Sunday, April 11, 2010

This little piggy goes to market.

I shop for my groceries with a hand basket. For me metal-shopping carts with their rattles and sticky wheels takes the fun, art and dare I say sexiness out of grocery shopping. One day while pushing a cart so full of food that I was unable to navigate a corner it made me wonder whether I was preparing meals or just eating.  My cart was filled with food but within it nothing that was inspiring or exciting, nothing that made me anxious to get home and put on an apron, turn on some music, pour some wine and get cooking.  It was time to make cooking  fun again.

Recently I was out of town for work with a few of my coworkers and we stopped at a  great Italian Market.  There is something magical about shopping in a market where the food is displayed beautifully and artfully. The shelves were lined with exotic looking cans of tomatoes. Seemingly endless packages of pasta in shapes that I’ve never seen before bearing labels I did not recognize.  Glass cases filled with delicious looking sauces in colors that varied from white to pink to red.  Fragrant sausage and meats, some with names I’ve never heard of nor can pronounce filled the air, blocks of hard cheese, wedges of parmesan and balls of mozzarella had my mouth watering and mind racing as to what I could make and more importantly fit into my already overstuffed car. Hanging baskets of breads and beans, the different varieties of olive oil in shades from yellow to green.  Bouquets of herbs, balls of fresh made pizza dough, fat braids of garlic, long sticks of pepperoni and the sweet delicate cream filled cannoli, had me convinced I had died and gone to heaven.

The sights, smells and sounds instantly made me forget that my heritage says I’m more apt to be making Swedish Meatballs than Spaghetti and Meatballs.  That the dishes my Mother handed down to me say “Var sa God” not  “Cucina Italiana” Never mind that I knew the word Smorgasbord and could use it in a sentence correctly by the time I was in Kindergarten.  Part of the pleasure in eating is from what enters your eyes and ears and this market has me humming  “That’s Amore” within minutes of my arrival.

I selected a quart of Marinara Sauce, I usually make my own but wanted to try some of theirs to see how mine measured up. Some Italian Sausage dotted with fennel and some meatballs. These meatballs were as big as bocce balls,  more than twice the size of the meatballs I grew up eating.  A quart of spaghetti sauce, some mascarpone cheese, by the way , if you’ve never had it, do yourself a favor, quickly get some and combine it with some Nutella which if you’re not familiar is a chocolate hazelnut spread wildly popular in Europe. You can find it near the peanut butter in most grocery stores. Put it on a cracker or a croissant or even your finger, it doesn’t really matter what, it’s better than sex, well maybe not, but it’s really, really really good. Trust me.

I was still shopping when with my arms full and barely able to balance it all when I noticed in a dark corner piled high my old friend the hand basket, these aren’t your ordinary run of the mill hand baskets, these were small wooden bushel baskets, had it not been for the four walls and the ceiling over my head I would have believed I was in an open air market in Tuscany. Not that I’ve ever been to Tuscany, but
it ‘s what I imagine it would be like.  I placed my items in my basket and was able to buy a few more things before it was time to get back. Not a single shopping cart in sight, it would have been as alien to this place as a jar of pickled herring.

Once home I made a pot of spaghetti and meatballs using the things I bought at the market, added a nice salad of mixed greens, some crusty French bread and invited my son and his fiancé over for dinner. It was absolutely delicious.

I read somewhere once that the trouble with eating Italian Food is that five or six days later you’ll be hungry again.  I agree.

   Homemade Spaghetti Sauce with Meatballs (serves 6)


      1 pound lean ground beef
      1 cup fresh bread crumbs
      1 tablespoon dried parsley
      1/4  cup grated Parmesan cheese
      1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
      1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
      1 egg, beaten
     3/4 cup onion, chopped small
     5 cloves garlic, minced
     1/4 cup olive oil
     1(28 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
     1 (14 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
     1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes
     2 teaspoons salt
     2 teaspoons white sugar
     1 bay leaf
     1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
     3/4 teaspoon dried basil
     3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
     1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper


   1. In a large bowl, combine ground beef, bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, garlic powder and beaten egg. Mix well and form into 12 balls. Store, covered, in refrigerator until needed.
   2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, saute onion and garlic in olive oil until onion is translucent. Stir in tomatoes, salt, sugar and bay leaf. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 90 minutes.  Remove bay leaf and using an immersion blender or food processor blend 2/3 of sauce. Stir in tomato paste, basil, oregano,  pepper and meatballs and simmer 30 minutes more. Serve over spaghetti noodles.

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