Teaching Tim Meat Sauce
For the past week, I've been away from this blog, turning my energy to my kid brother, Tim, who's fighting for his life in a Miami hospital.
The situation is very critical and that's all I'm going to say. The reason I even mention him and what my family has been through is to share the link between cooking and the alleviation of sorrow and emotional distress that we all experience to varying degrees throughout our lifetimes.
Right now, while back in town temporarily, cooking is my salve, a healer, a soother, a tranquilizer. On a kitchen stool, I've placed a photo of we two and when time to prepare last night's dinner, I lit a candle by his side. Then I announced out loud that I would be teaching him how to make a proper meat sauce for spaghetti.
Tim is a good cook. Like me, he spent time behind the line in various restaurants and he's been my co-pilot during Thanksgiving meals of years past. The last time I spoke to him he was planning to grill pork chops for supper.
The weather here is about 40 degrees cooler than in Miami, so a hot pot of something to warm the spirits was in order.
"Okay, buddy, first you brown the meat, all by itself," I said. "I like to use a combination -- usually beef and pork -- for more flavor. Just let it go and brown and all you need at the end is some salt and pepper."
Meanwhile, I chopped an onion, a handful of garlic cloves and a small carrot. "This is more or less a mirepoix," I explained, "but I don't like celery in my meat sauce, so I leave it out. I'll be right back. I'm going out back to clip some herbs for the sauce."
I returned from the cold with a few sprigs of oregano and rosemary and placed some rosemary beside him. "Here, take a whiff," I said. "It's calming, good stuff."
I removed the meat from the pot and added a few tablespoons of oil in its place. In went the onions, garlic and carrots and as they softened, they released aromas that filled the room.
"Okay, I'm gonna add some red wine now," I said, "and I want to let it reduce so that the veggies absorb its flavor, which will give the sauce some depth."
I added the herbs to the pot, followed by a few containers of chopped tomatoes. When the sauce came up to a boil, I reduced the heat and returned the meat to the pot, allowing all the ingredients to mingle. "Everything's in the pot," I announced. "I'll give the sauce about an hour to simmer before I boil some spaghetti."
I poured myself a glass of wine and said, "Cheers." With its occasional rumble, the sauce would let me know if the heat needed to be lowered, or maybe it was my kitchen helper calling me to the stove.
Dinner was indeed delicious and it warmed the belly, no doubt, but on this night, a simple bowl of spaghetti and meat sauce was warm like the sun, radiating throughout.
I want to believe Tim now knows how to make meat sauce and maybe he does. Maybe he does.
Does cooking help you get through tough times? Share in the comments area below.
Meat Sauce for Spaghetti
1 Â½ pounds ground meat - a combination of beef, pork and/or veal
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 carrot, peeled and minced
Sprigs of fresh oregano, thyme and/or rosemary
8 ounces red wine of choice (optional)
2 containers of chopped tomatoes (I used Pomi brand, available in boxes)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound spaghetti
Heat a heavy-bottomed pot and add ground meat, allowing it to completely brown, at least five minutes. Add salt and stir. Remove from pot and place in a bowl for later use.
Add oil and heat, then add onions, garlic and carrot, cooking over medium heat, until softened. Add herbs and wine; cook wine until reduced by half. Stir occasionally to minimize sticking. Add tomatoes and stir to combine. Bring sauce up to a boil, then reduce heat, so sauce can cook at a simmer. Return meat to pot and stir to combine. Cover pot and cook for up to one hour; remove herb sprigs and add salt and pepper to taste.
Boil spaghetti and drain when done. In a large bowl, mix pasta with enough sauce to coat, creating a balance between wet and dry. Garnish with grated parmigiano and/or chopped fresh parsley.
Makes at least four servings.
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