Red-sauce recipes: How to cook at home like Society chef Martin Benn

Vicki Wild and Martin Benn on the terrace of their soon-to-open restaurant Society.
Vicki Wild and Martin Benn on the terrace of their soon-to-open restaurant Society. Photo: Simon Schluter

"During the lockdowns last year, we made so much red sauce," says chef Martin Benn, who, with partner Vicki Wild and restaurateur Chris Lucas, are set to open highly anticipated Society in July.

"We packaged it up and froze it or gave away to friends because it is such a great staple to have on hand."

When the first lockdown hit, the pair had just returned from New York, where they ate at some of their favourite Italian-American red-sauce restaurants.

"One of our most memorable meals was the simplicity and outrageous deliciousness of the vodka rigatoni at Carbone in Greenwich Village," Benn says.

"Based on this, for Good Food, we have created a Melbourne version of this classic, the negroni rigatoni.

"We know how this city loves a negroni and this pasta dish makes a meal of our favourite drink."

Negroni rigatoni.
Negroni rigatoni. Photo: Vicki Wild

For the full story on Society, don't miss Good Weekend this Saturday, June 5.

Marty's essential red sauce

After a long day in the restaurant, the only thing Benn and Wild want to eat is this comforting "red sauce", a rich tomato sugo. "If you have a winning red sauce recipe, it's good for so many dishes," Wild says. Benn adds: "I use this as a base for pastas, pizzas, even curries, it's great for the colder Melbourne weather."



  • 60ml (3 tbsp) olive oil
  • 550g brown onions (about 4 large), finely diced
  • 40g garlic cloves (about 6), minced
  • 1 long red chilli, finely sliced, seeds removed
  • 1 bird's eye chilli, finely chopped (optional)
  • ½ bunch thyme leaves, picked
  • 60g smoked pancetta (in one piece)
  • 10g salt
  • 4g whole black peppercorns
  • 3 x 140g tins tomato paste*
  • 3 x 400g tins tomatoes chopped*
  • 600g fresh sauce tomatoes, chopped
  • 5g hot smoked paprika
  • 1 litre good quality chicken stock
  • 40g sugar


  1. Heat olive oil in a large heavy-based pan over a medium-high heat. Add the chopped onions, garlic and chillies and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the thyme, pancetta, salt and peppercorns and continue to cook over a medium heat for a further 8 to 10 minutes, until the onions are starting to become soft and lightly caramelised.
  3. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for a further 3 to 4 minutes, then add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer, then turn the heat to low and simmer gently for 3 hours, until the sauce has reduced and is thick and rich.
  4. Remove the pancetta and discard. Lightly blend the sauce with a hand-held blender.
  5. Continue to reduce the sauce over a low heat for a further 30 to 50 minutes until thick and dark red.
  6. Remove from the heat, cool and freeze in batches for other uses.

Makes 2 litres

*Benn recommends Mutti brand tomatoes and paste.

Negroni rigatoni

In a cheeky homage to the very-Melbourne cocktail, Benn uses a premixed negroni from Four Pillars to deglaze the pan when cooking this reinvention of vodka rigatoni.


  • 60g French shallots (about 2 medium), finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 300ml essential red sauce (see recipe above)
  • 2 tbsp Calabrian chilli paste, or more to taste*
  • 50ml pre-mixed negroni
  • 50ml thickened cream
  • 500g rigatoni pasta


  1. Fill a large pot three-quarters full with water, add a small handful of sea salt and bring to a rolling boil over high heat.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a cast-iron Dutch oven (or large heavy-based saucepan) over medium heat, add the shallot and garlic and cook until softened and shallot is just starting to brown around the edges, about 5 to 6 minutes.
  3. Add chilli paste and stir to combine, then pour in the negroni and stir together to combine well. Reduce for 1 minute.
  4. Add the essential red sauce and continue to cook, stirring often, until sauce is deep red and starting to brown on the bottom of pot – about 7 to 9 minutes. Reduce heat to low.
  5. Using a heatproof measuring cup, scoop about ¼ cup (40ml) boiling pasta water from the pot, then pour the cream into measuring cup (this heats up the cream so it won't split when you add it to the sauce).
  6. Slowly add warmed cream to the sauce, stirring constantly, until the sauce is smooth and glossy. Remove from heat and set aside.
  7. Add pasta to the boiling salted water and cook until al dente.
  8. Return saucepan to low heat and, using a metal spider, remove rigatoni from pasta water and add to saucepan, along with any water remaining on the pasta. Add ¼ cup of reserved pasta cooking water to the pan and stir to incorporate. You should have a smooth red sauce that evenly coats each piece of pasta.
  9. Drizzle a little more olive oil and toss through the pasta. Serve immediately with sea salt and cracked pepper.

