Any Kitchen Will Do

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Dad’s Spaghetti Sauce

dads spaghetti sauceYou may not have noticed, but earlier this month I began a greenish/Irish theme, which will lead us up to St Patrick’s Day and beyond. Last year I covered traditional stuff like corned beef and cabbage, colcannon and the less traditional but politically symbolic white chocolate frito popcorn. This year I started with coleslaw, which has green cabbage, followed by some chicken with the green of spinach, then the Dublin Coddle, with a slightly more Irish leaning. I really enjoy St Patrick’s Day. Not only because I am about 87% Irish, or that I have a dual citizenship, or that it is another excuse to drink a little too much, but also because when I was growing up we laughingly called everything my dad made ‘Irish’. Irish popcorn, Irish fajitas, Irish potato salad, Irish steak…you get the idea. The dishes did not necessarily have a historically Irish origin, but because a big Irishman with blue eyes put effort into making it for his loved ones. My dad’s specialties were typically products from the outside charcoal grill. He cooked meat exceptionally well. Whether it was fajitas, steak, chicken or a whole passel of meats in his tower smoker – ribs, ham, turkey, roast – if it used to walk he could cook it, and it tasted great. He was the reason I rarely ever ordered steak in a restaurant until I moved out of the house. Restaurant steak always tasted salty, but not flavorful. I know most of his secrets, and I may share them one day, but today is not the day. Today I share with you his spaghetti sauce. One of his two significant non-grill, non-smoker dishes. In case you were wondering, his other dish was potato salad. Now on with the spaghetti sauce. I have done other tomato-based sauces, but this one is consistent with what he always made. Huge batches filled a big old aluminum pot that simmered on the stove top all day. It smelled heavenly, especially walking into a warm house on a cold, wet Texas day. It smelled like comfort, which is what I often sought on a wet Saturday after playing soccer or doing yard work. When I got older I helped him make it, discovering his penchant for perfectly sized chopped veggies and just the right combination of herbs. Another thing about his sauce – he rarely used fresh ingredients. I don’t consider it a good or bad thing. The sauce was always full of flavor and satisfying. He grew up during the Great Depression, which I think established for him certain habits, including the stockpile of canned and dried goods. You should have seen our pantry when I was growing up – we never failed to have fresh meat, fruit or veggies, but if we didn’t there were always canned. I still love the taste of canned spinach and pineapple – separately, of course. I recognize the canned and dried elements in this recipe. I don’t think you can beat the finished product very easily. I have made a version of this from scratch – fresh tomatoes, fresh herbs…it was good, but you know, after cooking it for so long, I could hardly tell the difference. Maybe it was because I tweaked it until it tasted like Dad’s version, or maybe because after enough cooking the fresh version tastes like the Hunt’s canned version. On top of everything else, I found a great new base to hold the sauce – broccoli slaw. In the past I have used traditional spaghetti pasta, gluten free pasta, spaghetti squash and just chopped sauteed squash. This time I saw some broccoli slaw on sale at the store – it is basically broccoli stems cut julienne and packaged with a bit of carrot and red cabbage. I microwaved it straight from the freezer for five minutes to soften, salted it then set it on a plate and topped it with sauce. The texture worked great – not pasta-y, but definitely a strong texture that worked with the sauce. It is my new favorite to pour things over. I can imagine a decadent cheesiness next time, or maybe some kind of lasagna concoction…

Dad’s Spaghetti Sauce

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small white onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 pound ground beef, 15% fat or less
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
3 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 Tbsp dried parsley leaves
1 ½ Tbsp dried oregano leaves
1 Tbsp dried basil leaves
42-56 ounces Hunt’s brand canned diced or plum tomatoes
6 – 8 ounces tomato paste
1 tsp truvia, or one small pinch of pure stevia
More salt to taste

In a deep stock pot heat to medium high and add olive oil. When oil is hot add onions and garlic, saute until the onion sweats (gets shiny and releases liquid). Add ground beef. Break meat up with a wooden spoon and saute until browning begins, but not until it is completely cooked. Add bell pepper, celery, salt, pepper, parsley, oregano and basil. Stir and cook until vegetables begin to soften. Add tomatoes and stir some more. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours (or more). Sprinkle in sweetener, to bring out the tomato flavor, and stir well. For an additional 30 minutes to an hour simmer with the top tipped so steam escapes. The sauce should thicken noticeably. Turn off heat and cover. Let sit until ready to serve, or cool to room temperature and refrigerate overnight. If you double or triple the recipe there will be plenty to freeze in reasonable portions. Reheat slowly on the stove top. Serve over your preferred base – either al dente pasta, spaghetti squash, or my new favorite, cooked broccoli slaw.

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