Sunday, 29 September 2013

Looee’s Spaghetti and Meat Sauce

Okay, this is my second Italian pasta recipe in my Indian Cuisine blog.  This recipe is posted here only because it’s delicious, although I have tenuously connected it to India, with three weak spaghetti strands, so bear with me and just cook this dish.  You’ll love it.  We don't need to stick to just one country, do we?

Flavours here are powerful, Greek Oregano, sun-dried tomatoes, Hot Italian Sausage with bits of fennel, fresh ground Romano and Parmesan…  This takes at least two hours, but this dish is rich and satisfying.  You can omit the meat if you like, but be sure to add extra cheese.

Picking up the ingredients at an Italian import grocery store is a great idea if you can pull it off.  Otherwise you’ll have to make do with home grown substitutions, which will still make for a nice meal, as long as you find real cheese and grate it.  Avoid the queer powders sold in those cardboard cans!

Pick up your first tenuous strand of spaghetti to link this recipe to Indian cuisine:  I often post recipes that we make for my book club, and this time around, it was for the novel A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam.  The main character, Looee, is a chimpanzee who has been raised from infancy in an American family home, where he develops a fondness for spaghetti with meat sauce.  Various characters serve him ‘Vesuvius-mounds’ of it.  Because we like to pair our novels with food and drink, I felt obliged to serve this recipe and another I’ll mention later.  This is a sad book about a happy chimpanzee who becomes very sad, and other chimpanzees who live under horrifying circumstances in a research facility in Florida.  I loved this book.  I adored every word, image and theme.  

The ladies in my book club—not so much.  Here comes that first spaghetti strand: one of the ladies (who has an excellent sense of humour) announced that in her opinion the novel’s greatest flaw was that the chimps didn't go to India.  She pointed out that my last two or three book choices were set in India, and that since I love to share Indian books so I can cook Indian cuisine, she expected the chimps would somehow go.  So, Colin McAdam, if you’re reading this, please write the sequel:  Looee, Mr. Ghoul and Mamma go to India.

The second weak spaghetti strand will be woven into the ingredients and directions.

2 tablespoons oil from sun-dried tomatoes (available in jars in many grocery stores)
1 large red onion, diced
6 sun-dried tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons oregano, Greek if possible
20 grates fresh black pepper
10 to 15 mushrooms, sliced
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and diced

2 pounds lean ground beef (perhaps a bit more tomato oil)
3 Hot Italian Sausages (I used Spolumbo's, the best in Canada!)

3 big cans (28 fl. oz.) stewed tomatoes (Scarpone's) with extra water for rinsing cans
10 leaves Kale, leaves removed from ribs, and torn into small pieces 

chunks of Parmesan and Romano Cheese, grated

huge pot of boiling salted water
good quality pasta

Because I was making approximately twenty servings, my pics show vast amounts, Vesuvius-mounds actually, but this recipe is for one nice big pot of spaghetti, serving about six people.

Pour oil into a very large saucepan.  Turn the heat on medium high and add the onions, letting them caramelize a bit.  Add the sun-dried tomatoes (and the oily bits still clinging to them.)  Here we have the second strand of spaghetti to tenuously link this recipe to India.  Pour the oregano into your hand, and rub it vigorously over the pot.  The rubbing action releases the first of the oregano oils.  More are released as it fries like a masala in the oils.  (Ah  -- the second strand.)

I like to buy Greek oregano still on its branches, but any good oregano will do.  Please note that good oregano does not come in little glass bottles, but in large pouches at Italian import stores!  If you can’t get the good stuff, rub especially vigorously.  Add the black pepper at this point, so it too can fry like a masala should fry, but just for a couple of minutes.

Add the mushroom slices and continue frying.  You want all to be golden and gorgeous. As they’re nearly done, add the garlic, but watch carefully so it doesn’t darken.  

Be sure mushrooms are nicely golden!
You may need to add some water at this point to be sure the garlic can’t brown and that the other items stay moist.

Meanwhile, as the mushrooms are cooking, in a separate large frying pan, cook the ground beef.  Break it into small pieces, being sure there’s lots of room in the pan for this to brown.  If it seems to steam instead, remove much of it, and cook smaller amounts at a time.  This must get golden and crispy here and there.  It can go into the onion and sun-dried tomato mix as soon as it's golden. 

As soon as the beef is all browned, begin in the same pan on the sausages.  Before they get heated through, poke each sausage all over with a fork so that the extra oils are released and the sausages don’t get too swollen.  The sausages need only be browned at this point.  Set them on a cutting board to cool.

Um, I should admit that Looee and the other chimps felt guilty about eating meat too.  Like I said, you can skip the meat if you like.

I had 2 1/2 pots of this sauce simmering.
As the ground beef is browned, add it to the sun-dried tomato and onion mixture. Wash your hands and rinse them clean of soap.  Open the cans of tomatoes, and with your hand like a big sieve over each can, pour in the juice and with your fingers deep in the can, pummel each tomato before it slips into the pot.  You want to roughly break them up, and this is a pretty sensuous way to do that.   Rinse the cans out with a bit of water and add that to the pot as well.  Waste not want not… 

Once the sausages have cooled enough to be handled, slice them into ¼ inch thick rounds.  Add to the sauce.  Kale takes a while to cook, so you can add it now and let simmer for at least an hour, or add it toward the last twenty minutes if you want it to remain a fresh dark green.  

A tomato sauce like this is done when the oils start to separate.  I reduced my sauce till it was quite thick, as I still have the image of the last time we had spaghetti at book club.  

The hostess, pale and trembling, confided to me in her kitchen that her white carpets were never going to be the same after sauce was splashed here and there from tipping plates.  (We eat buffet style.)  I have no carpet, but I do have upholstered furniture I couldn’t bear to have saturated in tomato and meat sauce.  I reduced my sauce till it was unspillible, about two hours. 
Twist the pasta into the water.

A huge pot of well salted water (at least a tablespoon) should go on about 30 minutes before the meal is to be served.  It takes at least fifteen minutes to boil, so once it’s boiling vigorously, add the pasta in a twist, so the strands are separated.  Immediately stir them in with a long handled spoon, so every bit of each strand makes contact with the water at about the same time.  (Otherwise, you’ll get strands that are cooked to different textures.)  

Follow the package directions.  Aim for al dente, because that tastes better, and it’s healthier, lower on the glycemic index, don’t ya know.

Drain the cooked pasta, toss with a bit of the sauce, then top the pasta with the rest of the sauce.  Sprinkle as much cheese over as you like and enjoy.

The third tenuous strand of spaghetti connecting this recipe to India comes with a dessert served with this meal.  Once Looee's life becomes especially horrifying, he hallucinates being in a diner, where he begs the waitress to bring him a strawberry milkshake.  Read all about it in the next posting!

I served this, much reduced, over a very thin vermicelli pasta noodle.  You can use whichever pasta you like best.

Updated Feb 6, 2014

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