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G. Love & my Special (Baked Ziti) Sauce

23 Oct

My baby’s got sauce.


No really – he does, I made it for him last Sunday….while dancing around the kitchen to G. Love’s version, obviously. (It may or may not have been on repeat. What..it gave me inspiration!)

See, last Friday we took our maiden voyage down to the beloved 9:30 Club, located in the U Street neighborhood of DC. A few weeks prior, I was surfing through its website for work and saw that one of our absolute favorites, G. Love & Special Sauce, were coming! I bought tickets right then and there, without even asking Matt. Psh, we’re married…I don’t have to consult him on anything anymore, right?

Right. (He was very happy with my decision. Good wife points!)

I’ve heard so many raves about the 9:30 Club from my coworkers – a small performance venue (stocked with five bars, nonetheless) that features all sorts of big names, small names and everything in between. I heard there wasn’t a bad seat in the house, and once you experience a show in the intimate yet electric setting, you’ll never want to experience a live performance any other way.

Long story short – the venue instantly lived up to the expectations.

(HOWEVER…no food or drink allowed in a the door. So you can imagine my horror when the bouncer reached in my purse and snatched up my grandma-stash of granola bars. This is actually quite hard to talk about but…he threw them in the trash. I stood in disbelief for a few moments, until Matt pushed me forward, laughing as he said, “You’ll be okay. We can afford to buy more, I promise.” I’m still not over it.)

Matt and I claimed our spot at the bar on the main floor and watched as the space filled with people. The opening band, Apache Relay, was really good – by their last song, I felt like I had been a fan for awhile. (Matt also enjoyed the head-banging ways of the bearded guitar player…I don’t know how he walked straight after shaking our head around for four songs straight!)

Our spot at the bar was perfect for a while, but when G. Love himself stepped on the stage, I knew I had to get closer! Matt happily obliged to watch over my drink and my purse at the bar while I bumped, scooted and squeezed my way to the front of the crowd. (I’d like to note this was the first time I’d ever been successful at doing this without spilling someones drink, getting knocked over or giving up after hitting a wall of drunk mean girls.) I must have been extra determined from the beer I had before I decided to dash off into the masses.

Another long story short (I could write about five paragraphs on the concert, but I’m assuming you’re here for the food.), G. Love was ridiculous. With his smooth & cool blend of blues, hip-hop, soul and bluegrass, there wasn’t a still body in the house. (I for one know I was grooving like a hippie fool…when I came back to the bar to enjoy the show with Matt, he was highly amused at my super cool dance skills.) We had the best time, and our (G) love for G. Love all the more elevated to the next level…I have to admit that my new iPhone has been playing a pretty steady set of his albums since then. (Oh! Another note…I got the new iPhone 4s earlier that day. That was big news, but the bigger news is that I didn’t drop, lose it or even come close to scratching it at the concert! Seriously…that was huge win for AM vs. the world.)

Okay, so back to MY sauce.

On Sunday, I was all set to make a big ol’ pot of pasta fagioli. The weather is getting nice and crisp, so for me, that means endless pots of soup for the next few months. For Matt, that means endless pots of soup for the next few months…something that somehow doesn’t intrigue him. So, like a good wife (are we catching a trend here?) I decided that alongside my pasta fagioli, I would break out another pot (thank you wedding registry and loved ones…we have multiple pots & pans now! Woot woooot) and cook up some of my “special sauce.” But rather than just have pasta & sauce, I wanted to make a hearty-yet-healthy casserole that would keep Matt full for the rest of the week, while I enjoyed my minor soup addiction. Alas, I present to you:

AM.Love & Special (Baked Ziti) Sauce

  • pound of lean ground beef
  • splash of red wine
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • one medium onion, sliced thin
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced (tried to use a garlic press for this and somehow failed miserably. How is that possible?)
  • large can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 box of whole wheat penne
  • 1 cup fat free or light ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 chub of fresh mozzarella (about 1/2 cup?), chopped into small pieces
  • parsley…to make it all look gourmet 🙂

Add the following to taste…you know we I-talians don’t measure these things:

