Recipe: Mike Isabella’s Pepperoni Sauce (For Pasta)

I love Top Chef!  Each season I pick an early favorite and in Mike’s season…he wasn’t it.  In fact, I really didn’t even like him.  Then I saw him on the fan favorites show, and though I rooted for Richard, I developed a new appreciation for the brashness that was Mike.  He had passion that seemed limitless…and this sauce.  Sinfully delicious.

This sauce is most likely designed to be a garnish, not to cover and entire plate of pasta.  It is extremely intense.  I made this and then added it to my regular Marinara sauce  (4 cups marinara, I’d guess?) and it was perfect.

Mike Isabella’s Pepperoni Sauce (For Pasta)


  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, cut into small dice
  • 5 medium garlic cloves, cut into very thin slices
  • 1 lb pepperoni, cut into thin slices
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed, toasted (see NOTE)
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 8 -12 ounces canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, chopped, with their juices
  • 1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 fresh bay leaf


  • Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, until the oil shimmers.

  • Add the onion and garlic; cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring often, until they are golden and fragrant.

  • Stir in the pepperoni; cook for about 5 minutes, until fragrant and evenly coated, then add the toasted fennel seed and crushed red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute, stirring.

  • Add the tomatoes and their juices (to taste), the broth and the bay leaf; stir to incorporate.

  • Once the mixture starts to bubble at the edges, cover and cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  • The pepperoni slices will be soft, with a deeper color.

  • Remove from the heat.

  • Working in batches as needed, transfer to a food processor or a high-powered blender (including the bay leaf); puree until smooth.

  • The sauce is ready to use. Or cool, cover and refrigerate or freeze.

  • NOTE: Toast the fennel seed in a small dry skillet over medium heat, shaking the skillet often to keep the seeds from burning. They will become fragrant and slightly darker in color. This only takes a couple of minutes.

  • He also recomends using San Marzano tomatoes for this recipe.

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