Jerri’s Spaghetti Sauce

This is a simple but flavorful spaghetti sauce that Jerri made dozens of times when I was gainfully employed selling recycling equipment and she was a piano teacher and church organist. Since my office was in a western suburb of Minneapolis, and my customers included companies from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Warroad, Minnesota, I usually called to let her know when I thought I would be home for dinner. However, I was sometimes delayed. Anyone who has commuted through the Twin Cities knows what a shower or snow flurries can do to traffic on highways in the Metro area.

Jerri thus became an expert in flexible meal scheduling. Her students began arriving when the school day ended. She usually said goodby to the last one after 6 PM. To accommodate this schedule she assembled a main dish before her first student arrived, put it in the refrigerator and popped it into the oven or put it on the burner at the appropriate time.

She made a lot of wonderful casseroles and soups and learned how to create a spaghetti sauce that seemed to improve the longer she had to wait for me. Her recipe for the sauce reveals her as not just an expert at putting a meal on the table when the family was ready to eat but also as a “make do” cook who was willing to substitute ingredients that she thought would not be rejected by her husband, son and daughter. Her judgment was nearly always good. At least she never had the kinds of disasters I produced from time to time.

Her basic recipe for spaghetti sauce consisted of the first six ingredients listed below. The final seven represent my guesses about quantities of ingredients contained in her note that said something like, “Add some salt and pepper. Anise or fennel seeds and basil if you like them. Thin with water or red wine and smooth it out with some olive oil. If you like the flavor, mushrooms can be added with the garlic.”

As you can see, you can adjust the recipe to whatever is on your spice rack and “make do” with what you have. I think that fennel or anise, basil, wine and olive oil improve the sauce, but it is edible without them.

You can “make do” with whatever you have, so there’s no excuse for not making Jerri’s spaghetti sauce.

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb. Italian sausage
1 or 2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 16 oz. can whole tomatoes
1/2 tsp. anise or fennel seed
1/2 tsp basil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry red wine
2 tsp. olive oil
Grated Parmesan cheese to pass (if you have some)

PROCEDURE:

Remove the paper from the garlic and mince it. Clean and chop the onion into a quarter inch dice. Chop the tomatoes into bite-sized pieces, reserving the juice. Brown the sausage in a two or three quart saucepan over moderate heat. Drain the grease if necessary and add the garlic and onion and cook them for about two minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, juice, tomato sauce and paste.

Blend the fennel seed, basil, black pepper and salt in a mortar or cup and stir them into the pan. Stir in the wine and olive oil.

Reduce the heat and simmer for an hour or so. Stir occasionally and add wine, water or tomato juice if the sauce becomes too thick.

NOTES: If you include mushrooms, clean and slice them thinly and add them with the garlic.

I sometimes use a mixture of fennel and anise.

You can take this sauce off the heat when it has simmered long enough to suit your taste, then reheat it while the spaghetti is cooking.

This sauce freezes well and keeps for at least three or four months.H

Pork Chops Marsala

Although pork is the most widely eaten meat in the world, many people do not know how that happened. Archeologists have proved that pigs were first domesticated nearly simultaneously about 10,000 years ago in eastern Turkey and 4,000 miles away in central China. More recently, genetic research has revealed how various breeds of hogs developed and the complex relationship between domestic pigs and wild boars.

Historians have documented that pigs were first brought to the New World by Christopher Columbus on his voyage to Cuba in 1493. Queen Isabella of Spain suggested that he take a few pigs along in case his crew needed emergency food on the voyage. If they had any left after the trip, they could leave them on the island where, as pigs do, they could multiply to supply meat for later visitors.

Pigs are prolific. When Hernando DeSoto landed at Tampa Bay, Florida, in 1539, he offloaded a herd of thirteen pigs. By the time of his death along the Mississippi River three years later, that original herd had increased to seven hundred porkers, despite the fact that Spanish explorers often enjoyed roast pork after a good day’s travel searching for gold.

Roast pork is one of my favorite dishes. I like my mother’s version of Pork Pot Roast on cold winter evenings, and my Boneless Pork Roast with its crispy crust and aromatic perfume that might well have been inspired by an essay I first read in Charles Lamb’s Essays of Elia when I was ten or eleven years old. “A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig” is now nearly two hundred years old, but it still tickles my fancy. In it, he explains how roast pig was invented long ago in China.

As the story goes, Ho-ti the swineherd left his son Bo-bo to take care of their hovel. Bo-bo started a fire which not only burned down the house but also burned a litter of young pigs to death. Bo-bo accidentally discovered how wonderful they tasted and persuaded his father to taste a piece of roast pig. Ho-ti then swears his son to silence and begins helping him burn down the house for a meal of roast pig whenever their sow farrowed another litter.

The neighbors began to suspect something and turned the father and son in to the authorities. Complications ensue, but the story ends happily, except, of course, for the pigs. You really should read the essay. My copy of Essays of Elia was published in 1886, but you can find “A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig” on line, and it is very much worth the quarter hour it takes to read it. It might inspire you to try another great recipe like Pork Chops Marsala.

INGREDIENTS:

8 oz. mushrooms
3 T chopped onion
1 T minced garlic
4 T all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. rosemary
1/8 tsp. paprika
Dash of cayenne
2 T olive oil
2 T butter
4 medium pork chops (5 – 6 ounces each)
1 cup water
1 tsp. instant chicken bouillon
1/4 cup Dry Marsala
Pasta of your choice

PROCEDURE:

Clean the mushrooms, onion and garlic. Cut the mushrooms into moderately thick slices, Chop the onion into a quarter-inch dice and mince the garlic. Set these vegetables aside in a medium-sized bowl. Start heating the water for the pasta.

Blend the salt, pepper, rosemary, paprika and cayenne into the flour in a pie plate.

Heat the oil and butter in a skillet. Raise the heat under the water. Cook the pasta according to directions on the package.

Flour the pork chops and cook them over moderate heat until they are lightly browned on both sides, about three minutes per side. Remove them from the pan and set them aside. Reserve the leftover flour.

If you do not have four tablespoons of oil in the pan, add equal amounts of oil and butter as needed. Blend the flour left over from breading the chops into the oil. Add the mushrooms, onion and garlic and cook them over moderate heat for about four minutes, stirring often and being careful not to burn the mixture. Return the pork chops to the pan along with a cup of water, the instant bouillon and Marsala.

Simmer for six or seven minutes and serve with the pasta. Stir the sauce and turn the chops two or three times.

NOTES: You can substitute rice for the pasta. Fettuccine is my usual choice of pasta for this dish.