  • salt & pepper
  • onion powder
  • garlic powder
  • basil
  • crushed red pepper
  • sugar
  • parmigiano reggiano
  • crushed red pepper
Prepare a 9×13 pan with cooking spray.
In a sautĂ© pan, add a swirl of EVOO over medium heat. Add ground beef and break up into pieces with a wooden spoon. Once it is browned a bit, add a splash of red wine. (When I was in Sicily with my family, my great aunt did this. Attempting to be a great Italian lady like her, I followed suit. However…I used $6 wine from Trader Joe’s. Pretty sure she used a higher quality wine, but on our budget, if it is under $10 but over $5, it’s quality!) Cook through and then set aside.
Bring a pot of water to a boil; add whole wheat penne. Cook until al dente; drain and set aside. (I personally don’t like to cook the pasta until the sauce is almost done, as dried out pasta that sticks together is the bain of all Minnuto women’s’ existance. Growing up, my Ma would immediately add sauce to the drained pasta to make sure it wouldn’t dry out. Therefore, I need to have some sauce ready..even if it isn’t seasoned to perfection…to have on hand.)
In a medium pot, heat extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add onion. Saute for about two-three minutes, then and garlic. Cook down (or “sweat out,” as Mama Ro says), stirring frequently. Add salt and pepper. Once the onions & garlic are soft (about five-10 minutes…just keep watching/stirring to make sure they don’t burn), add can of crushed tomatoes. Here comes …add a few shakes of onion powder, garlic powder, basil, crushed red pepper (depending if you want to give it a lil’ kick), sugar and grated parmigiano reggiano cheese to taste. Keep tasting, keep adding, depending on how you sauc-ay sauc-ay you want your sauce.
Add beef to the sauce; stir well. Cook on low for ten minutes, stirring, tasting and adding more spices if needed.
Pour cooked penne into sauce. Add ricotta, stir well. Hold back all temptation to devour now and pour into the 9 x 13 pan. Spread evenly, then sprinkle frress mozzarella, more parmesan cheese and small dots of ricotta. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, until heated through and cheese on top is nice and ooey-gooey.
Serve with a sprinkle of parsley, a side of crusty Italian bread and “cold beveragessss.”

Dig.
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Sausage, Bean and Kale Pasta

14 Nov

I have just been introduced to kale.


We met last Saturday, at the stand in the way back corner of the Old Town Farmers’ Market. I’ve been it before a few times, but never had the guts to go up to it and introduce myself. But as I was coming to the finish of my 4th lap around the market, I decided I had nothing to lose. I went right up to the kale, grabbed a bunch and paid a whopping .89 cents to a very nice and cheerful farmer.


As soon as we got home, my curiosity of my new friend immediately came out. After putting away all of my apples, pears, onions, and peppers, I brought the kale onto the table and began to get to know it a bit better. I touch it, smelled it, and even tried a bite of it. Quite bitter…but I knew that once it was all steamed up, it would be much more friendly & delicious! Since Matt and I were going to hop on the Metro and walk around DC all day, I quickly wrapped the bunch of kale back up, placed it in the fridge and began to dream about what I kale -y dish would make later on.


Fast-forward a few hours, and I was reunited with my new green BFF. Over a bit pot, sizzling with onions, garlic, peppers and chicken sausage. Inspired by A Dash of Sass. I looked at the kale, looked in the pot and kissed my curly-leafy friend goodbye. Really, it was better this way. It’s not you…it’s me. I’m hungry!

Couple of stirs later and Matt and I sat down to a cozy, hearty & healthy pasta dish. Needless to say, I can’t wait to be reunited with the a new bunch of kale next week at the market!

Sausage, Bean & Kale Pasta

(adapted from A Dash of Sass)

Ingredients:

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 chicken sausage links
  • 1 green bell pepper, roughly diced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced (“you can never have too much garlic” – Mama Ro)
  • 1 can diced cannenelli beans
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (or you could throw in a can of peeled, whole tomatoes)
  • 1 bunch kale, de-stemmed and roughly chopped/torn
  • spices to taste: basil, oregano, salt & pepper
  • 2 cups whole wheat pasta (I chose to use whole wheat shells, because I ❤ them!)

