Tag Archives: Italian sausage

MOM’S SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS

We had a chance to help my son celebrate his birthday this year. I agreed to cook, and I wrestled with the menu. We often have steaks when we visit the family, and while they are not vegetarians, they do try to limit their meat intake. On top of that the girls are in the finicky stage of growing up so there are lots of foods they won’t eat, even with encouragement from their mom and dad.

That challenge made me think of spaghetti and meatballs. That way, if someone didn’t want meat – for whatever reason – he or she could forego the meatballs. Similarly, if the girls wanted only plain pasta, that would work, too. I thought of my mother’s homemade spaghetti sauce and meatballs. I guess the sauce could be called a marinara, but to me it is much richer than marinaras at restaurants or in stores. Mom learned to make the sauce at my father’s pleading when we were living in a basement apartment within a compound of a big Italian family. I remember Mom going upstairs to take daily cooking lessons – there was always a pot of spaghetti sauce on the stove – until she thought that she had mastered the recipe. Over the years, she and I have cut corners (no longer fresh tomatoes, carrots, etc.), but I think the recipe is still a good one.

The meatballs are another matter. I am not particularly fond of most meatballs. They are usually dry and not, IMHO, very flavorful. I think this recipe has cracked the code, and the recipe makes enough for lots of leftovers. After the birthday party in Silicon Valley, I brought some sauce and meatballs back to San Francisco so that my daughter and son-in-law could have a midnight snack when they got back home on the late flight from New York City. There was nothing left in the morning but the dirty dishes.

RECIPES

Spaghetti Sauce

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled, trimmed and mashed
  • 1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes with juice
  • 1 6 ounce can tomato paste
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 6 to 8 cremino mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon Italian herb seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • juice of ½ fresh lemon
  • more salt and pepper as needed

Method

  1. Over a medium flame, heat the olive oil and stir in the onions. Cover to sweat the onions until they are soft and translucent. Be careful not to let them brown.
  2. Add the garlic and stir for another minute or so, being careful not to brown the garlic.
  3. Stir in the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, beef broth and red wine. Bring to the boil and then reduce to the simmer.
  4. Cook, covered, for an hour, stirring occasionally to avoid burning. Add water if the sauce become too thick.
  5. Stir in the sliced mushrooms and herb seasoning. Simmer for another hour, uncovered, stirring and adding water as needed.
  6. Add the sugar and lemon.
  7. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.
  8. Add the browned meatballs (see below)  and simmer for another hour or until the meatballs are cooked through.

Meatballs

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground beef (85% lean)
  • 1 pound Italian sausage (sweet or hot according to your taste)
  • 2 extra-large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon Italian herb seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup (about) fresh bread crumbs

Method

  1. In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, sausage, and eggs. Use your hands (freshly washed of course) to mix the ingredients thoroughly
  2. Mix in the herb seasoning, salt, and pepper . Make sure they are thoroughly combined
  3. Stir in the bread crumbs. Hold back a few to make sure the mixture is not too dry. Then add them if needed. Add more bread crumbs if the mixture is still too moist.
  4. Let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes so that the bread crumbs absorb moisture from the eggs. Then roll a bit of the mixture – slightly larger than a golf ball –  between your palms until it forms a round, smooth meatball. Repeat the process until you have used up all of the meat mixture. You should be able to make about two dozen meatballs
  5. Working in batches, brown the meatballs on all sides in 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet. When all of the meatballs are browned, add them to the spaghetti sauce and cook everything over medium low heat for another hour.
  6. Serve over cooked spaghetti or other pasta of your choice with freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top.

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A NEW GENERATION OF COOKS

My granddaughter, Ciara, will turn 11 in just a few weeks. She has been cooking with her mother, Carol, for many years. Carol is a good and dedicated home cook who has been having kitchen fun with her children for a long time. For years she has had a fish bowl on top of the refrigerator. The bowl is  filled with little slips of paper  labelled with countries of the world. Each week the kids draw a slip from the bowl, and the identified country becomes a project for the next week. Finding it on a map, identifying the capital on the web, reading about the geography and history all become assignments above and beyond the usual homework. The highlight of the whole week, though, is preparing a meal that is representative of the country. For places like France and Italy, that is easy, but Tajikistan, Cote d’Ivoire, and others present real challenges. After the menu is selected and recipes have been found from exotic cook books or Epicurious on-line, my daughter makes runs to the appropriate grocery stores or specialty shops to find the ingredients.  One additional rule is that everyone has to eat at least three bites.

Ciara

Sometimes the dinner falls flat, and everyone eats three bites and then looks for something else. More often than not, though, these foreign foods are a great success, and the children have had new eating experiences – no finicky eaters here! (or at least not too bad).

