Spaghetti sauce

The line from Goodfellas goes like this.  “Did you put in the pork?”   And the response?  “Well, that’s the flava….”  Pork is an essential ingredient in my Sunday sauce.  I say Sunday sauce (or gravy for those of you from Hoboken), because this type of a rich Bolognese type sauce was typically prepared on a Sunday, with the entire clan clustered around the table reaching for the meat, which was always served on the side. 

 

With various meats forming the base of it, this rich American version of an Italian classic has its roots in Southern Italy. It has as many variations as there are Italian nonnas. I’ve heard of everything from beef oxtails to pork ribs to pepperoni to even chicken wings used to create this oh so comforting food.

 

I used to fantasize about making this sauce and mistakenly thought that the longer the simmering process, the richer the sauce.  To an extent that is true, because the sauce continues to concentrate as it cooks.  But one need not invest the better part of a Sunday to create what I think is a rich, complex and delicious sauce. I’ve added sausage and meatballs as you can see, but the sauce on its own is simple and   delicious.  Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Sunday Spaghetti Sauce

 

Olive oil

1.5 pounds of pork spare ribs, cut into two to three rib portions

1 medium onion chopped finely

3 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon tomato paste

½ cup red wine

3 large cans of tomatoes packed in tomato puree, run through a food mill (I prefer Cento brand–San Marzano tomatoes)

1 cup of water

 

Preheat oven to 450F.  In a large Dutch oven, place three tablespoons of olive oil and the ribs, turning to coat.  Place in the oven and roast for about 45 minutes until brown.  Take out of the oven and remove the ribs to a separate plate.  Set aside.  After allowing the pan to cool, blot up the liquid in the bottom of the pan with paper towels. 

 

Place the pan on the stove and add two or three tablespoons of olive oil. Over medium heat, sauté the onions until soft and translucent, add the garlic and turn the heat down to low.  Continue stirring and add the tomato paste, frying the tomato paste for a minute or so.  Add the red wine and simmer for two to three minutes to burn off the alcohol. 

 

Add the tomato puree and the water, season with salt and pepper and return the ribs to the pot.  Simmer over low heat until the ribs are falling off the bone, about two hours.  Except for the occasional stir, the pot, over LOW heat, can remain unattended. 

 

Remove the pork ribs from the pot and allow to cool.  Shred the pork meat and measure out 1 ½ cups.  Return the pork meat to the pot, and simmer for 5 minutes.  Turn off heat.  Serve over pasta of your choice with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

A big mess

The meaning of the word Pastichio, in Italian, is a big mess. Actually the word itself means, a big mess. Never mind that the word, as it relates to food, does not exist in Italy, and was probably misappropriated by the Greeks during some occupation, war or crusade.  This casserole, having made an appearance on the menu of every Greek diner nationwide, is a cannibalized version of what I would like to think is the original. As usual, recipes that come before me get tweaked, and this one was no exception. 

The dish usually makes its appearance as a beef bolognese imposter on ziti noodles topped by a thick, cloying custard known as bechamel sauce (from the French, of course).  As it now stands, and as it stood on countless buffets at family gatherings, it was well, just not good.  It needed massive improvement.  I was up to the challenge.

First off, lamb instead of ground beef.  The “stew” portion of the dish had to include lamb cubes which were stewed for hours in a rich ragu. The stewing process would render the lamb cubes into strands of shredded lusciousness.

The resultant “stew” was infused with the flavors of the shredded lamb and the added mirepoix that dominates so many French preparations. A few more changes…..allspice instead of cinnamon and a splash of balsamic to compliment the red wine and tomato puree.  This was no ordinary sauce, and after a degreasing (post chill in the fridge), it was indeed a gorgeous, silken lamb ragout.  And when that ragout coated the one pound of penne with along with one cup of Gruyere cheese the results were, well, delicious. On it’s own, I could have devoured the entire pound of pasta.

Deciding to turn the pasta into its intended result, I poured the pasta into a casserole dish and topped it with a thinner layer of bechamel sauce… to which I added one cup of Parmiggiano Reggiano.  Oh the smells coming from the oven as it baked!  The resulting mess is exactly what I set out to accomplish.  A mess it might be but a sublime one at that.  The photo and recipe will appear on Sunday because this mess is going to my mom’s for Greek Easter.  Christos Anesti!

My Life in France

  Appropriately titled.  My Life in France is a memoir by none other than Julia Child describing her 12 year struggle to publish Mastering the Art of French Cooking (MAFC).  Mme. Cheeld (as her French cooking instructor would refer to her)  takes us on an incredible journey through post war Paris.  From her arrival in France, to a luncheon of Dover Sole (which she described as having changed her life), to her collaboration with fellow authors Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, this memoir is a must read for all Julia Child fans.  The result of her incredible passion was of course Volume One of MAFC, which would, some 40 years later, become the basis for Julie Powell’s blog and later book Julie and Julia.  I loved it. Buy it here: http://www.amazon.com/My-Life-France-Julia-Child/dp/1400043468

Pizza Passion

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It all started with lunch. Ten or so years ago. Picture it, Dupont Circle, Washington DC….Pizzeria Paradiso.  A wood fired pizza oven blazed in the background while we awaited its tasty contents.  I was mesmerized. Upon our return to NYC, I obsessed over Google research about wood fired ovens for home use.  It turns out that there is a fairly large community out there in cyberspace who share stories and recipes all centering around their wood fired ovens! Who knew.