Directions:

Heat EVOO in a large saucepan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add onions and peppers. Stir and saute until soft, about 5-8 minutes. Once onions and peppers are a bit soft, add garlic. Be careful not to burn the garlic! Shake in some salt and pepper.

Remove sausage casing (I forgot to do this, until I went to go tear up the sausage. Oops!) and tear  into pieces, adding it to the pan with the onions, peppers and garlic.  Cook (and crumble with a wooden spoon) until brown.

While sausage is cooking, bring a saucepan of water to a boil on the stove. Add pasta and cook  (and season!) until al dente. Whole-wheat pasta tends to take a bit longer to cook than regular, so I’d say about 10-12 minutes. When pasta is cooked, drain and return back to its pot.

Add diced tomatoes and beans and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a shake of basil, oregano and more pepper, if needed (the tomatoes have salt in them, so you probably don’t need more!) Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Turn heat to low and let simmer.

Add chopped kale and let wilt, occasionally pushing it into the mix gently.

When kale is fully incorporated, add pasta to the sausage mixture and stir to combine. Serve with generous amounts of fresh pecorino romano cheese! Mmm I would love more of this right now 🙂

Matt Izzo Photography, Inc. 🙂

Post-Army 10-Miler Feast!

6 Nov

Matt and his dad ran the long-awaited Army 10-Miler two weeks ago. The weather was perfect, the air was filled with American spirit and both Izzo’s ran 8-minute miles.

“Unfortunately,” I didn’t run. (The registration filled up before I could even think about running 10 miles.) So after Matt and his dad went to line up at the start, I was feeling a bit lazy.

Until I saw all the free food samples.

There in the Pentagon parking lot stood rows and rows of tents, brimming with free fruit, free coffee, free Kashi TLC  bars and even free yogurt parfaits! At first I was a bit timid, since I didn’t feel worthy of the free goodies since I was not a runner and did not need the added nutrition…but then I reminded myself whose granddaughter I was, grabbed a free canvas tote and got to work. By the time Matt and Mr. Izzo got back, they didn’t have to go through the tents to get food…I had them covered. (However, we still went through the tents and because Matt loves me so much, he filled up a whole ‘nother bag for me! I am still convinced it was his way to get out of Sunday grocery shopping.)

On the Metro ride home, while ogling all of my new snacks, I decided that I was going to make a meal that would certainly satisfy not only two hungry men, but two hungry men who just ran ten miles!

Since it was Sunday, the meal (or at least part of the meal) had to be Italian. I ran through the lists of my family’s great dishes, and decided on Italian sausage and peppers. It was hearty, down-home grub that would not only take me right back to my Ma’s kitchen, but also went perfectly with Sunday football and Sam Adams.

And speaking of Sam Adams, I also decided that this day would be a perfect day to give Bitchin’ Camero’s Potato, Cheese and Ale Soup. And guess what? I was right! The soup was rich, creamy, and had just the right amount of bitterness. The salty, crushed pretzel topping brought the entire dish together. Beer, cheese, potatoes and pretzels in one bowl? Would have made college life so much easier 🙂

All in all, we had a wonderful Sunday. Ran some miles, snagged 2 weeks worth of granola bars, and managed to find every single calorie (and then some) lost by the end of the day! 🙂

Italian Sausage and Peppers

Ingredients:

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 3-4 bell peppers, cut into approx. 1 inch slices(I used two green and one green, but would highly recommend orange and yellow peppers as well)
  • 6 sausage links (I used two spicy, two sweet and two chicken.)
  • 1/2 dozen whole-wheat sub rolls, sliced length-wise (and toasted, in my case!)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Line sausages on a baking sheet and lightly cover with tin foil. Bake for 45 minutes, removing the tin foil halfway through baking.
  • While the sausages are cooking,  heat EVOO in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once oil is hot, add onions and saute for about five minutes, stirring often.
  • Add peppers to the pot and saute with onions for about 10 minutes, until all are softened and slightly charred. Add salt and pepper to taste. If sausages are not done, turn heat to low and continue to stir often.
  • Once the sausages are fully cooked, take them out of the oven and add them to the pan with the onions and peppers. Stir to combine then serve on toasted (if desired) whole wheat rolls.