Holidays are other times for adventures in food. One of the biggest successes and now a tradition has been Halloween with ghost mashed potatoes, cooked fingers, bone snacks and other gory treats of the season. I shall report further with recipes for Halloween in a couple of weeks.

With as much fun as all of this in the kitchen, it is not a surprise that Ciara has developed an enthusiasm for cooking.  So it seemed the expected thing when she decided on a cooking class as one of her electives for sixth grade. Be advised: this is not the home economics class of my days in high school. The class includes boys, and it focuses on good food without getting bogged down in the boring lessons on home canning, sauerkraut making, and cooking with three different kinds of condensed soup or flavored gelatin.

The following recipe is an example of this modern approach to teaching kids how to cook and how to think about good nutrition. It looks delicious and tastes good along with being easy to make.

The main stars of the dish are fresh bulk Italian sausage and orecchiette pasta. The pasta originally comes from Paglia, the region of Italy at the heel of the boot. The name means “little ears” because of the shape – which is perfect for holding some of the sauce. At least in big cities, orecchiette has become much easier to find, but if you can’t find it, don’t despair – any pasta with a lot of body will do.

Orecchiette with Italian sausage and sun-dried tomatoes; crispy bread on the side

ORECCHIETTE WITH ITALIAN SAUSAGE AND SUN-DRIED TOMATOES

1 lb bulk sweet Italian sausage

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

⅔ Cup heavy cream

½ Cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and finely chopped

8 Cups baby arugula, coarsely chopped

1 lb orecchiette

½ Cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

¼ Cup fresh basil, chopped

salt and pepper

  1.  In a medium heavy skillet over medium heat, brown the sausage, stirring frequently to break up any large lumps. Transfer with a slotted spoon to several thicknesses of paper towel to drain.
  2.  Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the cooking fat, return the skillet to the heat, and add the onions and garlic. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook until the onion is browned and caramelized, about 12 minutes.
  3. Stir cream, sun-dried tomatoes, and sausage into the onion mixture, stirring until thickened, about 3 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and add the arugula, stirring until the greens are lightly wilted.
  5. While the sauce is cooking, boil the orecchiette in a large pot of boiling salted water for about 12 to 15 minutes or until the pasta is al dente.
  6. Drain the pasta, reserving one cup of the cooking water. Add the drained pasta to the sauce along with the Parmesan cheese.  Mix to coat the pasta with the sauce, thinning if necessary with the reserved cooking water. Add the basil and serve immediately.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

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STUFFED BELL PEPPERS

The first touch of autumn is definitely here, and the bell peppers are abundant at the local farmers market. They come in the standard-issue green along with yellow, orange, red, and variegated colors. And they are big and just begging to be stuffed with your favorite filling. My mother always used her favorite meat loaf mix. That’s pretty much the traditional approach, but you can branch out with whatever filling pleases you, such as rice, mixed vegetables including fresh corn, or even shrimp or crab. Suit yourself, but enjoy one of the real treats of the fall season. This recipe is easy to make and uses Italian sausage to provide not only the protein but also aromatic Italian seasonings. Depending upon your preference, choose hot or sweet (mild) sausages.

Stuffed peppers ready to bake

RECIPE

Stuffed Bell Peppers
Ingredients
4 fresh bell peppers, free of blemishes
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 large Italian sausages, casing removed
6 white mushrooms, washed and chopped
1 ½ Cups cooked brown rice
2 eggs, lightly beaten
½ Cup panko + more for the top
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
6 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature
2 ounces Swiss cheese, grated and divided
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon butter

1. Prepare pepper casings by slicing off the top to form a cap. Reserve the caps. Remove the seeds and ribs of the peppers. Place in boiling salted water, return to the boil and boil for 10 minutes. Remove, drain, cool, and set aside.
2. In a medium skillet heat the oil on medium and combine the chopped onions. Sauté the onions until they are translucent but not browned. Add the sausage, stirring to break apart, and cook until well browned. Stir in the chopped mushrooms and sauté an additional 3 minutes. Cool
3. Transfer the sausage mixture to a medium bowl and combine the brown rice, eggs, panko, tomato paste, cream cheese, and half the Swiss cheese. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir until well combined.
4. Spoon the stuffing mixture into each of the pepper casings. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining Swiss cheese and panko and dot with butter. Cover with the reserved caps and place in a baking dish sprayed with vegetable oil spray.
5. Bake in the middle of a preheated 350° oven for 45 minutes or until the peppers are slightly blistered and the cheese has melted. Serve while still warm

Ready to eat

Yield: Serves four

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