It’s finally feeling like January. We’ve had a couple of snow days, the bird bath has frozen over, and the foolish daffodils have reconsidered their early entrée into society. The drafty kitchen is a good place to while away an afternoon, particularly if there is a bubbling vat of spaghetti sauce on the back burner, one that needs a stir every so often. This sauce is my ticket to a creative life – as long as there is sauce I don’t have to think much about dinner.
I tend to worry about details. The more mundane, the more I can make of them at 3:00 in the morning. I lie in the dark, trying not to wake Mr. Sanders with my many anxieties. After balancing the checkbook, and rearranging the living room furniture, I tend to think about dinner menus. Do I need to go to the store? (I don’t know how it is in your neighborhood, but mine is pretty lax about mask wearing, which just throws me over the edge. I had an insurance sales person knock on our door yesterday. She was terrified by Luke the wonder dog doing his job and barking at her from behind closed French doors. I was terrified by her complete lack of awareness, arriving uninvited on my doorstep, maskless, and expecting to come inside.) So you can see that I’d rather not go to the store if I can avoid it. I like the insurance coverage provided by a good supply of homemade spaghetti sauce.
Not that Rao’s marinara sauce doesn’t occupy a prominent space in the pantry, but that is more for emergencies or night of existential despair. There is nothing like a quick chicken parm to warm up a cold Wednesday night. Or if dining alone, and somehow popcorn doesn’t seem like a mature dinner choice, a bowl of ziti covered with a blanket of Rao’s is a good, grown-up meal. With a green salad on the side, of course. (No wine, please, this is January.)
Homemade spaghetti sauce means lots o’meals. Fresh, leftovers for lunch, and derivations: lasagne, real chicken parmesan, Friday night pizza sauce, baked ziti (which all beget more lunch leftovers) provide a host of meal solutions, which is what we are all about here at the Spy Test Kitchens. Cook once, and eat like a nice middle-class family without nearby relatives, for at least a week and a half.
Mr. Sanders chafes at the repetition, but I find it comforting. Sometimes I’ll take pity on him during a spaghetti marathon and send a ham sandwich with him for lunch. But he is missing out on one of the best remembered treats from childhood: leftover spaghetti, slightly burnt in the re-heating process. That’s fine. He doesn’t wake up at night.
The best perk of our spaghetti production is that I will do the shopping, and Mr. Sanders does the cooking. I’ll sit at the kitchen counter and chat amiably, but otherwise, except for putting tomato cans into the recycling bin, I am off the cooking hook. It’s like watching an episode of the Great British Bakeoff, without the editing, or the cute British accents. Mr. Sanders channels his inner Antonio Carlucci, and I get to sleep through the night. https://www.antonio-carluccio.com/antonio-carluccios-ragu-bolognese-recipe/
Mr. Sanders is from the New Jersey school of Italian red sauce cooking that believes in a slow, all-day simmer for the spaghetti sauce. We start these projects before noon on Sunday, and by six or seven that evening the sauce is almost ready. It will be better the next time, after it has had a chance to rest in the vat in the fridge for 18 hours, and then sits on a low burner for all of Monday afternoon. It also helps to have a cooking assistant who works from home.
This is close to Mr. Sanders’ recipe. He browns the meatballs in a frying pan (when I dare make my own Fairfield County version, I bake the meatballs). He uses lots more garlic, and no onion or sugar. https://www.thespruceeats.com/italian-sausage-and-meatball-sauce-for-pasta-3061156
Spaghetti sauce is a visit home, to the before times, when we wish we had paid more attention to how our parents cooked. We are always trying to replicate those tastes and have another visit in the family kitchen. It’s going to be a long winter, so stock up on some cans of tomatoes, and join me at the kitchen counter. Smell that garlic!
There are lots of grandmother-y recipes are out there on the internets. Find one that seems to be what you remember, and make it your own. You’ll sleep better.
“Bubble, bubble, pasta pot,
Boil me some pasta, nice and hot,
I’m hungry and it’s time to sup,
Boil enough pasta to fill me up.”
-Tomie DePaola, Strega Nona