Potato, Cheese and Ale Soup

(From Bitchin’ Camero. Makes 2 entree-sized servings, 3 medium bowlfuls  or 4 appetizer-sized servings.)

  • 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large Idaho potato, diced
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 12. oz ale-style beer (I used Sam Adams)
  • 3/4 cup shredded Colby jack and cheddar cheese, plus 1/2 cup for garnish
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup pretzels, roughly crushed for garnish

Directions

  • In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Once oil is hot, add onions and saute for 5 – 7 minutes, or until soft. Add minced garlic and saute for 2-5 minutes.
  • Add the potatoes and brown them a bit, stirring often. If they start sticking, add the stock and beer and reduce the heat to medium. Let simmer uncovered for 15 minutes or so, or until the potatoes are tender.
  • Using an immersion blender, regular blender or food processor (I used a regular blender…immersion blender is going on the wedding registry!) to puree the soup until smooth. Return soup to the pot and reduce the heat to low. Stir in the cheese, salt, paprika and vinegar until well-combined.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with crushed pretzels and more cheese.


BBQ Chicken Pasta Bake

13 Oct


There aren’t many things that Matt likes more than BBQ sauce, chicken and pasta. (I pride myself as one of them.)

So, as soon as I saw this BBQ Chicken Pasta Bake on one of my fave blogs, How Sweet It Is, I knew that it HAD be served at our apartment in less than 24 hours.

This recipe was great because it calls for things that you are very likely to have in your cupboard! The only ingredient I was worried about not having was the Panko breadcrumbs…but then I remembered that my mom has started putting them in her meatballs, and therefore I had a recently opened box on my shelf. (When my mom came to visit for the first time, I’m pretty sure she spent more time filling up my freezer than she did walking around Old Town! Or my apartment, for that matter.) And ironically, the two things that we always have in the fridge – BBQ sauce and cheese – were nowhere to be found. So, after I happily skipped around the grocery store (buying wayyy more that the two things I walked in for) I came home and got right to work!


Matt and Mr.Izzo walked in the door soon as I took this goddess of a casserole out of the oven. After I tortured them by taking a ga-jillion pictures for the blog (funny how I only liked two of them…Santa, I need a good camera!), I allowed us all to dig in! It was cheesy, saucy, gooey goodness in every bite, and the best part of all is that it’s actually light and healthy. A perfect dish for the end of summer, and the perfect way to a man’s heart, as Matt already asked me to make it again!

Chicken Pasta Bake BBQ

(adapted from How Sweet It Is)

Ingredients:

  • 3 cooked chicken breasts, shredded
  • 3 cups whole wheat pasta (I used shells, but would also be great with rotini or penne)
  • 1/2 cup BBQ sauce
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon flour
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 2 ounces cheese, shredded (I used mozzarella b/c it was on sale. I am my mother!)
  • 1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare shredded chicken and pasta and set aside. In a small saucepan, heat EVOO and add diced onions. Add a bit of sea salt and let the onions caramelize for about 10 minutes, stirring often.

While onions are cooking, combine 1/4 cup BBQ sauce with shredded chicken. Once the onion is caramelized, set aside.

In another small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and whisk in flour, creating a roux. Immediately add skim milk and turn to low heat. Add one ounce of cheese and stir for 2-3 minutes, until cheese is completely melted and the mixture thickens.

In a casserole dish (I used a 9×13 pyrex dish) layer pasta, BBQ chicken and onions. Add cheese mixture a little bit at a time, and mix throughly so that every bit of ingredient is smothered with the cheese sauce. Top with additional sauce, cheese, Panko crumbs and drizzles of the remaining BBQ sauce. (I may have used a bit more than what remained, since my man seriously bleeds BBQ sauce.)

Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. Mangia, cowboy!

