Monday, December 7, 2009

Sorry, but THAT'S a Spicy Meatball!

Scoville scale
Every family has its own traditions around the holidays. Some folks open presents on Christmas Eve, some fly off to the capitals of Europe for the duration, yet others have restaurant wait staffs serve them their turkey and stuffing. Everybody is different in that respect, and that's okay. Where I come from chili was always the de facto meal the night before Christmas or Thanksgiving, Secretary's Day Administrative Assistant's Day, whenever! But this year, at The Very Brady Thanksgiving, Mama Jean slaved two nights and days over Italian sauce and meatballs and I am ever so grateful that she did.
"I wish I had a real recipe to offer but I essentially just throw things in a pot and the ingredients are the usual suspects that go in everyone's sauce." ~ Mama Jean
Don't let that modesty fool you, Jean is a serious cook, and like all masters she has an intuitive feel for what works. It may have been Aunt Janie's house, but it was Mama Jean's kitchen. And if we were gonna have Italian the night before Thanksgiving, well it was gonna be done right, damn it.
AntipastaSesame bread sticks
Thanksgiving Eve Menu
  • Honey cherry peppers stuffed with goat cheese and pecan
  • Pickled cherry peppers stuffed with bleu cheese
  • Kalamata olives
  • Roasted red bell peppers
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Prosciutto
  • Peppered ham
  • Sesame bread sticks
Il Primo
  • Cheese-stuffed manicotti
Il Secondo
  • Hand-made beef, pork & veal meatballs
  • Sweet and hot Italian sausages
  • Homemade tomato sauce
Cheese manicottiItalian sausages and meatballs
Mama Jean's Meatballs and Tomato Sauce
"I brown sausage (and I usually also brown some country spare ribs...nothing like pork fat for flavor...but the stores were so crazy I didn't realize I didn't have them until I started cooking) in the pot I am using for the sauce. I put a small amount of [extra virgin olive oil] in [the] bottom just to keep everything lubed until the sausage/meat starts giving off juice/fat. You can remove the meat or just push to the side and add onion and garlic scraping the fond off the bottom of the pan. Then I add the tomatoes, red wine, fresh parsley, basil and oregano (dried if not available), and I usually add some grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Stir this all together and bring it to a fairly high temp (add back the browned pork if it has been removed) and then lower to a simmer before adding the meatballs."
THE MEATBALLS: "I used beef, pork and veal for the meatballs but any combo or beef alone works, too. I add salt and fresh pepper, fresh parsley, (sometimes some very finely minced garlic), grated Parmigiano Reggiano, bread (Italian, Wonder, whatever) that's been soaked in milk (bread crumbs if I don't have any bread around), and usually two eggs and shape into medium sized meat balls... I put a lid on the pot and let it simmer a little while. Check fairly often in the beginning that the bottom is not sticking being very gentle so as to not break up the meatballs. Then you can let it go for as long as you like. I generally put it on very low and just let it go for a few hours... Towards the end, I let it cook without a lid to let it thicken naturally if it needs that. IF I taste it and the tomatoes didn't have a rich enough flavor, I might add tomato paste, the tube type is best. You can also add some more fresh herbs to brighten at the end if necessary. I love this because it's good right away, later that day, the next day, or even from the freezer.
As in all things good ingredients yield good results.
The woman has banished the word "shortcut" from her vocabulary. You can throw away that cherished index card in your little tin file box. Jean's sauce had a richness that I'd never experienced before, and I live in an Italian neighborhood! I loved the extra grated cheese she included while cooking. It added another pleasant layer of complexity. Wisely, she served rustic Italian bread on the side for sopping up the leftover sauce on the plate. Can you imagine a homemade sauce without bread on the side? I don't want to live in that world.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

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