Saturday, September 27, 2008

Deciphering Family Recipes - My Mother's Spaghetti

Family recipes really are something of an enigma. They're usually some sort of comfort food, and if you believe food network, they are shrouded in secrecy and passed through the generations, but only through the bloodline. My family recipes are pretty big secrets, but not because they're award winning BBQ rubs or million dollar cookie recipes. They're secret because no one knows the exact recipe. It seems like all of them are done by taste or using some obtuse measurement that only my Grandma knew.

I chronicled my mother making her spaghetti sauce today. It may seem incredibly simplistic but it's something that my family and friends love.

It starts out simple enough, with a big pot and 3 lbs of ground chuck this time.

Next logical step, brown the meat.

While all that meat is browning, you can go ahead and get your vegetables ready. Here's the list for this batch:
-4 small onions
-1/2 a bulb of garlic, about 6 cloves
-5 small bell peppers - 3 green & 2 red
-1 bunch of celery, 5 stalks in this case
Now mix those up in your handy food processor, or if you've got the patience, dice it up by hand. My mother didn't have the patience.

The pot after adding the onions and garlic.

After the bell peppers and celery

My mother was quick to point out that she would add fresh basil and oregano, if she had them. The funny thing was, I had fresh oregano from the store's garden, it just slipped my mind.

Now here is the tricky bit, the dry herbs.

- nature’s seasoning – 3 or 4 tablespoons

-1 ½ tablespoons dried parsley

-2 1/2 – 3 tablespoons Italian seasoning mix

-2- 2 ½ tablespoons dried basil

-2-2 ½ tablespoons of dried oregano

(All McCormick brand, she loves the stuff)

- She would have used red & black pepper mix if she had it,

but used black pepper (2 tablespoons) & 2 ½ or 3 tablespoons of kosher salt instead

- 1 ½ tablespoons of cayenne pepper

half the herbs

All the herbs incoporated

Here's the fun part about trying to record a recipe like this. About half an hour after this picture and the measurements/guesses were taken, my mother told me she added more basil, oregano, and parsley. So go ahead and add an extra half or full tablespoons of those herbs.

You could call the next step lazy, a touch ingenuity, or weird, but my mother uses an existing tomato sauce as a base for his spaghetti sauce. In this instance, the base was 2 jars of Ragu parmigiano reggiano & 2 jars of Ragu sauteed onions & garlic.

And you can't let any of that tomatoey(I don't think that's a word, but I like it anyway) goodness go to waste, so pass a jarful of water between the 4 jars to clean them out and then dump it in with the rest.

Now stir that all together, bring it to a boil, and the kick it down to a nice simmer. Here's the batch after a few hours.

The last and most subjective part is when to take the sauce off the heat. I'd guess this one was simmered for 3-4 hours. When we took it off the heat, it was a little soupy for my tastes, but this batch was being made for our branch managers.

There are several options about the next step. My mother will often freeze the batch in small containers so they can be shipped/carried to my sister. Personally, I get a small bowl full and go to town with it and boast of garlic melba toast. Of course, there's always putting it over spaghetti, but that's such a mundane option.

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