Post #677 Joe’s Spaghetti

October 20, 2019 at 10:34 AM | Posted in Basics | 3 Comments

I’ve had a love affair with pasta and meat sauce for more than half a century.  Sounds like a long time, doesn’t it?  It’s one of my favorite things in the whole world.  It doesn’t hurt that I love pasta in almost all its forms (or shapes.)  But spaghetti was the “go to” because it was easy and delicious.  I’d love to tell you the story of the first time I ate it, but I don’t remember it.  It seems like I’ve been eating spaghetti for as long as I’ve been alive.  My mom made spaghetti at least twice a month, and in my home, we have it probably once a week.  We go through dry spells where it isn’t on our radar, for some reason, but then we make a big pot and eat it every other day.  I notice I’m usually wearing a white shirt when I eat the stuff, almost like it’s a law or something.

One summer, when I was in my teens and bored, I was making spaghetti and got bored with the standard seasonings my mom directed me to use.  Her recipe was tomato sauce, tomato paste, browned hamburger, onions, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper.  Very innocuous and almost bland, but it satisfied the lowest common denominators in our family.  I wanted to make something “authentic”.  This was in the days long before the internet, and my cookbook was the standard American cookbook, probably the one my mom got her recipe from.  It didn’t have the Italian herbs listed for the dish.  So I went to my mom’s pantry and I read every single spice bottle and box she had.  And there were a ton!  She collected them like other people collected stamps or coins.  I’m sure some were over a decade old.  At least, according to the dust they were.  I pulled out anything that said Italian, or good in Italian sauces, or great for spaghetti.  You get the idea.  When I started the sauce, I put a pinch of everything in it.  I let it simmer for a while, then tasted it.  I added more of one thing or another, and eventually I had a sauce that was tangy and sweet and had a depth of flavor I’d never tased before.

Two things happened from that exercise.  The first was that because the sauce had simmered so long (not my usual method) the tomatoes had lost their sharpness and mellowed into a wonderful smoky sauce with a bunch of other flavors.  The second was a resolve to refine and redefine the sauce until it was “perfect.”  My sister truly disliked the flavor of bay leaf in the sauce so I left it out when I was younger.  Recently, I’ve started using it again in various things and I like it.

When I started my quest for the perfect spaghetti sauce, I was sharing it with a good friend, all my triumphs and mistakes.  She told me about the first time she made spaghetti.  She opened a jar of sauce and heated it.  She put a pot of cold water on the stove and put the noodles in and turned the burner on.  She waited for it to boil then waited the requisite number of minutes.  I was already grinning, knowing what was going to happen.  “It was inedible,” she said.  “It melted to the bottom of the pot and I couldn’t get it out.  I had to throw the pot away.”

Spaghetti sauce is deceptively simple since it’s completely up to the maker as to what’s “perfect.”  Some people want a fresher flavor; some people want a deeper, richer, longer-cooked flavor.  It can be a complex process, and it can be a pretty simple process.  It can have a ton of meats and herbs, or it can have none at all.  I’ve made sauces that have cooked for hours, and I’ve made sauces where I put tomatoes in a blender, heated it up with some salt, garlic, and basil, and was done.

When I started working, I used a crockpot to make my sauce.  It was always a meat sauce cuz I’m a carnivore and want meat in all my main meals.  I used two cans of tomato sauce, two cans of tomato puree, and one can of tomato paste.  I added a pound or two of ground beef (thawed or frozen), and my herb blend.  My standard herb blend is a tablespoon each of powdered garlic, powdered onion, and Italian Seasonings blend.  I also add an extra tsp of oregano for extra kick.  I stirred it all together, turned the crock pot on high for a few hours, then turned it down.  If I was going to be gone all day, it stayed on low for the entire time.  By the time I got home, or was ready to use the sauce, it had cooked into a thick viscous blend of tomatoes and meat that clung to any pasta.  I’ve used that sauce for lasagna, spaghetti, pizza, and a host of other dishes where a tomato sauce is needed.

NOTE:  I mentioned above starting with thawed or frozen ground beef.  You can also use ground meat blends, roasts, etc.  If you start with thawed or fresh, the ground meats will fall apart and flavor the sauce but kind of disappear.  If you start with frozen, it will cook in the sauce giving it the meat flavor, but will stay in one piece to be broken up later into large and small meat lumps that act like meatballs.

But it’s a labor of time and I developed short cut that still takes a little time, but not as much, and still gives the long slow cook flavor.  I start with a jar of good quality spaghetti sauce.  It can be flavored any way you personally like.  Then I add one or two cans of petite chopped tomatoes, a least two tablespoons of tomato paste (but usually just a whole small can), and extra spices of various types.  I usually cook the hamburger first and add fresh onion and garlic to it while it’s cooking before I add the sauce ingredients.  I always fill the jar of sauce half full with hot water, close it, and shake it hard to get all the sauce clinging to the sides of the jar and the inside of the lid loosened up to add to the pot of sauce.  Then I heat on medium until it starts to bubble, then turn it to low and simmer until all the water has simmered off and the sauce has thickened, stirring every five minutes or so to keep it from burning.  It takes about an hour, but it comes out perfectly.  It’s quick enough to make after work, but takes long enough that I can relax a little before dinner.

And all for this:

Like I said, it’s a deceptively simple dish.  Sprinkle some parmesan cheese on top, add some garlic toast on the side, and maybe a salad, and it’s a great meal on a chilly night.

So what’s your favorite way to make spaghetti?  Let us all know!  Feel free to share this post far and wide.

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So Partner/Spouse and I did a bunch of errands yesterday morning and the final one was putting cardboard boxes in a recycle bin at our favorite diner so we could enjoy breakfast there.  It’s one I’ve blogged about before where I first enjoyed fiddlehead ferns, maple flavored soda (well maybe enjoyed isn’t the right word), and where they have a ham that is to die for.  When we walked in, this sign greeted us:

So I thought I’d share the horror.

As always,

 

3 Comments

  1. Oh! I know you love veggies. Give this a try, it is truly tasty. Every single person I’ve served this to has left with the recipe. And while she’s Korean, it’s not a Korean recipe.

  2. Oh! I grew up eating Spam just like that, and still occasionally make it. I adore Hawaiian Spam musubi. Yummmmm.

    One of my favorite ways to enjoy spaghetti is a recipe I bumped up against eons ago, we call it “that spaghetti”

    Start your spaghetti
    Chop up as much garlic as you have patience for 2-4 cloves. Dried won’t work for this
    Drop the garlic in a skillet with butter and olive oil, and red pepper flakes. Sauté nice and slow until everything is happy and mellow.

    When pasta is done dip out some of the water, drain the spaghetti, and dump it in the skillet. Toss it up, adding the water until all pasta is coated in the garlic/butter/olive oil. Pull off the heat and squeeze lemon onto it and toss in a good handful of parm cheese.

  3. Spaghetti, well actually pasta in general, is one of my favorite dishes as well. You can do so many different varieties. My standard way to make sauce is similar to yours but I add a pinch or two of cayenne pepper flakes for a little zip.


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