Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Thanks, Mom

While growing up in an Italian household, it was known that aromas of fresh Italian food would be wafting into your bedroom at 8am on a Sunday morning. You’d hear the sounds of the blender as it chopped up tomatoes for the gravy (and yes, we called sauce “gravy”), and the wonderful smell of meatballs being fried. I’d tumble out of my bed with my yellow feet pajamas and make my way into the kitchen. Even before breakfast, mom would hand me a meatball on a fork on a tiny plate just out of the frier. It was as good as it smelled. I used to watch her as she sautéed her beginning concoction of the gravy. Olive oil, chopped garlic, fresh parsley, salt, pepper and some crushed red peppers as well. The entire house smelled like love. And that’s what it was all about: love. When you walked inside the house, love was in the air, as corny as that may sound. Mom did it for us - as a family. She spent so many hours in that little kitchen of hers, and surprisingly, tons of huge pans of food came out of that tiny cucina. Dinner was always served at 2pm in the afternoon every single Sunday.

As an adult, I incorporated a lot of what my mom did in the kitchen into my own, however, I tweaked my ingredients a little to protect my palette from the intense acidity as I grew older. My stomach doesn’t handle gravy like it used to, so I had to use ingredients my grandmother used, like onions and a bit of sugar to lighten up the acidity of the tomatoes. One sure way to rid of acidity of the tomato is adding just a pinch - and I mean a tiny pinch of baking soda. For me, I don’t. But here’s what I use... While sautéing my herbs in the olive oil: 1 bulb of freshly “sliced” garlic - not chopped, a half of a white onion (they’re sweeter), fresh parsley, salt, pepper, fresh basil - I then add a tablespoon of sugar in the raw and stir until the garlic is ‘slightly’ brown. You don’t want to overcook garlic, because it then becomes a little bitter. The secret of my ‘gravy’, or sauce, is that I prefer mine to be very light, not clumpy where if you scoop it up, it’ll stay on your fork. I like my sauce thin, light, able to be eaten without a ton of antacids afterwards. So, I add in a half a cup of chicken brother while it simmers. I then add my own crushed tomatoes, I use vine tomatoes, some people use plum. It’s whatever you prefer. I then add 1 can of Contadina tomato sauce and stir. While that’s cooking, I add in 1/4 of a cup of table wine, like Carlo Rossi - a young wine where it’s sweet and not vinegar. Stir... Then, I throw in approximately a half a cup of grated parmesan cheese. Stir.... Depending on how many ‘tastes’ from the wooden spoon you get, spice it up again to your liking - if it needs more salt, more pepper, more whatever. I then put a lid on it, but tilted, so it gets some steam coming out and it will not boil over. Let that cook for a good 30 minutes before adding any meat into it.

Meatballs are so much fun to make, especially if you have little ones. They love to help with projects like these. With a package of chopped meat, approximately 2 1/2 - 3 lbs, you throw it into a huge bowl and mold it to the sides of it, so you can add all your delicious ingredients. Time to get the knife and cutting board! Start chopping a half 4 cloves of garlic, dice a half of an onion and a heaping handful of parsley. Try to chop everything finely, so that when you eat the meatball, you won’t have chunks of herbs sticking out, but enough to flavor it wonderfully. Throw the freshly chopped goodies into the meat. Throw 2 eggs in there as well (I use only 1, most people use 2) and add a half a cup of parmesan and a half a cup of breadcrumbs. Sprinkle some salt and pepper to liking along with garlic powder. Time to get your hands dirty (after you’ve washed them). Squish, mold, squish, mold, until your ingredients are all mixed into a bundle of love. Start packing the meat into the size of an ice-cream scooper. I usually prefer my meatballs smaller than the average ‘tennis ball’ size, so it’s up to you. They’re easier to cook when they’re a tad smaller than the norm. When you’re all done rounding these puppies out, heat up your pan of olive oil and then cook the meatballs till they brown. Do not overcook them, in fact, some people add raw meatballs into their sauce and let it cook for over 2 hrs. I don’t advise this. It tastes so much better when it’s fried and crisped before entering the fiery pit of my gravy. I learned this not only from my mom, but from watching my grandmother as well. My mom would always yell out, "Get out of the kitchen, ma", as both tried to fight for the control of the cucina. Remember, let your meat cook in the sauce for 4-6 hours. Not only will your house smell incredible, but it drums up the appetites of whoever is lounging around on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Just boil your pasta or lasagna - whatever type of dish you're making and voila --an incredible dinner for an army. Bon appetit!

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