Monday, December 04, 2006
Not only have I not posted a recipe in quite awhile, but with my wife heading to Chicago until Christmas, I thought I'd finally make good on an old promise. My wife and her family, who love Italian food, like my recipe for spaghetti sauce and have asked me to post it to my blog so they can find it.
This amuses me to no end because I am a complete boob when it comes to Italian food. I know most people regard it as elegant and that this admission will seem uncouth, but.... It all tastes the same to me -- except some of the southern Italian fare one can order at Buca di Beppo, the only Italian place I have ever independently decided to go. The nuances of the apparently infinite varieties of pasta are wholly lost on me.
In fact, I usually serve this with macaroni or some other short, compact noodle. Spaghetti (and all its individually-named thickness variants) strikes me mainly as a great way to spatter tomato sauce -- tomato sauce! -- all over myself. It's also hard to portion out for leftovers after it's been in the fridge overnight. (And many of my recipes, being from my bachelor days, are intended to make decent leftovers. Call me utilitarian if it makes you feel better.) This recipe exists only because I one day wanted some spaghetti like my mother used to make when I was a kid and I somehow guessed correctly, as I confirmed years after the fact.
A salient fact about this recipe is related to a big part of why I normally dine at Italian restaurants only when it seems everyone else wishes to do so: I had to subsist on the real thing for a semester as a college student. Several aspects of this experience have conspired to make me less-than-wild about Italian food.
For one thing, notice that meat -- specifically ground beef -- features prominently in this recipe. There were, at best, a few slivers of veal in the sauce on most nights when we dined at my college's campus in Rome. Every night, we would be served some differently-shaped noodle, some kind of sauce, usually tomato-based, salad, and rock-hard rolls. Men need protein. I'm small to begin with and I lost fifteen pounds in four months on this diet. This was muscle mass! Among my classmates -- and this apparently happened every year -- the men would lose muscle mass for lack of protein and the women would gain weight through carbohydrate loading.
And then there's that old hobgoblin known as "variety". We were told before our semester abroad that we would have "typical Italian meals" at our cafeteria, and that some would grow to love Italian food and others to hate it. I am happy to say that I escaped without actively hating Italian food. But after months on end of it, I have been rendered permanently, perhaps, indifferent to it -- in addition to the fact that I look askance at it as a a source of actual nutrition. Typically, when I sit down at an Italian restaurant, the first thing I will notice is the lack of sufficient meat with most dishes before I make a bee line for the frutti di mare. (This is happily not a problem at Buca di Beppo.) In my book, Italian cuisine is the other English cuisine. And the low-protein version at that.
Having said that, I feel the need to back off from my culinary reverie cum famine flashback for a moment. (My! This account borders on sounding like it came from a prison movie!) I need to say two things. First, and this is for my wife's dear parents: I insist that we eat Italian as usual on all future visits. This ritual has become part of visiting with you and I am happy to continue doing so because I know that you love Italian food. Indeed, this might even eventually help me come to love it in the same way I did Mexican food: By having it every time my parents visited me in Texas for years. Second, and this is for everyone else: This is my imitation of my mother's recipe. That would probably be why a bunch of Italian food fans like it!
(1) Thaw, if necessary, one pound ground beef.Enjoy! In the meantime, I am looking forward to my gumbo, which I rarely make because my wife isn't a fan.
(2) Start heating the water for the pasta. This will ensure that everything is ready at once.
(3) While cooking the ground beef in a saucepan, chop 1-1.5 cups white onion.
(4) Place into a small bowl the following ingredients:
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon basil
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 2 small bay leaves
(5) Drain the ground beef, then add the onion, the spices, minced garlic, and the following ingredients to the beef.
Mix thoroughly and simmer for 15-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- one 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
- two 8 ounce cans tomato sauce
- one 6 ounce can tomato paste
- one small (2-3 ounce) can diced black olives
- one small (2-3 ounce) can sliced mushrooms
(6) Shortly after the sauce begins to simmer, prepare 6-8 ounces pasta according to package instructions.