Mmm Mmm Minestrone

4 Oct

It is finally a bit chilly here in Alexandria, which, for me, immediately means SOUP. Especially when it is a lazy Sunday afternoon and your beloved Buffalo Bills are taking an unearthly beating once again….soup is also a major comfort food. Making this soup gave me a good excuse to walk away from the TV and ridicule of my peers to concentrate on much more positive (and delicious) things. There will be no flag on this play.

I initially wanted to make my Ma’s famous Italian wedding soup, but a) she was MIA, as usual, so I couldn’t get  the detailed recipe and b) I really didn’t feel like going to the store. It was cold. And rainy. And we played power hour on Saturday night. Feeling me?

So, I opted for the classic minestrone. Along with chicken noodle, this was the first soup my Ma taught me how to make. It is fairly easy, and allows for a much-needed cleaning of your fresh/canned vegetable supply! Mixed with ditalini pasta and topped with freshly grated pecorino romano cheese, this minestrone will warm your toes and your heart.

Ingredients:

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion (or 1/2 of a large onion)
  • approx. 6 quarts water
  • approx. 5 vegetable bouillon cubes (Depends on amount of water/personal taster. Depending on the brand’s directions, I usually put in 3-4 and then keep tasting to see if I need more. For this batch of soup, I used Rapunzel Vegan Vegetable Bouillon with Sea Salt.)
  • 2-3 medium-sized carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1 large potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 can (abt 14 ounces) crushed tomatoes (I’m sure you can buy a smaller can, but being Italian I only have a shelf of the large cans!
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained
  • 1 can garbanzo beans, drained
  • 1 can green beans
  • 1 can sweet peas
  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained
  • 1 can butter beans, drained
  • 1 bay leaf or about 1 tablespoon of crushed basil
  • pepper and onion powder to taste (I think my Ma also adds a little garlic powder)
  • 1/2 lb ditalini pasta (you can also use orzo, shells or acini di pepe, but ditalini is my personal fave.)

Directions:

In a large pot over medium heat, drizzle EVOO, just coating the bottom of the pot.

When oil is warm, add chopped onion. Let cook/sweat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently

Once onions are soft, add water. I usually don’t measure; I just fill a little over 1/2 of the pot. You don’t want to add too much, or you’ll be overflowing once you add the rest of the ingredients!

Add carrots, celery and potatoes to water, along with 3-4 bouillon cubes. After about 20 minutes, add diced tomatoes, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, green beans and sweet peas. I add the cannellini and butter beans last, since they soften rather quickly.

Taste and if needed, add more bouillon cubes. Add bay leaf/crushed basil, pepper and onion powder and stir well.

Let cook for about 20-30 minutes, stirring (and tasting!) often. I usually “taste” so much of it that by the time it is done, I’m completely full! While the soup is cooking, boil a saucepan of water and cook the pasta.

Once carrots, celery and potatoes are soft, the soup is pretty much done. I usually cook it a bit longer, only because beans that aren’t totally soft and somewhat tasteless freak me out. I know, weird. But at least I’ll eat endless amounts of them cooked!

Serve with plenty of grated pecorino romano/parmesan cheese and thick slices of crusty Italian bread. Mmmmmangia!

(This soup is also great because it yields heaping amounts – perfect for dinner all week or freezing for another lazy Sunday.)

Schnazzy Ciabatta Pizzas

2 Sep

Forgive me for the title of this post, for I am a bit rushed this morning! Matt and I are leaving for Florida this afternoon, and because we are not flying the most incredible “bags fly free” Southwest Airlines, I have to fit six days’ worth of outfits into my itty-bitty-polka-dotty-suitcase. Small feat for most people; unattainable measures for me.

ANYWAYS – yesterday I took a trip to Trader Joe’s for the first time in two weeks! Needless to say, I was overly excited and spent a good hour wandering the aisles (it’s okay, I’m unemployed). After spotting that there were only two of my favorite Rustic Ciabatta Flatbread* left on the shelf, dinner was an easy decision.

