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Kathy and Bill, some friends from Italian class, spend three weeks this summer in Italy celebrating their 30th anniversary (sigh).  Late one afternoon, while at a B&B in Florence, Bill wished their proprietress Graziella “Buona sera!” (good evening). As she was graciously trying to help them practice la bella lingua, she told him that “Buon pomeriggio!” (good afternoon) was more appropriate for that time of day. The next afternoon when Bill saw Graziella he wished her a “Buon Pomodoro!” (good tomato) and they all laughed heartily as his mistake. The next morning, Graziella told them that she had phoned her husband, who was vacationing at the beach with their son, the previous afternoon and wished him a Buon Pomodoro.  Of course he required an explanation and thought it was so hilarious that he wished his son a Buon Pomodoro also.  Then the two of them went around the port where their boat was docked wishing everyone they knew a Buon Pomodoro. Good tomatoes make people happy.

Yesterday was a chilly overcast day requiring a soul- and body-warming kind of dinner. Yes, it was the perfect night for homemade spaghetti, meatballs, and happy tomato sauce.

Growing up, my father made the sauce. He’d start with two cans of whole, canned tomatoes grinding them up (and removing all the seeds) in a food mill, then add cans of tomato sauce and tomato paste to a bit of onion and garlic that was already softened in my maternal grandmother’s dutch oven (a full-blooded Irish woman, the very thought of this probably had her simmering), and a hunk or two of pepperoni. Then he’d toss in any leftover meat from the fridge…pork or beef, but never chicken. The sauce would simmer on the stove for hours filling the house with its wonderful aroma. It was always sauce in our family, not gravy as it is called in many Italian families.

The Meatballs
In a big bowl, combine these attractive ingredients:

  • 1# ground beef
  • 1/2 # ground pork
  • 2 eggs
  • some sautéed, minced onions (about a 1/3 cup)
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/3-1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs
  • 3 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano (but no, Ma, not the dried oregano you got after you were married in 1952. Dried herbs are only good for about a year.)
  • 1/2 tsp chopped garlic
  • salt & pepper

Gently combine ingredients with your fingers until just combined. Roll into 2 inch balls and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes or until the outside has a nice brown crust. Remove from baking dish, scraping off any fatty bits, and add to sauce.  Makes about 15.

And Maybe Some Sausage
If it’s hearty you’re after, some sausage links quartered and browned are a nice addition to the sauce. It’s fun to mix it up and use both mild and hot Italian sausage. Pictured left are the house made sausages from Dorothy Lane Market along with a stalk of basil from my herb garden.

Note: you get what you pay for! Yesterday, the market had no Boar’s Head pepperoni, so I substituted Hormel. Sorry, Hormel, but your pepperoni is 1) the wrong color, 2) not spicy at all, and 3) is like chewing wax. UGH.

Here are the quartered sausages ‘frizzling’ – a term I always thought was coined by my husband  until I looked it up – in a skillet. Okay, I know I am only cooking for two, but think of the leftover possibilities! Grill some peppers and onions and these sausages will make a damn good sandwich, as will the meatballs on some crusty ciabatta rolls. Personally, I like cold balls on a roll (!?), but meatballs on a toasted roll with some melted provolone and extra red sauce will warm even the coldest heart.

The Sauce
Unlike il mio padre (my Dad), I just squish the canned, whole tomatoes between my fingers. Feels good, and who really cares about the splatters on the t-shirt? But otherwise, my methodology is pretty much the same as Dad’s except I add red wine to deglaze the pan after sautéing the onions, and toss in some fresh torn basil leaves before serving. Did I mention that my father could get splatters of sauce on his back when eating? Or that when as a small child, my brother sucked the spaghetti in and swallowed without chewing? Yes, one end in his tum and the other dangling on his chin. Ah yes, dinners were fun in the Chiarella household (unless Mom added wine to a dish, when all hell broke loose. But that is another story).

La Cena (the dinner)
All of the above combined with fresh, homemade pasta = yum. I like the recipe from Bob’s Red Mill Semolina Flour, except I use 3/4 cup semolina and 3/4 cup all-purpose flour with the 2 eggs, a bit of salt and a drizzle of olive oil.

Okay, I have been blabbing on and on, but in the end this meal only takes about an hour to make. And it did make us quite happy. Especially with the lovely red that accompanied.

Buon Pomorodo a tutti! (Good Tomato To Everyone)