for a great information.
    Looks really yummy.
    I like to eat Spaghetti.

  5. Susan Carlsness March 16, 2016 at 3:13 pm #

    Well, I just can’t believe it! I have been making this recipe since it was published in the Minneapolis Star and Tribune when it won. I was looking for it recently and looked through all my recipe cards, which are considerable, and could not find it. I could remember it won a contest by a company that sold tomato products, the prize was a trip to Italy and where we were living so it gave me a time reference. Have to say I was proud of myself for remembering all that! My husband was starting to search and I decided to look online. And there it was! I knew it was it the minute I saw the recipe. I am so happy not to have lost it.

    Thank you,

  6. TonyF58173 September 23, 2017 at 11:41 pm #

    Interesting cooking method. Some people who don’t want a strong garlic flavor will discard the cloves after cooking in oil for a short time. I would never do that as I love strong flavors, especially garlic. As a brand new member of CCC today, I’m very happy to discover new recipes, techniques, contests and to learn all about older contests and the backstories related to them. Thanks so much for posting this! Love to read the comments also. I love to enter contests and have been doing so since 1996 when I was lucky to win 2 plane tickets to Vienna because my postcard was picked, a New York Yankee player, Cecil Fielder, hit a home run in the 5th inning and Delta’s partner, Austrian Airlines, provided the trip. I then purchased a land tour of Austria, Hungary, and the Czech & Slovak Republics. I couldn’t believe I could win a trip this way and it sparked a new hobby that I still continue today. I have won over 100 contest prizes, everything from food and hotel gift certificates to 8 trips, domestic and foreign. Sometimes when you don’t win the grand prize, you win an interesting prize. Instead of a trip to Hawaii, I won 2 “Make Your Own Sushi Kits”; my chocolate chip cookie made with olive oil instead of butter won me a case of olive oil, instead of a trip to Italy; and I won a bottle of French Men’s Cologne instead of a trip to Paris! My most exciting and memorable experience was when I was chosen as one of the 100 finalists in the 2010 Pillsbury $ 1,000,000 Bake-Off, held at the Waldorf-Astoria in Disney World. While I did not win any prizes, I received a microwave oven, the trip to Orlando and a gift bag full of cookbooks, Pillsbury products and cooking utensils. I learned about the CCC site from other contestants and became famous for being the very last person to pass in my 2 finished versions of my recipe, Chipotle-Chicken Sandwiches, with only 30 seconds left after 4 hours. The GE rep. told us to cook at very low settings with the new induction ovens and the first version took me 2 1/2 hours intead of 1 1/2 hours. I then raced to complete the second one in 1 1/2 hours. I was interviewed by Ali Wentworth, the actress/comedienne married to the newscaster George Stephanopoulos and was featured in an eight minute segment on one of Oprah’s last shows. Links: Recipe at: and Oprah video clip on YouTube at: showing me in a blue shirt & Pillsbury blue apron at the 3:13 and 3:57 minute marks. It was a lot of great fun and I still enter many contests of all kinds. Good luck and best wishes to all contest entrants, Tony

    • Kristina September 26, 2017 at 11:09 am #

      Welcome to CCC Tony! We are so glad to have you here as part of our community!

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