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Today is Mother’s Day in the U.S. It’s a day to honor and thank our moms. We try to find a way to say thank you to mom for all she did, does, and will do for us.
I know my mom deserved much more than a gift once a year for all she did for my siblings and me. To say that we were brats is like saying the ash cloud from Iceland’s volcano was a puff of smoke. She had to intervene on spaghetti throwing battles, fist-fights over ping-pong games, daily arguments over the TV, a clash over who got to play with the inflatable Santa Claus (yes, my mom took her anger out on poor Santa, jumping up and down on him, deflating him and leaving us searching for something else to fight about). We would run away from her when she disciplined us. I remember climbing the tree because she couldn’t climb it. To no avail, she squirted me with water to bring me down. Instead I stayed in the tree, dripping wet, and lauging. The list is as infinite as her patience with us was. She deserved an entire year dedicated to her just for our childhood years. There should be a Mother's Decade to honor her for our teenage years.
My mom passed away almost 7 years ago, so Mother's Day is now a celebration of memories instead of the giving of gifts. My greatest memories are of my mom cooking. We had a home-cooked dinner every day. She preferred baking, but only did that for special occasions, like Christmas cookies and birthdays. For our birthdays, the birthday girl/boy would get to pick the dessert. For mine, I always chose a chocolate cake with chocolate pudding in between each layer, whipped cream icing and chocolate shavings. One of my friends, who remembers this from my birthday parties, requests this cake from me over any of the French pastries I now make. Mom started me on the food lover's odyssey long ago. She didn't chase me out of the kitchen and instead, let me watch, learn and eventually help bring joy to others through her cooking.
I still get requests for her chocolate cream pie, assortment of Christmas cookies, cream puffs, ravioli, spiedini, meatballs and more. One of the most popular requests, though, is for one of the easiest things–her "spaghetti sauce." Spaghetti and homemade meat sauce was a weekly dish in our house. "Store-bought ragu” and “Boyardee” could have been Chinese words they were so foreign to me. She would slow cook the sauce all day long, making extra because we snacked on it throughout the day, digging out spoonfuls and pouring it on chunks of bread.
When I tell someone how to make it, they don't believe that it's her "secret" recipe. The secret is that there is no recipe. She would throw the items together, eyeballing whether it needed more meat, more tomatoes, more liquid (she didn't use stock). When I'd give them the recipe, I'd say 1-2 cans of this, about 2-3 cups of that, etc.
Today, in honor of my mom I’m giving you her recipe. This is the first time it has been written down and captured into specific quantities—well, more or less–with just a few adjustments (stock instead of water). Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!
What food or dish reminds you of your mom and her cooking?
Mamma’s Meat Ragu
(makes about 1 quart)
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
About 1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, diced
1/2 carrot, finely diced
7 cloves of garlic, finely diced
1 can (15 oz/170 g) diced tomatoes
1 small can (6 oz/415 g) tomato paste
2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning (oregano, parsley, basil)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup (105 ml) red wine
1 large can (28oz/794g) crushed tomatoes
About 3 cups (625 ml) chicken stock
1 tablespoon salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Brown the ground beef in a saucepot with a heavy bottom. Remove and drain off any excess water; set aside. Heat the olive oil and add the onions. Sweat the onions until they are translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the carrot and cook another 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute. Add the tomato paste, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes if you want a little spice to the sauce. Cook about 1 minute to toast. Turn the heat to high and add the red wine to deglaze, scraping any bits from the bottom. Add the crushed tomatoes, chicken stock, 1 tablespoon of salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then lower to just a simmer. Cook uncovered on simmer for 3-4 hours, stirring about every 30 minutes. (The heat should be so that the sauce bubbles only every few seconds.) Serve with pasta. Buon Appetito!!
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