Monday, December 27, 2010

The Truth About Spaghetti Sauce

I'm a different person today than I was in high school. See, I grew up thinking spinach and asparagus were gross. Nowadays, spinach and asparagus are 2 of my favorite veggies (don't worry Brussels sprouts, you're still #1 in my heart). You see, it turns out that I just didn't like the way my Ma "cooked" spinach and asparagus. I put quotes around cooked because the spinach came out of a can, and I didn't know asparagus could be anything but steamed (sorry to throw you under the bus Ma). While I avoided her spinach, asparagus, and meatloaf (That still stands, across the board. Not just Ma's. Blech. Its meat. Shaped like bread. Something's wrong with that.), there are many many things I loved that we ate when I was a child. Specifically, I was so excited when I'd come home and smell spaghetti sauce simmering away on the stove. To this day, I still picture my Ma's bright orange colander and white pasta bowl (with a chip out of the rim) filled with spaghetti whenever I make my own sauce.

The way I remember it, my mom tried to make spaghetti sauce for my dad soon after they got married. My dad, in a much more polite way than I ever would have expected, asked my mom if she would mind if he asked his mom what she put in her spaghetti sauce. Either I remember it incorrectly or I just stopped listening at this point. What I grew up believing, and telling people when they looked at me crazy because even as a college student in an apartment, I refused to buy bottled spaghetti sauce. I made my own, and proudly told people the story of the Micheli spaghetti sauce:

My mom isn't Italian and neither was my Granny. My dad's dad however, was the first of his parents' children to be born in the US. His parents emigrated from Italy with only the clothes on their back and a scrap of paper with the secret spaghetti sauce recipe. Ok, maybe that's not exactly how they arrived in America, but regardless, Nonna came with her technique and was poised to pass it to future Michelis. Or so I thought. 

I must admit: I don't remember my Granny's sauce. I remember making ravioli with her from as scratch as scratch gets. I remember being able to stomach maybe 2 of them drenched in sauce and being stuffed and happy for hours. So I grew up trying to perfect the sauce that I thought my dad's Nonna had taught my dad's mom, who had taught my mom, who taught me. Within the last 2 or so years, I felt good about my sauce. I was getting pretty close to Ma's! Yes! Go me! And then the bomb dropped. 

My mom chose the day of our hair trial 6 weeks before my wedding to crush me. My stylist was asking for a good recipe for spaghetti sauce when Ma chimes in with her recipe. I don't know how she said it (I think my conscience is trying to block it out) but it surfaced that what I thought was the "Micheli sauce recipe" is in fact a recipe that my Ma pulled out of a cookbook! Not my Granny, not my dad's Nonna. My Ma. Within the last 35 years or so. I was crushed. Think of all those people I shadily denied fantastic spaghetti sauce because I didn't want to give them the whole recipe, thinking I was guarding a secret. (To you, I apologize) So today, I present to the world, my favorite sauce. If its published, it's for the world to have. To savor. To love. 

I had the ingredients on hand, and what better smell to have in our house on a cold snowy day than homemade spaghetti sauce?? The only effort I really needed to put forth was to chop an onion and open 3 cans. 
I made a double recipe, but really, all you need is a few tablespoons of olive oil, 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, a small onion, 1 little can of tomato sauce, 1 can of tomato soup, 1 can of whole tomatoes, 2 cups of chicken broth (my mom uses water and boullion cubes, and I've never done it but I'm sure you can use vegetable broth to keep this vegetarian) salt, pepper, and fresh or dried basil.

I'm notorious for burning garlic, so I start with a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil in my big cast iron soup pot, over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmery, I put in my chopped onion. When that starts smelling yummy and starts looking translucent, I add the pressed garlic. I let that cook a few minutes while I open all my cans. The first thing I add is the can of tomatoes. San Marzano tomatoes were on sale about a year ago, so I bought them. I'll never use anything else!
Before I add the soup and the sauce, I chop up the tomatoes with my handy dandy Mix 'N Chop. Yeah, they squirt a bit, but the clean up is totally worth the taste. Something about diced tomatoes just doesn't work.

Then I add the soup, sauce, chicken broth and basil. Stir it all together and bring it to a boil. As soon as it boils, put the heat on low and let it simmer away. Each time you get off the couch to refill your wine glass or hit the bathroom, give the sauce a stir, scraping up anything that may be sticking to the bottom of the pot. 

The sauce can really be ready whenever you are ready to eat. You can brown ground beef in a skillet and add some sauce to make a meat sauce. Add some shredded chicken to make my Ma's version of meat sauce (I guess the cookbook suggested that. Silly me thinking it was a Micheli tradition). Today's batch sat on the stove for about 4 hours and cooked down to this rich red color:
I was making another of our favorites for dinner, so we didn't actually eat this today, but it will be ready for us whenever we're ready for it!

Of note, I did compete in an Iron Chef-style battle with this sauce. I lost, but I maintain the stance that the judging categories failed to concentrate on the featured ingredient-the sauce. Well, that and my dear sweet hubby and his cousin hated my meatballs and caused me to lose. Of note #2: I don't suggest adding meatballs to the sauce in this post because Michelis don't make meatballs. That, I know, is a family tradition.

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