(*Just thought I’d take a second to announce my obsession with these flatbreads. Before I had a Trader Joe’s in my neighborhood, I would make it a point to stop at any one within a 10-mile radius during my SBU admissions travel season. While browsing through/buying up a store in Connecticut, I met my first Rustic Ciabetta Flatbread. It was the featured sample – I may or may not of  stepped in front of an old lady to get the last piece – and it was glorious. I bought two to take back to Buffalo and had been pining for the day when I could have them at my ultimate disposal here in Alexandria. HOWEVER, the store here in Old Town only carries about five of these little gems on any given day, and so I’ve been known to put a few orders on hold for me. Yes, Trader Joe’s calls me when the shipment is coming in, and sets aside one, two or, ahem, three for me and my flatbread hoarding problem. I  understand if many of you choose not to me friends with me after reading this post.)

Aren't they the cutest? I COULD JUST EAT THEM UP!

Whew, I feel so much better now that that’s out there! Alright, back to dinner – I figured I would make one spinach-y, tomato and sausage pizza and one of my usual BBQ chicken pizzas, since that is Matt’s favorite. I snatched up a tomato, pepper, zucchini, ball of fresh mozzarella and a sample of mac and cheese (like I noted earlier, Trader Joe’s has the BEST samples) and our new fav bottle of red wine, Tommolo.

I also grabbed a pack of Trader Joe’s all-natural “Sweet Basil Pesto” chicken sausage (after staring at the variety of flavors for about  15 minutes. Smoked Apple Chardonnay? Sun-dried Tomato? Spinach & Fontina? Seriously TJ’s, you bring out the worst of my indecisiveness).

Since the flatbreads are already cooked and seasoned to perfection, the process is very easy. Just chop the veggies, cook your meat and spread the cheese. (Try not to eat half the cheese while putting it on the pizza, like I did. I was seriously worried I would have to go out and buy more!)


Here is the list of ingredients I used for both pizzas, though you can obviously throw on whatever you want!

Spinach & Sausage Pizza:

1/4 cup (?) of extra virgin olive oil (I didn’t measure –  just drizzled it over the flatbread and spread it using a basting brush)

1/2 large tomato, chopped

1/4 of zucchini, chopped

2 Trader Joe’s Sweet Basil Pesto chicken sausage links (I browned them in a pan for about 10 mins before I sliced them)

1/2 box of frozen spinach, thawed and drained

1/2 ball of fresh mozzarella


BBQ Chicken Pizza:

1/2 cup BBQ sauce, spread generously (We loveeee Jack Daniels’ Honey Smoked!)

1 cooked chicken breast, shredded (I seasoned mine with paprika, salt, pepper & onion powder)

1/2 chopped tomato, chopped

1/4 of zucchini, chopped

1/2 green pepper, chopped

1/4 cup of corn

1/2 ball of fresh mozzarella

Bake at 425 for about 10 minutes, until cheese is melted and flatbread is slightly browned/crispy. We ate it with a big salad (compliments of Mrs. Izzo) so we (or at least I) didn’t have to feel quite as guilty about the eating-a-whole-ball-of-mozzarella thing. Absolutely fantastic – mangia!


“Eat the Sauce!!!”

7 Jul

My first time making sauce all by myself! (Alright, so I called my Ma like 34 times, but still.)

How could I start my blog with any other recipe but my Ma’s sauce?? (And title it with any other words than the ones that echo from our kitchen after anyone says that they’re not hungry or not full. Mama don’t play like that.) As in every Italian family, sauce is sacred. It is the symbol of your heritage, your togetherness, and of your grandmother force-feeding you a dozen ravioli when you were two. Since my brothers and I have grown up eating sauce every Sunday, leftover sauce on Monday and then lasagna, baked ziti and chicken parm smothered in whatever was left in the pot the rest of the week, there is no denying that our bodies are not made up of 60 percent sauce, not water.

