We celebrate St. Joseph’s Day, March 19, in our family. St. Joseph is the patron saint of Sicily, home to my mother’s relatives. He’s credited with saving Sicily’s residents during a devastating drought when locals prayed to him for spring rain to save their crops.
Growing up, our local Catholic church members set out St. Joseph’s Day tables in the community room. A statue of St. Joseph loomed over tables brimming with pasta casseroles, homemade breads, long-cooked vegetables, oranges and dry, anise-flavored cookies. All meatless, as the holiday falls during the Lenten season.
The feast day also falls on our mother’s birthday. A fine cook, she relished the opportunity to cook up a kettle of “spaghetti” sauce. Her smooth sauce was rich with tomato paste, seasoned with a hint of allspice, dried oregano and basil and sweetened with carrot and sugar.
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This year, we’ll honor my mother’s tradition by simmering up her “spaghetti sauce” with meatballs and sausage. With some alterations, of course, such as less tomato paste, less fat and less cook time.
Mom’s meatballs featured beef or beef and veal. Ground turkey or chicken make lighter fare, as does subbing in Italian-style chicken sausages for the pork links of her preference. A shower of fresh basil over everything is always welcome. Same for a sprinkling of golden toasted breadcrumbs (to resemble sawdust from St. Joseph’s carpentry work).
Serve the pasta dish with cooked artichokes or a large green salad and a red wine vinaigrette. A feast day indeed.
Mom’s Spaghetti Sauce with Sausage and Meatballs
Makes 6 servings
Note: Look for canned tomatoes without citric acid or calcium chloride for the freshest, brightest tomato flavor.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 small each, finely chopped: celery rib, trimmed carrot
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 can (28 ounces) crushed Italian-style tomatoes
1 can (14 ounces) whole or crushed Italian-style tomatoes
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon each: salt, dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon each: freshly ground pepper, ground allspice
1 pound ground turkey or chicken
1/2 cup panko or coarse dry bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 links (total 12 ounces) Italian-style chicken sausage
1 pound spaghetti noodles
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil or 1 tablespoon dried
Toasted bread crumbs, see recipe
Fresh basil, for garnish
Freshly grated parmesan for serving
1. For sauce, heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, celery and carrot. Cook and stir until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, oregano, pepper and allspice. Heat to a boil, then simmer (use a splatter guard) until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups water and simmer uncovered over low heat, stirring often, about 30 minutes. Sauce can be made several days in advance and refrigerated.
2. For meatballs, put turkey, bread crumbs, egg, 2 tablespoons basil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes into a bowl. Use clean hands to lightly mix everything together. Shape into 1 1/2 inch diameter balls (about 15) and set on a plate in a single layer. Refrigerate covered at least 15 minutes.
3. Heat a large nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium heat until hot. Add a film of vegetable oil and then the meatballs in a single, uncrowded layer. Cook, turning occasionally, until golden brown on all sides, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove to a plate. Cut the sausages into thirds and add to the meatball pan juices. Cook, turning often, until browned, about 5 minutes.
4. Heat sauce to a simmer. Add browned meatballs and sausage to the sauce. Simmer all together until meatballs are cooked through, about 15 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, heat a large kettle of salted water to boil. Add spaghetti and cook, stirring often, until al dente (nearly tender to the bite), about 10 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid, then drain the spaghetti. Return spaghetti to the pan to keep warm. Moisten with drizzles of the reserved cooking liquid if needed.
6. Stir 1/2 cup basil into the sauce mixture. Pile a portion of the spaghetti onto warm serving plates. Top with sauce, meatballs and sausage. Garnish with toasted bread crumbs and basil. Pass the cheese.
Toasted bread crumbs: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil or butter in a medium-sized nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add 1/2 cup panko or coarse dry bread crumbs. Cook, stirring constantly, until golden. Remove from heat and transfer to a plate. Stir in 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh or dried parsley. Cool.
(JeanMarie Brownson is a James Beard Award-winning author and the recipient of the IACP Cookbook Award for her latest cookbook, “Dinner at Home.” JeanMarie, a chef and authority on home cooking, Mexican cooking and specialty food, is one of the founding partners of Frontera Foods. She co-authored three cookbooks with chef Rick Bayless, including “Mexico: One Plate at a Time.” JeanMarie has enjoyed developing recipes and writing about food, travel and dining for more than four decades.)
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