Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Italian Home

I have developed a tradition with my father in law - he tells me about a recipe and I don't write it down.

My father in law does not have the recipe written down either. The recipes from his parents' kitchen are more than ingredient list of a cup here, a tablespoon there. They are not intended to taste the same each time you make them. The second generation American, Sicilian and Roman recipes of David's family are more of a feeling than anything else. The names themselves have a taste on the tongue all their own: mannigot (mannicotti), cavadile (cavatelli), riggot (ricotta) and bra'jal (bracciole).

When I listen to my accountant of a father in law, a incredibly precise man with a shirt size measured to 3/4 of an inch and a serious cleanliness streak, talk about 'throwing in a bit' of this or 'adding enough' of that, it makes me smile. I hear the man who desperately loves his children and grandchildren, and who has told precisely one off color joke in front of me in the 10 years I have known him.* His first marriage was to a boisterous, bubbly, Ashkenazic gal, too- my husband's mother, Sharon, of blessed memory. My mother in law, his wife of 13 years, is Western NY and precise like my father-in-law. She has a recipe box that was her grandmother's, and talks about how much it means to her to be cooking recipes that are written on worn, faded cards, written in her grandmother's handwriting. Despite our differences, through this cultural love of food, we have common ground.

Dave says that it throws him off to know that our daughters are only a quarter Italian. 'Italian' is so much of how he identifies himself culturally, and who he sees himself is as a person. We are an Italian Jewish Irish Yekke household - a fruit salad of a melting pot of wholesome American mutts if there ever was one.

So, I made Spaghetti and Meatballs with Challah bread pudding for dessert on Saturday night. It looked and tasted like home.

Kosher Spaghetti and Meatballs
Adapted from Pellingra Family Recipes, with help from America's Test Kitchen

4 slices white sandwich bread
1 cup beef broth
2 egg yolks
2 lbs Ground Sirloin
2 center of palm/ 2 Tbs garlic powder
Oregano, fresh if you have it, dried if you don't - 2+ Tbs fresh, 1 Tbs dried
Parsley, fresh if you have it, dried if you don't - 1/4 cup fresh, 1 Tbs dried
Vegetable Oil

1 baseball sized onion, chopped
1 green pepper (optional)
3 garlic cloves or 'enough' garlic powder, to taste
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
28 oz can diced tomatoes
8 oz can tomato paste
Oregano, dried
Basil, dried
Parsley, dried

Side note: When I asked my father in law if I should use fresh herbs in my cooking, his reply was that you could, but his parents wouldn't have had access to it. Basically, trust yourself, know you might get it wrong, but you've got a long cooking process to taste and concoct and enjoy.

1. Begin to bring to a boil your pot of water for your pasta. In a medium sized mixing bowl, mash together the sandwich bread (sans crust) and the beef broth. Add in remaining meatball ingredients. Mix together. Form into 1 1/2 - 2 inch sized balls.

2. Heat a quarter inch of vegetable oil in a dutch oven or heavy bottomed pan over medium high heat. Fry the meatballs in batches, until browned on all sides. As the meatballs are done, set aside to drain.
These came out a tad too dark in the beginning.
Be careful with your oil temperature,
adjusting time and temperature as needed.

3. When all meatballs are completed, pour off the oil. Return 2 Tbs to the pot, and place over medium heat.

4. Add onions and peppers to pot. Saute until softened, about 5 minutes, making sure to scrape up the brown goodness from the meatballs off the bottom of the pan as you go.

5. Add your spices and garlic to the pan. Stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomato paste to the pan. Stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.

6. Add your crushed and diced tomatoes to the pan. Use to deglaze the pan, scraping off any remaining goodness from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer. Adjust seasoning to taste. Add meatballs to sauce. Cover, and reduce temperature to low.

7. Cook your pasta according to the directions on the pot. Can you watch it and throw it against the wall and do it by taste to test if it's done? Of course! Wouldn't you rather worry about something else for the 10 or so minutes it will take to cook? Of course you would. Reserve 1 cup of your pasta water.

8. Toss your cooked pasta with a bit of the sauce. Put 1 cup or so of the pasta water into your sauce to loosen it. Serve. Share and enjoy.

Challah Amaretto Bread Pudding

Leftover challah or about 3/4 to 1 loaf, cut into 1 inch squares
4 eggs
1 yolk
4 cups milk, 2% or higher
3/4 cup sugar
3-4 Tbs amaretto

1. Earlier in the day, set your cubed bread out in a large bowl, uncovered. Allow to dry out. Alternatively, lightly toast.

2.  Move the rack in your oven to the lower middle position. Preheat your oven to 350. Butter a 9 x 13 pan.

3. Combine eggs, sugar, milk and amaretto. Pour over bread. Combine. Allow to rest for 20 minutes.

4. Pour into pan and place in oven. Cook for 40-50 minutes, until golden brown on top. Remove and allow to set at room temperature for 45 minutes prior to serving. Serve alone, or with whipped cream or ice cream of choice.

*"There are 4 bra sizes in Italy: A, B, C and Maron (Madonna)!"

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