I love the holidays – the food shopping, the meal preparation, the kitchen as it fills with the intoxicating smells of garlic browning or onions sizzling in olive oil. It’s the perfect time for adding an extra day to your normally way-too-short weekend, opening a bottle of wine and sitting around the table to share a meal with family, friends and the friends that have become your family. Back home in Philly, always on the menu and beautifully arranged on the dining room table you would find pasta and meatballs, sausage and pork ribs, various vegetables, a gravy boat of extra sauce for dipping the crunchy bread, burgers and a well done (mostly burnt) hot dog for my Mom. Yes. You heard me correctly. Don’t be confused. The holiday I’m talking about is Memorial Day. Growing up, that’s how my family spent Memorial Day. My dad would cook out on the grill, but my mom would still cook an entire meal inside, and we ate…inside. Real dishes, no paper plates. Red wine, not beer or soda. As my brother Michael would point out, “We were just different.” Over time, things have changed and the family has both grown and shrunk. Distance and kids and travel baseball and the passage of time have made for different traditions. But those memories never fade for me. When I think of Memorial Day , I still think pasta. Crazy, I know. But the pasta symbolizes more than our excessive consumption of carbs. Inside my parents’ house was an Italian feast, but outside were our American flags and red, white and blue everything. My parents were always grateful for the opportunity to live in this country and very proud of the lives and family they created here. So although my memories may sound anything but patriotic, they are actually steeped in the American dream, an immigrant’s version, but the American dream none-the-less. Yes, we were different and at times I would have preferred to blend in, but now I realize those differences have shaped my life and the person I have become. Those differences have become the odd and extraordinary gifts that I now have to offer to the family I have created in my life here in NYC. I always say that Mike is the most Italian Irish guy I’ve ever met. He has enjoyed and embraced my family’s culture so happily and naturally that now we get to enjoy two cultures. Believe me, if you stick around, there’s some Irish in the future of this blog. These are the things of a great life – family and food, traditions and friends, upbringing and ancestry. This weekend we’ll have a visitor from back home, an Italian friend’s birthday celebration in Harlem and undoubtedly countless meals and snacks that we will concoct in our tiny NYC kitchen. Don’t worry, we’ll get outside in the fresh air too. Maybe we’ll try to fit a tiny hibachi grill on the fire escape! Happy Memorial Day to you and yours, no matter how you choose to celebrate it!
My recipe for red sauce
First, recipe defined – A recipe is a general guideline or suggestion for how a particular meal or dish can be prepared. It will rarely contain exact measurements or cook time and it’s more of a story than a list and directions. This makes Mike crazy!
You can also check out an actual meat sauce recipe here but I recommend using the guidelines below and making it your own!
These are the essentials:
Tomatoes – this could be your own jarred variety, a bag of tomatoes that you picked up in the produce section or canned whole tomatoes
Garlic – if you’re lucky like we are, you will have a cousin who lives on a farm, grows her own garlic and sends it to you
Olive oil – make sure it’s from a dark container (although I’ve read color is not a factor I always look for the oil to be a little green, less yellow – we eat with our eyes first after all)
Salt –this is never optional! (more about salt later…)
These are the elements that can vary and will determine just what kind of red sauce you end up with:
Meat: ribs, sausage, meatballs, any yummy piece of beef or pork
In a sauce pot, saute garlic in olive oil over medium heat until it is a golden color.
Add a bay leaf if you have it.
Discard garlic (unless you like biting into garlic).
Add onions to taste (I usually cut the onion in half or quarters).
Chop tomatoes or puree them in a food processor.
Season with salt, black pepper, hot pepper.
Add tomatoes to the pot.
Add (mostly cooked) meatballs sausage or ribs or any yummy piece of beef or pork.
Add fresh basil.
Let this cook until it tastes so good you can’t wait any longer! Put it over al dente pasta and serve right away. Pasta waits for no one!