Monday, September 23, 2013

Culinary Adventures: (Almost) Dad's Spaghetti Sauce

Once again, I found myself recreating an old stand-by recipe from my childhood this week.  Something about having a baby has me thinking about the way my parents always did things- everything- and wondering how we'll rank in the Parental Hall of Fame (which I'm convinced is a thing that actually exists, even though nobody else will admit it).

Spaghetti was always a staple in our house when I was growing up, though each cook had his or her own version, and the recipes evolved over time.  There was always difference between Mom's Spaghetti and Dad's Spaghetti, and then Dad changed his recipe drastically when I was in high school and he went on a health kick.  Papaw's Spaghetti was an entirely separate entity altogether- version 1 of Dad's Spaghetti was similar to it but not quite the same, and to this day I'm not really sure what was in Papaw's recipe that made it so distinct.  (His rumbling chuckle at the ruckus a grandbaby was causing?  His incredible patience?  A little extra oregano?)

So today, we're tackling Dad's Spaghetti- more specifically, Dad's Spaghetti Version 2.0.  As with Mom's Potato Salad, I know this isn't an exact recreation and I actually made some purposeful changes to make it a little more "mine".  I'm really happy with the way it turned out- reminiscent of home and sitting around my parents' dinner table, but still something new that will probably become a regular menu item here in the Geek household.

(Almost) Dad's Spaghetti Sauce
Adapted dad

-1Tbsp olive oil
-2 garlic cloves, minced
-1/2 white onion, diced
-1 green bell pepper, diced
-4oz white mushrooms, roughly chopped (I used half an 8oz package of already-sliced mushrooms)
-1lb ground beef
-salt and pepper
-2tsp chili powder
-1/2tsp cinnamon (just go with it)
-1tsp oregano
-1tsp parsley
-1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
-1 14.5oz can diced tomatoes

-Coat a hot pan with olive oil and toss in your bits of garlic.  Just as your kitchen starts to take on a delicious garlic-y aroma (after about a minute, maybe a little longer) add your diced onion.

-Sweat the onions and revel in their fragrance, and as they become translucent, toss in your mushrooms and then your peppers.

-Toss this mixture around in the pan for a few minutes until the mushrooms turn nice and brown, then add your ground beef.  Generously season the meat with salt and pepper and break it up into little bits with your spoon.

-Just as the beef reaches its final stages of browning, sprinkle in all of your spices.  Let everything sit long enough to fill a large pot with water and set it on the stove to come to a boil, then pour in your crushed and diced tomatoes.  Give it all a few big stirs, turn the heat down to low, and put a lid on it.

-Give the flavors time to get to know each other, then like each other, then love each other, then marry.  (This takes the same amount of time as it will take you to add plenty of salt and olive oil to your boiling water, cook your spaghetti noodles, and drain them in a colander.  Spaghetti sauce flavors are romantic fools, you see.)  You can stir it a couple of times, just to check that nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan, but really you should just leave it alone and let it do its thing.

-Serve a heaping ladle full of sauce over a mountain of pasta.  (And yes, that's technically linguine, not spaghetti.  It's what we had in the pantry.  Maybe I should just call this sauce a bolognese?)  Top with shredded sharp cheddar or grated parmesan (or both, if you're into that kind of thing).

Because we always serve this as sauce on top of pasta as opposed to mixing the noodles in with the sauce, we inevitably had more sauce leftover than pasta.  (My family is a bunch of carboholics, what can I say.)  Dad would turn the leftover sauce into chili, so I tried my own version of that, too.  I simply poured my leftovers into a hot dutch oven, added a (drained) can of kidney beans, a little extra chili powder, and a box of orzo pasta, stirred it up real nice, put the lid on, and let it simmer for 10 or so minutes.  (I think next time I'll add a bit of chicken stock, too, since the little orzo noodles were still a bit under-cooked.)  I like shredded cheddar and a dollop of sour cream on my chili; Mr. Geek likes shredded cheddar, Fritos, and mustard on his.  Weirdo. 

What sorts of dishes were staples on your childhood dinner table?  What's in your spaghetti sauce recipe?

Much love,
The Geeks

*all photos personal*

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