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I awoke to the aroma of a simmering sauce that filled the kitchen and crept into my room and onto my pillow. My ears were tuned to the sound of…plop blurp, plop, blurp. The aroma and the sounds were coming from the tomato sauce…gravy…cooking on the kitchen stove, and it meant it was Sunday.
I sat on the edge of the bed, wiped my eyes, got up and shuffled to the kitchen. Pajamas hanging below my feet, I stretched to tiptoes and peeked over the top of the large white pan on the stove over the small gas flame. The cover was tilted to allow the steamy aroma to escape. I used the “mopine” to lift the cover and look in, though already aware that it was the gravy for Sunday’s pasta. “Edward, what are you doing?”
The gravy was bubbling and popping, releasing with each burst a pocket of vapor with its smell into the atmosphere. Partly exposed meatballs floated along the surface like hot icebergs. A piece of bone, probably pork, was peeking through.
I shuffled like a hockey player to the pantry and the bag of Italian rolls fresh from Crugnale’s Bakery. Dad was reliable. The rolls were warm and soft. I removed one, ripped off a corner, held it between my thumb and two fingers, returned to the pan, swiped it through the gravy and held it up straight, gravy at the top.
Steam rose from the roll as the gravy cooled. To protect my fingers, I twirled the bread just ahead of the dripping lava, allowing the gravy to move to another side of the bread, cooling as it did so…a skill learned in the early years of the Italian family. Though irresistible, it was still too hot for my sensitive, eager tongue. Test it. Touch it lightly with the tip of my tongue. OK. Ready. Cool enough.
The mass was formless, soft in my mouth, wet, moist, full bodied, and rich with the rage of tomato and the hint of garlic and basil… breaded gravy heaven. Time for another dunk, and another and another, piece after piece of bread ripped off, dunk after dunk made with the same caution, taste after taste completed for the thrill of Sunday’s gravy. “You’ll ruin your dinner”.
Now for the meatballs. I needed another corner of bread. There they were, floating; a deep brown color laced with red meant they were done. They had been fried before they were put into the gravy, and sometimes good to eat just after the frying, the simple flavors of garlic and olive oil enveloping the meatball and spilling into the bread. But today, I planned to rescue them from the gravy.
They were ripe. It seemed as if the meatball fit better into a split rather than cut bun. A spoon was sitting in the ladle next to the simmering pot. I lifted out a meatball, dropped it into the bun, and then ladled more of the deep red, shimmering, hot sauce. Blowing the steam away, I resisted the tendency to gulp it down. The meatball was firm, the bread soft and chewy, the gravy almost hot. Some of the gravy spilled out of the bun onto my pajama top. No matter.
I chewed slowly, rolled my tongue around and enjoyed the flavors of the heated, slightly crunchy meatball that married perfectly with the soggy bun and the gravy.
“You’ll ruin your dinner.” I smiled.
* From the book, “Growing Up Italian; Grandfather’s Fig Tree and Other Stories.”
Barking Cats Book Publishers
This recipe is from Giuliano Hazan, author of Every Night Italian and
The Classic Pasta Cookbook. He is also the son of Italian Cookbook author and cooking teacher Marcella Hazan. This is “the” classic Sicilian pasta sauce, combining eggplant and tomato, perfect for the garden abbondanza at this time of year. It is quick – and delicious.
Makes 7-8 1 cup servings (I know what your thinking – who eats just 1 cup of pasta? This recipe is from a “Cooking Light” magazine)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1½ pounds coarsely chopped peeled tomato (about 2 cups)
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes (about 4 cups)
¼ cup thinly sliced fresh basil
6 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into ¼ inch cubes (about 1 cup)
1 pound spaghetti
1. Place oil and garlic in a large skillet; cook over medium-high heat 30 seconds or until garlic begins to sizzle. Add tomato and salt; cook 15 minutes or until liquid has evaporated. Add eggplant; cover, reduce heat, and cook 15 minutes or until eggplant is tender. Stir in basil; set aside.
2. Cook pasta in boiling water 9 minutes; drain. Toss with sauce and cheese. Serve immediately.