*If you can't find Calabrian chilli paste, a fiery sauce available in Italian grocers, use 1 tbsp chilli oil.

Serves 4

Skillet garlic bread.
For Good Food feature on How to cook like Martin Benn and Vicki Wild at home. June 1, 2021
Pic credit: Vicki Wild

Skillet garlic bread. Photo: Vicki Wild

Skillet garlic bread

Take this party-friendly favourite up a notch by baking it in the pan. It's ideal for sopping up any leftover sauce from a bowl of negroni rigatoni.


  • 250g (2 cups) plain flour
  • 8g (1 heaped tsp) sea salt
  • 1 tsp (4g) instant yeast
  • 1 cup (237ml) lukewarm water

Garlic butter

  • 75g butter, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • pinch chilli flakes
  • fresh thyme leaves
  • sea salt
  • 30g (2 tbsp) parmigiano reggiano, finely grated


  1. For the dough, whisk together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in a large bowl. Add the water and, using a rubber spatula, mix until the water is absorbed and the ingredients form a sticky dough ball. Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside in a warm spot for 1 to 1½ hours, or until the dough has doubled in size.
  2. Preheat the oven to 230C fan-forced (250C conventional). Butter an ovenproof 22cm cast-iron skillet.
  3. Cover the benchtop liberally with flour. The dough is quite wet, so you may need more flour. Turn the dough out onto the bench and use a pastry cutter to divide the dough into 18 to 20 small, even portions.
  4. With floured hands, roll each portion into golf ball-sized balls.
  5. Transfer the balls to the buttered skillet, and let dough sit for at least 30 minutes without touching it.
  6. For the garlic butter, place butter in a small saucepan and melt over low heat. Add the garlic, chilli and thyme. Once the butter is melted and the garlic is golden, remove the pan from heat and brush the melted garlic butter over the bread balls. Season with a pinch of sea salt and sprinkle on parmesan.
  7. Place the skillet in the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the buns are puffed and beginning to brown.
  8. Remove from the oven, allow to cool briefly before pulling apart and serving.

Serves 4

T-bone pizzaiola

The retro T-bone cut of steak is cooked hard on the grill and splashed in red sauce to finish this hearty dish. "It's so simple but just delicious," Wild says. "It's my dish of the year."


  • 2 x 2.5cm-3cm thick T-bone steaks (about 500g), at room temperature
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, plus more to serve
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp good quality chilli oil
  • 1 cup essential red sauce (see recipe above)
  • 60g (about 2 cups) small rocket leaves


  1. Rub each steak generously with oil and season well with cracked black pepper.
  2. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large skillet over medium-high and cook steaks until they have have deeply browned griddle marks underneath. Turn and drain the oil from the skillet.
  3. Add garlic and chilli oil, stirring occasionally, until garlic just starts to brown around edges, then add the essential red sauce and bring mixture to a slow simmer.
  4. Spoon sauce over steaks to completely cover and cook steaks until still pink in the centre, or to your liking.
  5. Transfer steaks and sauce to a serving plate, garnish with rocket leaves, drizzle with oil and season to taste with sea salt.

Serves 4

Baby cauliflowers roasted in capers, fennel and coriander seeds

Baby cauliflowers are available at some specialty greengrocers. If you can't find them, use a medium cauliflower cut into chunks.


  • 5 baby cauliflowers, outside leaves removed
  • 20g olive oil
  • 2g salt
  • 5g coriander seeds
  • 4g fennel seeds
  • 50g capers in salt, washed and lightly chopped
  • juice and zest of ½ a lemon
  • 100g butter
  • red chilli flakes and fresh oregano leaves to serve


  1. Preheat the oven to 220C fan-forced (240C conventional).
  2. Rub the cauliflowers in oil and salt and place into a skillet. Place into the oven for 5 minutes to start roasting.
  3. Meantime, place a frypan on the stove over a medium-high heat and dry toast the coriander and fennel seeds. Remove from the pan and crush lightly with a mortar and pestle.
  4. Using the same frypan, return to the stove over a medium-high heat. Add the butter and cook until the butter begins to foam. Add the crushed spices to the pan, along with the capers, and cook until the butter turns nut brown, then add the lemon zest and juice.
  5. Remove the cauliflowers from the oven and pour over the butter mixture, then return to the oven and cook for 12-15 minutes, or until the cauliflowers are golden and tender.
  6. Once cooked, remove from the oven and add chilli flakes and oregano leaves. Serve immediately.

Serves 4