Step-by-step spaghetti & meatballs

No one taught me how to cook Italian food. My Italian grandmother died when I was nine, and she was the last great home cook from that side of the family. Over the years, I’ve heard stories of her famous Sunday dinners, an all-day 10-course meal. Pasta was its own course, which boggles my mind. I remember some of her food, especially her stuffed shells, but unfortunately, her recipes didn’t get handed down after she passed.

So I ended up figuring out how to make Marinara sauce on my own. The recipe varies depending on what I have on hand. It’s suited with my favorite flavors, using classic ingredients like tomatoes and garlic, and my own touches, like Worcestershire sauce. Try it out and let me know what you think.

1 ingredients

To begin, I gather my ingredients, as shown above. Four cloves of garlic, a Vidalia onion (I usually use yellow onions but Vidalia was on sale and I couldn’t resist—they’re usually a sweeter onion), can of tomato pasta, four 8-ounce cans of tomato sauce, smoked ground oregano, dried basil, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, a few leftover tomatoes, salt, pepper. Not shown: red wine.

2 garlic

Garlic first. I use a heavy meat cleaver to pound the flavor out of my garlic cloves.

3 smash garlic

Bam! I use my hand to squash it over the side of the knife. Then I cut the onion. I only use about half of the onion because it’s rather large.

4 onions

At medium heat over the stove, I drizzle olive oil and add one tablespoon butter with the chopped onion first. Stir. When fragrant, add garlic. If you add it too soon it will burn.

5 onions tomatoes

I add a handful of chopped tomatoes.

6 onions tomatoes spices

In goes a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, oregano, and basil. Smells so good while it sizzles. Stir it around a bit. I like using a wooden spoon. Optional: add half a cup of red wine. Stir for five minutes.

7 tomato paste

Add 32 ounces of tomato sauce (four 8-ounce cans), one cup of water, and one tablespoon of Better than Boullion. Stir. Then add 8 ounces of tomato paste. Pictured above it the pasta going in last. Switch to low heat, cover, and allow it to simmer.

8 meat

Next up, meatballs. Pictured above is nearly everything you need for meatballs. One pound of ground beef (I prefer 80% lean), 1/2 pound mild Italian sausage, 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 1 tablespoon basil, 1 tablespoon oregano, and 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce. Not pictured: two eggs. Mix this up with your hands and hand form the meatballs. Usually makes about 12 or 13 golf ball sized meatballs.

9 meatballs

Over medium high heat, sear the meatballs.

10 meatballs cooking

Use tongs to flip them around and make sure the edges stay brown.

11 meatball sauce

Add the meatballs in your sauce. Allow meatballs and sauce to simmer on the lowest heat setting for an hour and a half to two hours.

12 spaghetti

Pour your meatballs and sauce over spaghetti, and you’ve got a tasty homemade meal. Be sure to share!

The Red Bird

     Man oh man. I sit at my kitchen table, staring in admiration of my Italian deli purchases from the Good Food Store. Beef pastrami, hard dry salami, provolone. It’s fun to say those words in an exaggerated Italian accent. Pastraaaami, Salaaaami, Provolooonee. Oh Italians.
     What inspired my Italian deli meat purchases? This past weekend I took a trip to the The Red Bird in Missoula and ate a sandwich that made me moan embarrassingly loud in public.

     The wine bar menu is the only menu I’ve ordered off of that place; it’s pretty pricey otherwise. My friends and I dined in the lobby of the Florence building, an unofficial dining area.
     (One of the waiters initially told us we’d have to come into the restaurant for service, but we wanted to play scrabble on a lobby couch so they made an exception.)
     Glancing through the menu, I skipped past the salads section (I’ve started calling all vegetables “rabbit food,” something that always annoyed me back in that dark time when I was a vegetarian) and onto the “Artisan Sandwiches” section. I contemplated getting a cheeseburger but decided that I’ve consumed too many cheeseburgers in the past couple of weeks.
     But alas, my meat craving could not be contained. I was torn between the roast beef sandwich and the Italian sandwich. I told the waiter the Italian sandwich. But then I really wanted beef so I said, “Actually, can I change that to the roast beef?” and he said, “sure, of course, ma’am.” (It is odd to be called ma’am at age twenty-two.) I love good sauces and the roast beef was dipped in Jus so it had to be yummy, right?
     But then I got crazy thinking about how I’ve really overdone it with red meat lately, so as the waiter was walking away from our table after taking all our orders, I said, “WAIT!” and he came back. “Um, I’ll just stick with the Italian… if that’s cool… sorry to change my mind so much.”
     He just smiled and said, “Not a problem, ma’am. I hope it’s alright that it comes with potato salad.”
     To be honest, I detest potato salads. But I had already changed my mind three times and I didn’t want to be more annoying than I already was. So I told him that was fine.
     I am most impatient when waiting for food. We played scrabble but all I thought about was meat.
     Finally, my sandwich came. It was completely worth the wait (which was only about ten minutes; I’m just crazy). The sight of the sandwich took my breath away. It was enormous and beautiful. And most definitely the best sandwich I’ve had in a long time: piles of genoa salami, capacolo, provolone, roasted red peppers, onions marinated in olive oil and vinegar and herbs (oregano perhaps?) on top of fresh Italian bread. Oh my lord, yes.
     It is difficult to keep my manners in the presence of delectable food. I gobbled as much as I could, but could only manage to eat a third of it, which was fine. It made a superb lunch the following day.
     I think what made the sandwich better than most (I’ve tried to recreate it since) was the olive oil, vinegar, and herb mix they drizzle over the sandwich, along with those marinated onions. I’d love to know what exactly they put in that.
     And the potato salad wasn’t too bad. But man, there is just something about potato salad that irks me. Even at a nice restaurant like the Red Bird, potato salad just seems kind cheap. Potatoes, to me, are merely lumps of bland nothing, usually salted on the outside. They don’t soak in flavors the way tofu does. When potatoes are served, it always feels like filler food. (With the exception of tator tots and mashed potatoes with gravy.)
     My friend ordered their Citrus Trifle off the dessert menu, which consists of poppy seed sponge cake, berries, cashew, coconut sherbet, and grapefruit. She allowed me a few bits, and I must say it was absolutely delicious! The mix of textures and flavors made it, particularly the juxtaposition of sponge cake and cashews.
     In spite of the potato salad, I was very satisfied with my ten dollar meal. The Red Bird bar menu gets 4.5 out of 5 stars in my book.
     Now I’m off to make myself a sandwich with my pastraaaaami and salaaaami. Mmm!