Thursday, May 28, 2009


Awhile ago when I originally created my blogs I thought it would be humorous to list my occupation as "Spaghetti Bender" under my personal profile. Growing up that term was often a benign euphemism for a person of Italian descent. There were other references not quite complimentary, and many other cultural groups had their own as well. I'd like to believe that prejudice has come along way towards increased tolerance and understanding but there are times when I am disappointed by the ignorance that still prevails at times somewhat unexpectedly.

Not everyone whose last name ends in a vowel or has an Italian sounding last name is associated with organized crime. The HBO series the Sopranos, which I enjoyed viewing very much had the unfortunate effect of causing a setback in the way people view Italians .Some of the stereotypes were actually quite damaging. (Not all of us have antisocial tendencies.) One thing the show did highlight is how much Italians love their pasta. Tomato sauce and meatballs made by simmering the tomatoes all day long is truly a labor of love and patience. You cannot hurry the sauce.

There are many variations of the recipe, probably each family does it a bit different. My aunt used to make the meatballs and submerge them in the sauce without browning them first.My mother always slowly browned her meatballs first before adding them to the sauce and used to like to add a few pieces of pork or veal to sweeten the taste of the sauce.

The family story about my mother being taught to cook Italian food was often referred to with humor. When my parents started dating back in the 1930's it was somewhat of a scandal for an Irish girl to "go with" an Italian. Her father disapproved and wasn't too pleased. When my parents married it was necessary for my mother to receive cooking lessons from my Italian grandmother so that she could cook properly for my father. Keep in mind this was a different generation than today. She turned into a fantastic cook and I'd like to think I gained some of that talent from being around her growing up in her kitchen.

One of the important learning experiences growing up in a spaghetti eating family involved teaching the young child to twirl their pasta. Although this was usually approached with casual humor and encouragement make no mistake about it, you were expected to learn to twirl your spaghetti or face disappointment and ostracism. The earlier a child learned to do this allowed the parent's bragging rights in the family similar to how parents brag about their little ones learning to take their first steps. Very serious business and a point of pride especially with my father.

If you are naturally right handed the fork is placed between the crook of the thumb and index finger and a soup size spoon is held up midway with the left hand. Does this sound over specific, yes, but form is important. The spoon should be held off the plate but not too high. The right index finger and thumb are gently rotated over the handle of the fork. It is easier to manage if you take a smaller portion of spaghetti to twirl in the spoon rather than a larger amount which inevitably will most likely not stay wound on the spoon. There's nothing worse than to have stray strands flopping over or spraying sauce about trying to pile it into your mouth. It should look delicate and effortless. All of this takes dexterity, patience and a certain amount of practice.

If you expect to eat with Italian people at their table you better know how to twirl because believe me, secretly you are being evaluated whether you will be a good match for their child. My poor husband had to be warned before he sat down to our table to practice his twirling or my father might be unimpressed if he started to slurp wild strands of spaghetti into his mouth or heaven for bid cut the pasta in half which my father had always pronounced "the lazy way". If all this sounds a slight bit unreasonable try to put it in the context of good manners. I imagine Asian people might feel the same way about chopsticks but I've never asked them.Our daughters had to go through their own initiation when boyfriends were invited for dinner and if spaghetti was likely to be served to be warned they better twirl their spaghetti.

Celeste's Spaghetti Sauce Recipe: 2 0r 3 lg. cans of tomato sauce and 2-3 small cans of tomato paste combined in a large sauce pot. Add spices including; 1 bay leaf, 1 tsp. Italian seasoning. 2-3 small cloves of garlic, a few shakes (1/4 tsp.) Tabasco, 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, 1/2 pepper, 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, 1/4 tsp.onion salt, pinch of thyme and or Rosemary. Simmer on low heat at a very gentle bubble, stir often, keep cover on while simmering. If thick sauce is preferred add extra sm. can of tomato paste, for thinner sauce add 1/4 cup of water (which can be increased if the sauce loses too much moisture while simmering). 6 hours
While the sauce is simmering it's "tima to maka the meatballs":
2-3lbs of ground beef (not too lean), add spices including 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, 1/2 tsp. black pepper, 1/4 or 1/2 tsp.crushed red pepper flakes (depending on how hot you like meatballs), 2/3 cup (approx.) Italian flavored bread crumbs, 2 eggs, 2 tbsp.water, 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning. 1/2 tsp. onion salt, 1/4 tsp. garlic seasoning. Mix ingredients gently together, don't be afraid to use your hands.
Wet hands under warm tap water often to keep meatball mixture from sticking to hands. Rotate meatballs in a circular motion in palm of hand until firm, lightly brown in fry pan (spray lightly with cooking oil) on low heat to keep from burning until cooked nearly all the way through. If the meatballs are nearly fully cooked they are more likely to remain firm and not fall apart in the sauce.You may have to experiment a little. Drain cooked meatballs on a layer of paper towels for 5-10 min.before placing them in the sauce. The meatballs need to simmer in the sauce at least 5 hours. Keep cover on sauce pot and gently stir often. You may also add Italian sausage that has been lightly browned either 30 min in oven or in a fry pan on low heat. It's a good idea to drain them a few minutes on a paper towel to get rid of the grease.
Serve with any type of pasta you prefer and remember to twirl your spaghetti!


Anonymous said...

MOM!!! I cannot believe you have posted our secret family recipe for the entire world to read. It's even more sacred than the Bush Family baked beans recipe.

Madame DeFarge said...

I was taught how to twirl pasta by my mother too. I endured much splashing of sauce onto clothes, but I'm now adept at the art. And not even Italian.