At Pizzeria Paradiso,  I decided at that moment, that one day, I too would have a wood fired oven in a kitchen. I didn’t know where the kitchen would be located, but I knew, as I know my own skin, that wood fired cooking would be the star attraction. 

And it is. Fast forward ten years, to Erwinna PA, and my Mugnaini pizza oven turns out the most delicious pizzas this side of Naples.  A bit of flour, a bit of obsession and the belief that throwing something out into the universe is a powerful exercize.

Mugnaini Imports specializes in the importing of Valoriani ovens from Italy. The ovens are made of refractory clay and are shipped from a distribution center in California.  The oven itself comes disassembled, and with the assistance of a stone mason, can be built free standing outside or as an addition to your current kitchen. 

www.mugnaini.com/ovens/ovensMAIN.html for a collection of ovens including ours in Erwinna, PA.

Fueled by hardwood, the oven reaches optimum temperature in about two hours, after which it will bake pie after pie in about three minutes.  This is the uber kitchen appliance.  I am so grateful to have one and it just thrills me to fill the house with people and let them share in the experience. It’s cooking the way it used to be, and the smell of embers and ash all add to the feel of it.  It’s just indescribable.  

Yiayia memory

Last night,  while watching the PBS annual donations drive, the programmers there decided to run the classic series, The French Chef hosted by none other than Mdme. Julia Child.  In her  iconic kitchen, she jerked a non stick pan over her electric coil stove in an attempt to form the perfect omelette. 

Flashback to 1976 maybe, when I would savor every episode of The French Chef which was then shown on our local PBS channel 13. I vividly remember watching that epidsode and then later attempting to recreate her technique in the kitchen of our L shaped bi level home built to the exacting standards of the Hovnanian Building Group.  Our home could not have been more post war middle America, finished in 1969 and entered into with optimism and hope.  The appliances were by Norge, in Avocado green, and although they did not approach the power of the Viking and Thermidor appliances in my kitchen today, I did my best to create what I considered magic in that 120 sq. foot space. 

It was then, in 1976, that our grandmother came to visit us from Greece.  Yiayia, as she was known, would shuttle between the three homes of her children within half a mile of each other, staying for periods of one year or more.  We had, in fact, created a Greek commune there in Manalapan, New Jersey (then known as Englishtown), where we lived in the subdivision of Holiday Park. I can almost see the literature which Hovnanian Enterprises printed to entice prospective buyers to move to the “country” and be within 1 hour of New York.    A stylishly dressed mother, kissing her suited husband goodbye as she turns toward their “state of the art” kitchen to percolate a fresh cup of Maxwell House coffee. It could have been Manalapan, New Jersey or Levittown, New York, or even Eastpoint, Michigan.

We lived on Becket Road, my Uncle Felix on Gawain Drive and my Uncle John on Baron Court (do you see a pattern?).  Our grandmother, once situated in her new home for a week or two, would delight us with dishes such as rabbit stew with pearl onions and cinnamon, and kalitsounia, which were little pockets of dough stuffed with cheese or spinach and cheese. To say that food was an integral component of our lives is an understatement.  We earned our living that way, running the Reo Diner in Woodbridge, New Jersey and the McAteer’s Restaurant in Somerset, New Jersey.  A mini empire that supported 5 families. 

Now, back to my omelette.  Attempting to recreate Julia’s technique on the Norge range top (no six burner Viking range top here!), I jerked the pan back and forth while my Yiayia watched (certainly in horror).  “What are you doing?” she asked in Greek.  I responded that I was trying to make an omelette, but did not divulge the  inspiration of Mdme. Child. 

I vividly remember the next thing she said. Yiayia shot back that I was not using the proper technique and then asked me if I had seen Julia Child (the “mayirisa” on TV) make the omelette?  Simultaneously it appears, we had both seen Julia Child make the omelette. Speaking not a word of English, Yiayia understood exactly what Julia Child was doing and filed it exactly where I had.  In a universal language, Mdme. Child had taught both my Yiayia and myself how to make the perfect omelette. 

That is one of my earliest memories of actually working on the line.  LOL.  With my Yiayia sous chef beside me, I began to learn technique and my desire and instinct supplied the rest.  It was to be a lifelong journey of obsession with everything food. 

Milkshake

I vividly remember sitting on a counter at perhaps the age of 5 or 6 “assisting” my late Aunt Elaine with a milkshake being whirred in a Waring Beehive Blender.  My memory of that moment includes vanilla ice cream, milk and Bosco chocolate syrup.  My fascination with that machine ignited a lifelong love affair with food, living, travel and the kitchen. 

It’s taken 30 years of living to developed the instinct I think is necessary to cook great food.  Whether I’m hovering over a steaming cauldron of french onion soup or building an 18 inch tower of cream puffs into the French crocquembouche for our Christmas gatherings, my instinct always tells me to taste, adjust, taste, adjust. 

Never christened by any cooking school with a degree, my experience serves as my foundation.  From that counter in Brooklyn, New York, to now, in Erwinna, Pennsylvania, cooking allows me an escape into that world of creation, if only for a few hours.  And when I share it with the people I love, well it’s just an amazing feeling.  Welcome to my new blog, where I will diary my food adventures, musings and observations, with tips and advice along the way.

The last words that my Aunt Elaine said to me that day were four words I will never forget and perhaps programmed me into thinking I could one day cook, if not for a living, at least for the satisfaction of my friends, family and myself.  I see her vividly holding out her right hand and saying, “Compliments to the chef!”