05 February 2009

Italian Feast

Your most basic Italian feast - pasta, sauce, garlic bread, and salad - is one of my favorite suppers ever. I make a pot of sauce on the weekend and let it simmer for at least two nights, then serve pasta for dinner on the third night. I freeze the sauce that's left over, and when thawed, it becomes the simplest base for dinner any night of the week.

Use the sauce to make chicken or eggplant parmesan, spice it up and add seafood for a fra diavolo, add lots of ground meat for a bolognese, or combine with a little alfredo for a rose sauce - whatever you like best, this sauce is versatile enough to make it happen.

Amy's Spaghetti Sauce

1 medium onion, diced
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
3 large cans tomato puree (I use Contadina brand)
1 package spicy Italian sausage (6 large sausages)
1 large stick hard pepperoni
18+ meatballs (see recipe below)
Dried Herbs: Italian seasoning, parsley, oregano, basil leaves, garlic powder
Fresh Herbs: Italian flat-leaf parsley, basil (optional)
extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper

In a large stock pot, saute onions in a couple glugs of olive oil. Don't worry about measuring - you need enough to just coat the bottom of the pan. Salt the onions right away so they can begin to soften. When onions are translucent, add garlic and saute.

While onions and garlic are working, cut each sausage into 2-4 pieces. Add to pan and cook - don't worry if sausage is not 100% cooked, you will be simmering the sauce long enough that it will fully cook with no worries. Add tomato puree and bring to a very low simmer.

In the meantime, remove casing from pepperoni and chop into chunks. I like to cut the pepperoni on the diagonal - it looks nice, and it allows maximum pepperoni flavor to permeate the sauce. Also, it makes it easy for husbands to tell which pieces are pepperoni and which are sausage.

Add pepperoni and all herbs to the sauce. Allow to simmer for up to 3 days. At night, remove pot from stove and store in refrigerator (or, for you fellow cold weather friends, put it in your garage) with the lid on.

1-2 lb. ground beef
1 egg
1 heaping handful parmesan cheese
1 small handful Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
salt & pepper
chopped onion (maybe 1/3 cup)
minced garlic (~3 cloves)

I really make my meatballs by eye, and they come out differently every time. I've added everything from Worchestershire sauce to milk to fresh parsley, and they're always good. It's kind of hard to mess up a meatball!

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Take off your rings, rub a glug of olive oil onto your hands, and mix with your hands! It's messy, but it's fun. Form meat mixture into balls and place in a 13"x9" pan. I used a meatloaf pan this time, because I only had 18 tiny meatballs, so just use whatever you've got. Don't bother adding any liquid to the pan - as the fat drains out of the meat, it will provide plenty of juices for the meatballs to cook in.

Cook at 350 for 15 minutes or so. This is also totally by eye - just break one open when you think they're done. If they're a little pink inside don't worry! Again, they're going to cook in the sauce long enough that the meat will absolutely be fully cooked through.

Gently add the meatballs to your sauce and stir to combine.

When you're ready for a pasta dinner, simply cook your pasta, assemble your salad, and make your garlic bread.

Garlic Bread

1 loaf Italian bread
spreadable butter/margarine
garlic salt
garlic powder
dried parsley
Italian seasoning

Slice your loaf of Italian bread as if it were a giant grinder roll. Open the bread so you have two flat halves facing up (as in the picture above). Spread bread with margarine, and top with seasonings.

Bake at 375 for five minutes, get impatient, move the bread to the top rack, and flip on the broiler. Watch it, or you will be crying because it's black (and believe it or not, you might not learn your lesson the first time!), I'd say it takes another 3-5 minutes under the broiler.

If you do accidentally burn the bread, scrape the black off (no matter how much there is), sprinkle with garlic salt, and serve. I've done this, and the entire loaf of bread still got eaten.

On a rare evening when the planets align, the fates are smiling on me, and kismet decides my bread should be exactly the way my Italian grandmother intended, I will bake it perfectly:

Serve your fabulous feast with some good wine and enjoy!

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