Spaghetti is a dish that stirs up my memories.
When I was a little girl, I remember my mom sending me to fetch the tomato sauce, tomato paste and pasta from our basement pantry for our weekly spaghetti night. So exciting.
When I lived in the dorms at college, it was our go-to Sunday night dinner for eating out. The local restaurants knew the dorm kitchens were closed for that meal, and offered great deals for all us starving and broke students.
And as a mommy, my kids have always loved spaghetti. When she was three years old, my eldest was wild about a book in which a little boy eats a bowl of spaghetti with his hands, and for her fourth birthday, we let her eat her celebratory spaghetti in the same fashion.
This is the stuff family legends are made of.
I don't have any fancy recipe; my technique is based on my mom's free-form version of the dish, tweaked a bit by my own preferences over the years. The biggest change I have imposed is to take the meat out of the sauce and make meatballs instead. In my opinion, a big, pretty brown meatball on my plate is worth the extra work. But honestly, this is a fairly standard American version of a classic dish, and if you follow it, you will not be disappointed.
Here are the simple ingredients:
2 T olive oil
3-5 cloves garlic
1 large can tomato sauce
1 large can crushed tomatoes
2T dried oregano
1/2 C fresh basil leaves
1 standard package ground beef
1 C bread crumbs
2 T Montreal Steak Seasoning or coarse black pepper
1 loaf french baguette
1 package spaghetti pasta
Let's start with the sauce.
Mince the onion, heat the oil in a large saucepan, and saute the onion. Crush or mince the garlic and add it to the pan when the onion is almost translucent and just starting to turn golden. Garlic cooks quickly so watch carefully.
Open the cans of tomato and have them at the ready, to be added as soon as the garlic is golden. Once you dump them in, give the pan a good stir, add the oregano and turn the heat down to low.
Don't put a cover on the pan; you want it uncovered so it will cook down a bit. That means the sauce will spatter in tiny drops all over your cook top, but this is the price of delicious.
Leave it be for about forty minutes; you can give it a stir every now and then, but don't worry about it. Spaghetti sauce is very forgiving.
The fresh basil leaves are not necessary, but they are worth the extra effort. I keep fresh basil growing on my kitchen counter, which makes me feel all chef-y and grown up. I snip off what I need, rinse them with cool water, snip the leaves off the stems and let them dry till the sauce is cooked.
Grab a large mixing bowl and dump in the meat, bread crumbs, egg and seasoning or pepper. I like strong, spicy meatballs, which is why I use the Montreal Steak Seasoning. It's amazing. But you can improvise here with regular black pepper or really, any kind of mystery seasoning. Barbecue sauce, red chile flakes, Worcestershire sauce - search around your kitchen for anything that sounds good.
Mix up all this goodness and roll it into meatballs. Size is a matter of preference - I range anywhere from one to two inches in diameter, depending on my mood, and how much time I have to cook them.
Sometimes I cook them in a cast iron skillet in the oven; this time, I used my electric skillet.
Meatballs are very forgiving.
Alright, the sauce is bubbling happily, the basil is on standby, the meatballs are browning, and now it's time to attend to the bread.
Wait. Better put on a pot of water to boil for the pasta now.
Okay, now the bread. Sometimes I make homemade garlic bread, sometimes I buy the commercially prepared stuff. But tonight, I'm just going old school with basic bread, buttered and toasted under the broiler.
Sometimes I brush olive oil onto the bread, but I'm always glad to use butter because it gives me a chance to say hello to the squirrel who guards my butter. I kinda think he is adorable.
Plus, I sleep a lot better at night, knowing that my butter is watched over by a furry forest creature.
Alright. If you're lucky, the sauce has cooked for about forty minutes, the meatballs are looking brown, the bread is sliced and buttered, and the broiler is warmed up.
Now everything starts to happen at once.
- Working over the open pot of sauce, cut the basil into coarse bits with scissors and let it fall right into the red goodness. Stir it up and let it keep working.
- When the meatballs are browned and cooked through, pull them off the heat, put them in a serving dish, and throw them in the microwave to keep them warm.
- Add the pasta to the boiling water, stir it up, and turn down the heat.
- Slide the bread under the heat.
- Holler for someone to come keep an eye on the bread. You've got a lot going on right now, and let's face facts - toasted bread is not forgiving at all. If it burns, you will want to cry.
Whew. Okay, that was the worst of it. Both the pasta and the bread should take about ten minutes, so be ready to drain the pasta and make sure your bread assistant stays on task.
And if all goes well, in just a few moments, you will be sitting down to a plate full of delicious. And if you like, you have my permission to eat it with your hands.
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For more stories about my homemade family favorites, read: