Lesson 12: SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS

It was a cool wet late spring day yesterday, perfect for cooking indoors. Sam was requesting Chicken Parmesan for dinner. He always requests Chicken Cutlet Parmesan. He either asks for that or Tex-Mex (chicken enchiladas). Chicken Parmesan is also one of Jennifer’s favorite meals. I have to admit, I like Chicken Parmesan too.

            When I was a kid, my mother used to make veal cutlet parmesan. At the young age of nine, I was not a big fan of veal cutlet parmesan but the sauce and the cheese made it very palatable. It was at this age (I think) she started making chicken cutlet parmesan the same way as she made her veal cutlet parmesan. I enjoyed the chicken more than the veal, but always ate both with spaghetti. By the time I was 10 or 11, I saw my mom preparing dinner. I inquired what she was making. It was the dreaded veal parmesan. I asked why she didn’t make chicken parmesan more often than the veal. She looked at me with a surprised look and asked why? I said that I liked the chicken parmesan better! She said, “That’s great!” very enthusiastically. Then she continued: “Chicken is much cheaper then veal, so from now on I’ll use chicken!” This was probably much to my older brother’s dismay, but from that day on, it was chicken parmesan instead of veal. Now that I know more about veal I never make it for my own family or friends, besides that Jennifer will not eat it. Sam does not like most beef so it has always been chicken parmesan in my house. Chicken parmesan is not completely what I came to talk to you about today. Since we need spaghetti sauce for chicken parmesan, first we need a post and a cooking lesson about Spaghetti and Meatballs (Ma’s Spaghetti Sauce).

            My mother always started her spaghetti sauce by making meatballs. One fine Sunday afternoon, when I was probably bored out of my mind, I sat down and watched her cook. I was a teenager in high school and very interested in food—both eating it and cooking it. I even wrote down the recipe for her meatballs and sauce on an index card that I still have to this day. That was the very first recipe I typed up and put into that MS Word document back in 1999.

            I watched as she mixed the chopped meat and the other meatball ingredients by hand. Then, she carefully shaped the balls so that each one was the same size. When she was done, it was time to fry them in her pressure cooker. After adding a tablespoon or two of olive oil, she added six or so meatballs to the hot pot. She cooked them on medium high heat and turned them over and over so they were brown all the way around. This was so time consuming. No wonder it took her all day! She moved the first batch of meatballs to a plate and kept adding more until they were all fried. Next, she fried the sausages the same way when the last of the sausage and piece of pork was cooked. Then, she added everything back into the pot and started the sauce.

            She began by opening the Redpack whole tomatoes on an old style can opener mounted on the kitchen wall by a side door that led out to the driveway. The can opener was this antique golden yellow and the brand was Swing-A-Way. How I even remember that is beyond me, especially when sometimes I can’t even remember my password for my email.

            She used an Oster blender to chop the whole tomatoes one can at a time, pulsing it on and off, until they were just the right consistency. Then, she poured each can into the pot covering up all the browned yummy meat. After that was the onion and the garlic. First, she dices the onion and the crushes the garlic before adding it into the blender. She added just enough water to the blender so she could chop it all up smooth. It was probably only a 1/4 cup of water but it did the trick. Again, the blender pulsed until she was satisfied with the consistency of the onions and garlic. It smelled amazing, and there were certainly no large chunks left. She poured this into the tomatoes and meat, then stirred. The burner was on low and the sauce was beginning to heat up and bubble.

            Lastly was the seasoning. If she had fresh basil in the summer, she added that (otherwise, it was dried), she always used fresh curly parsley. The parsley she cut using a pair of scissors so it was nice and fine. She never measured anything and cut the parsley right over the pot. “That looks good,” she said. Brilliant it was. Then came the McCormick spices: Bay leaves, oregano, black pepper, (maybe some crushed red pepper), some Morton’s table salt, and a pinch of sugar. “That’s to cut the acid,” she said.

            She covered the pressure cooker and added the thingy on top. She called it a jig-gil-ar. As soon as the sauce heated up enough to start the jig-gil-ar jiggling, she set the timer for 30 minutes.

            After thirty minutes, she would have to run the pot under cold water before removing the jig-gil-ar and opening the lid. Once she said she accidently knocked the jig-gil-ar off too soon and she had spaghetti sauce all over the ceiling, but that was before I was even born. What a mess it must have been.

Now, it was time to add a second large pot of salted water to the stove and bring it to a boil for the pasta. She ALWAYS added just a bit of olive oil to the pasta water. “That’s so the pasta doesn’t stick together,” she said. Soon, we would be eating spaghetti and meatballs!

            This recipe was the same sauce she used to make the chicken parmesan. We will get to that recipe tomorrow. For now, I need to eat something. All of a sudden, I’m hungry.

            Be well, be happy, and enjoy your own family history.   

The Drunken Chef (Russ)

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