My friend Andrew has a website about parks and forests. Here are some maps of places, including nearby Allegheny National Forest.
In Maria's kitchen, there was always sauce in the cupboard. She was my first teacher, and I was her dutiful laborer. I learned out of necessity because we were poor. But poverty, she taught me, is only an economic condition.
The recipe that I share with you is a rich, meat sauce. Many times, my mother would use the cheapest cut of meat or bones, whatever she could afford.
Sundays, the day when we usually made sauce, was a day of celebration. My mother and I, who began cooking early in the morning, would have the sauce ready to be served when our family arrived, typically around 1 or 2 PM. Our typical Sunday dinner began with a soup. Then, we would have pasta (rigatoni, manicotti, or gnocchi), followed by a meat course, which was usually the meat from the sauce, and a couple of side dishes, like escarole, roasted potatoes, roasted red peppers, or whatever was in season. And finally, my mother would serve a salad. Desert was usually fresh fruit.
Naturally, thirsty throats accompanied their meals with glasses of my father's homemade wine.
After dinner, we would talk, laugh, scream, and watch sports, to which we would either cheer or boo. Throughout the day, friends would come over. We would eat again and drink a few more glasses of wine.
I guess I am nostalgic, but that one day I saw life going forward. We celebrated our survival as individuals, as a family, and as a community.
People I talk to these days still remember those days fondly. Sundays at the Masci's with Maria's sauce.
MEAT SAUCE - Ingredients for 40 qts of sauce
- 2 Green peppers
- 2 Medium onions
- 4 oz of garlic
- 14 oz extra virgin olive oil
- 14 oz Pomace olive oil
- 6 oz of basil
- 3 lbs of pecorino romano cheese
- 3 #10 cans of tomato paste
- 3 #10 cans of San Marzano whole peeled pear tomoatoes in basil (crush by hand, removing all stems)
- 2 packs of lamb
- salt and pepper
- In a 40 quart pot, add olive oil and meat, Brown by turning all sides for about 40 minutes. Take out meat and put aside. Add chopped peppers, onions, garlic, and basil. Sizzle until translucent.
- Add tomato paste.
- Add crushed, stem-free San Mar. tomatoes.
- Add enough water to fill just below top of pot.
- Put meat back in the sauce.
- Add three big handfuls of salt.
- Add one big handful of pepper.
- Cook approximately four hours. Lower flame, add romano cheese for the last 45 minutes.
- 10 lbs of Hatfield hot rope sausage
- Roughly chop 5 green peppers and 8 onions
- Cook sausage in a roasting pan with 1 inch of water covered with aluminum foil in oven for 45 minutes at 500 degrees.
- Cut sausage in 2 inch or 4 inch pieces (your preference)
- Add approx. 2 quarts of meat sauce or plum sauce. Mix and put back in oven. Cover with aluminum foil for 60 to 75 minutes at 500 degrees. Take out, mix, and serve.
If you have never taken the time to look at the ingredients in that jar of pasta sauce you buy every week in the grocery store, you may be surprised to find out that it contains a great deal of sugar. And that’s the reason you like it.
Serving a spaghetti dinner with Ragu or Prego (the Coke and Pepsi of the sauce world) is the equivalent of buying your family McDonald’s – they put sugar on everything, even the salads. I think that’s the reason people keep going back for more – they can’t control their overwhelming desire for sugar. Almost all commercial sauces contain too much sugar and sodium, and that’s not to mention the nasty chemicals.
Next time you’re at the store, why don’t you try finding a jar of sauce that doesn’t have any sugar? The tomatoes really have plenty of sugar to them without needing to add sucrose. And if you are feeling adventurous, you can make your own sauce and likely find high praise from friends and family. Here’s a quick recipe for a quart of pasta sauce:
- 2 oz. olive oil
- 1/3 of an onion
- ½ of a green pepper
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 oz. fresh basil (or about 1/3 oz. dry sweet basil)
- 24 oz. crushed tomatoes
- 5 oz. tomato paste
- 2 oz. Romano cheese
- salt and pepper (3 to 1 ratio, to taste)
- Chop up the vegetables finely.
- Sauté veggies in olive oil until the onions begin to turn translucent.
- Add the tomatoes and paste and brine to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 30 minutes.
- Add the Romano cheese and cook and stir for about 10 minutes.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
Fresh, natural food makes people strong. The childhood obesity epidemic, adult diabetes, and spiraling healthcare costs are a direct result of people not eating well. America has been feeding on a diet of cardboard-boxed, processed foods of low quality, and we are paying the price. We feast on hormone-filled produce and steroid cultured meat of extremely questionable value. And we wonder why we don’t enjoy eating anymore.
I think it’s partly a result of America’s values of thrift and efficiency, values carried to an extreme, and encouraged by the marketing machinery of corporate food companies. In some ways, America has produced bountiful and varied foods, and created a lot of convenience. But we’d be better off if the pendulum swung back the other way a bit, and we decided to make good food part of our lives again.
Some Practical Advice – Use Your Freezer
Our acceptance of unhealthy and tasteless food is partly societal forces, and partly ignorance. People mistakenly think it’s hard or expensive to cook good, fresh food for their families. But anyone can. It is simply a matter of taking advantage of scale.
