Thursday, September 3, 2009

Spaghetti, the Old Favorite

Of all the dishes that I've been making for over 20 years, this is probably the family favorite. I could make it each week, and they'd never tire. My husband swipes little bowls of the sauce as it simmers. When our oldest left for college, I discovered he had been snitching too!

Begin by browning some ground beef, or ground turkey, anywhere from 1 to 2 lbs. I often use a 1 lb. tube of ground turkey from the grocery. Below, you can see I already browned this beef a few days ago, and put it back in the frig, anticipating this meal. Helpful cooking hint: You can put cooked beef in hot water. I learned this from a friend who used to run a little cafe; she would cook her burgers for lunch and then immerse them in a pot of simmering water. As she sold them, she'd get one out, shake it off, and put it on a bun. Thus, when you cook your beef for spaghetti and it is greasy, put it in a colander and run HOT water over it in the sink. You will remove more grease and make the spaghetti taste better to boot. Today I had a few onion pieces leftover from lunch, and put them in as well, but usually I do not use onion in my spaghetti b/c the flavor is too strong. The same with green pepper. It's up to you.
When the meat is well-cooked and rinsed, add 1 large can of whole tomatoes (blenderized), 1 large + 1 medium can of tomato sauce, and 1 small can of tomato paste. Now, of course it is best to use your own, freshly-canned tomatoes, but not all of us have these gems handy. I buy whatever is cheapest, but from now on, I'm gonna have to begin reading those LABELS, and my shopping habits, even for these canned goods, may change. I was happy to see that the Contadina Tomato Paste indicated ONLY tomatoes on the ingredients list.
Put the whole tomatoes into a blender, and reduce them to liquid. I did this for my oldest child, who has left for college, but I still don't prefer big chunks of tomato in my sauce. The whole tomatoes add the little acidic 'zing!!' that you want in tomato sauce, but 3 cans of that acid would be too much.

Just call me a Depression Era Woman, but I can't stand wastage. So, I put a cup or so of water into my blender after I pour the liquid tomatoes into the pot. Swish it around. As I pour the other cans into the pot, I take the same water and swish it around in those cans. I tell you, by the time I've swished that water in all 4 cans, it is as thick as the original sauce. That's how much we WASTE when we toss those unrinsed cans into the trash. "But it's so time-consuming," I hear you say. That indicates that it is a waste of time to rinse the cans. But clearly it's not, since those few minutes give you more precious sauce and use every penny you're scrimping to save at the store.

[We don't like to scrimp. It makes us feel poor. For some reason (admit it, all), it gives us a little decadent feeling of luxury to take that unrinsed can (or whatever else it is) and toss it into the trash. Fight that feeling.]

Next up: the yumminess. I upend the bottle of Worcestershire sauce and drizzle it in a leisurely way around the perimeter of the pot. I don't measure. I've been cooking this for 20 years; who needs to measure?

I used to use dried basil and oregano, until I decided to grow these two on my patio this summer. Actually, the oregano has refused to die, despite rough treatment, and the basil was an impulse buy at Trader Joe's. That was a good impulse :) The advantage of using the fresh herbs is not only flavor, but appearance and convenience: I place the herbs whole into the pot, and I can easily remove them before I serve dinner. That way, I don't have a million little brown flecks in my sauce. The flavor is there - isn't that what you want?
The bay leaves, however, do stay in the pot, and are served to the plate. Why, you ask? Because I once told my little girl that, if you got a bay leaf in your spaghetti, you got a wish. And she's hopeful every time! Note that this package of bay leaves came from Whole Foods (4 years ago!). They've been in the freezer. Wish I had a little bay tree in the back yard, but alas, I don't. That big package cost me only $2.29. Whole foods has the best, cheapest herbs.
The sauce should simmer for a couple of hours to reach its peak. This is not a hurried meal for your most frenzied day, but a good one for a day when you know you'll be home, and you want a delicious aroma permeating your home for the afternoon.

In a bit, I'll stroll into the kitchen and make some bread to go with it. If only Adam were making pasta today...but he's out visiting church members. Ah well.

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