My mom, who grew up making sauce with my grandma (Mama) and her Aunt Paul and Aunt Libby, always says that there is no definite recipe for sauce – it’s just a little bit of this, a little bit of that and then maybe more a little bit of this. Hers comes out different every time (sometimes sweet, sometimes spicy – but always freakin’ delicious) because besides the base ingredients of onion, garlic, tomato puree, paste and water, there are no measurements. You just have to taste it and see what it needs. As I grew up in the kitchen, making sauce with my Ma, Mama, and Aunt Libby and Aunt Paul, I was the designated taster.

I want to jump in.

Of course, you could follow my Aunt Paul’s advice – talk to the sauce. Ask it what it needs, sing to it when it starts bubbling, stir it with gusto while shakin’ your hips. I know, sounds crazy (I still can’t bring myself to do it… I’m afraid my neighbors will hear me and call the cops) but I’m telling you, her sauce was the BEST. So good that it honestly made you want to sing and dance after every bite. And then after your third plate, curl up on the kitchen floor until it was time for cookies & coffee. Ah, I’m so glad I had no idea what a calorie was in those days!

Of course, I can't make it and NOT splash it all over me. Aprons are highly recommended.

So, here is the sauce “recipe” … my best advice is to add all of the ingredients, and then as you taste, sing and stir, you can add more salt, pepper, sugar, cheese and spices to taste. Mangia!

Sauce Ingredients:

extra virgin olive oil

1 big cooking onion (yellow or white)

5-6 chopped garlic cloves

36 oz. tomato paste

28 oz. tomato puree

Spices – to be added to taste:

basil (fresh or dried – fresh abt. 5 bay leaves, dried abt. 2 tbsp.)

oregano

crushed red pepper

salt & pepper

sugar

onion powder

garlic powder

parsley

cheese (” LOTS OF CHEESE!” – Mama Ro)

Directions:

Heat large saucepan with EVOO (just to coat bottom of pan). Add chopped onion and let sweat out, abt 2-3 minutes. Add chopped garlic. Cook another 2-3 minutes, until onion and garlic are soft (make sure not to burn the garlic).

Add paste and puree. For every can of paste, add 3 cans of water. For every can of puree, add 3/4 can of water. Stir and bring to medium boil. (My ma wants me to add to “stir carefully – if the heat is too high it will splash all over you! Wear an apron/old shirt.” Thanks Ro.) Remove acid with a spoon as it rises to the top. Stir the sauce often, so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of your pan.

Add meatballs (recipe to follow) and/or Italian sausage or spare ribs. after 45 mins-1 hour. Add spices and continue to cook for another hour after adding meat. Continue to taste and add spices, depending on what kind of sauce you want to create. Spicy = more red pepper, sweet = more sugar, not sure (as I usually am) = more everything!

Meatballs:

1 pound lean ground beef  (90 percent lean)

1 pound lean ground pork

2 eggs per each pound of meat

seasoned breadcrumbs (about 3/4 cup for 2 pounds of meat, but you can add more if needed)

salt & pepper

1 T dried mint

1 T dried parsley

1/2 c. chopped onion

1/2 c. of pecorino romano cheese

water as needed

Directions:

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Using your hands, roll mixture into 2 – 3- inch balls. If mixture is too wet, add more breadcrumbs; if it is too dry, add more water.

You can cook the meatballs two ways: on the stove or in the oven. For the stove, brown meatballs in a frying pan coated in EVOO. You can also brown the Italian sausage or spare-ribs here, too. After the meat is browned all over, add to sauce, stir, and cook for an hour.

(For more flavor, you can chop another onion and saute it in the frying pan with more EVOO after the meat is done, then add to sauce.)

If you want to cook meat in the oven, place meatballs/Italian sausage/spare ribs on a large cookie sheet coated with EVOO. Bake meat for 20 minutes at 350 degrees, then add to sauce.

*Side note – my Ma is a freak about meat being cooked all the way through before adding it to the sauce. However, my Aunt Josie, who is one heck of a cook, puts her meatballs in the sauce absolutely raw – no browning. And her sauce, is well, unreal. I prefer to meet my Ma and Aunt Josie in the middle – I only cook my meatballs for about 10-15 mins, then add them to the sauce. You’re going to cook the sauce for at least another hour anyways, so the meat will be fully cooked when it’s time to mangia!

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