Make fresh food, but make lots of it and freeze it. You can make many quarts of fresh soups and sauces, and freeze it (or jar it) in dinner size portions. You can do the same thing with meatballs and avoid buying frozen (non)chicken tenders by battering and freezing your own. There arte numerous examples where this works.
Making 10 quarts of sauce takes about as much time as one quart, and the ingredients are cheaper. Take advantage of that secret that restaurants exploit everyday - cooking at scale is easier, saves money, and helps avoid unhealthy processed foods.
My freezer commonly contains lemon wine, minestrone, pasta sauce, chicken, basil, etc. Freezing and refrigeration is a beautiful thing, and you should be taking advantage of it. If you don’t think so, just read the ingredients on the next processed dinner you buy at the supermarket.
Shopping is Fun – Just The Supermarket is Hell
You’ll also be surprised to find that life is cheaper and more pleasant if you spend your time at the deli, butcher, and produce market, instead of the supermarket with its endless shelves of cardboard boxes. Supermarkets rarely have the best prices on goods, charging you a steep commission for the convenience of one-stop shopping.
Pittsburgh is a wonderland for foodies. A jaunt down to the strip, and you can get strictly superior foods for strictly superior prices. You might try Wholey’s for meats or Penn Mac for an array of great Italian imports. You can also buy Amish goods locally for great dairy, and even get honey from local beekeepers.
Anywhere you live, life is more enjoyable and healthy if you buy fresh local produce and dairy, and seek out the family shops and regional institutions that care more about food and family than dollars and cents. If you want to be creative, try having a little garden and grow vegetables and herbs of your own.
It’s About Family
In the end, eating well is the best thing you can do to grow a strong family. Beyond just nutrition, eating and cooking together is a basic act of humanity that brings families together. If you haven’t cooked a meal or sat down with your family to a feast of fresh meats and vegetables recently, time to get your priorities straight.
Crab cakes are always a popular item on my catering menu. The trick to good crab cakes is to go heavy on the crab and easy on everything else. The spices you add to the dish are just for accent, and the bread is just for texture. Here's how I do it. Try this recipe just like this, and then fiddle with the spices to your liking:
- 1 can jumbo lump crabmeat (16 oz.)
- 2 eggs
- 2 tbsp. dry parsley
- 1 tbsp. dry sweet basil
- 1 pinch salt and pepper
- 1 tsp. of garlic powder
- 1 tsp. fennel powder
- 4 tbsp. unseasoned bread crumbs
- 1 pinch paprika
Combine all ingredients and FOLD until it comes together. Avoid breaking up the lumps of crab.
If the mixture is too wet, add small amounts of bread crumbs until the right consistency is achieved. The mix should not be mush, it should be gently mortared pieces of of crab. Shape into hockey pucks. This recipe produces four 5 oz. or eight 3 oz. cakes.
Put the cakes in a baking dish lightly coated with extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle them with a bit of paprika. Bake 10-12 min. in a pre-heated oven at 450 degrees.
Serve with fresh lemon wedges or bechamel.
- 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 12 oz. heavvy cream
- 8 oz. of pecorino romano
- 1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg
A picture will follow. Enjoy!!
One of the most popular dishes on most Italian menus is Chicken Romano. This is really quite a simple dish to make, but also very flavorful. Chicken Romano is lightly battered breasts, finished with lemon, wine, and mushrooms.
You start by trimming and filleting some chicken breasts. If you want them to be very tender, it’s also good to pound the chicken with a mallet (put a piece of doubled plastic wrap over the chicken when pounding.
The batter for Chicken Romano consists of eggs, Romano cheese, parsley, and a dash of salt, pepper, and garlic power. You’ll also want to chop up some mushrooms, or just clean them.
To prepare the dish, put some flour in a bowl and heat a skillet with a generous amount of olive oil. Coat each chicken breast in flour, and then batter, and place in the warm oil. Brown both sides.
Next, add some butter, mushrooms, white wine, lemon juice, and cover. If you keep a nice seal, cooking it longer will only make the dish more tender, to an extent. However, after they have been properly browned, they would be ready to eat after minutes of cooking in the wine. They are very thin after having been filleted.
If you are cooking for many people and can’t fit all the chicken in a skillet, you can brown all the pieces, and then finish them off in the oven with the wine, etc.
While I won’t give a precise recipe, since that’s the fun of cooking, if you are cooking for a family of five you’ll need:
* Five chicken breasts to be filleted
* Half a dozen eggs
* A quarter pound of Romano cheese
* White wine (use cheap stuff)
* Some olive oil, salt, pepper, flour, garlic powder, lemon, and parsley.
You might serve this with a nice salad and a side of zucchini or fresh green beans. You could also serve bread or pasta. You can find this dish at Abruzzi's.
A Final Note: Lemon Wine
While I just suggest lemon and wine above, you can also make lemon wine. Lemon wine is reduction of chicken fat, lemon, water, and wine, easily stored in the freezer. I will go into the details on lemon wine next time.
Many people miss one of the critical steps in serving nice eggplant. Before cooking eggplant, you should cut it into slices and soak it in salt water for a few hours, if not overnight, in your refrigerator.
This take much of the bitterness out of eggplant, and makes it more tender. This is a good trick known by any chef worthy of their title.
In recent years though, I have tended towards the smaller Chinese eggplant. I think they are just superior in taste and texture to normal eggplant, and don’t need soaking a all.