Making an old family recipe is always fun and exciting. I am trying to learn every recipe my grandmother knows before it’s too late, and all becomes lost. I have already become proficient with bruschetta. But the three most important recipes, the ones that have been passed from generation to generation, are Marinara Sauce, Meatballs and the coveted Braciole. I spent over five hours learning how to make sauce, meatballs and Braciole from my grandmother, and here is how it's done.
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Step 1: Step One: the Sauce
Step One: The Sauce
Sauce is the main part of an Italian dinner in my family. Usually made by my grandmother, but she is getting old and I feel it is my turn to step up and take the standard.
Part One – Ingredients and Tools
Making sauce requires somewhat expensive ingredients and ingredients that may or may not be available for purchase everywhere. For this recipe, you will need; four cans of Cento kitchen ready tomatoes with basil leafs, fresh basil, pork ribs bone-in, onion, and fresh garlic.
Part Two – Prep
Every time you want to make a salad, or eat a steak, you must cut. If you have braces and cannot eat whole apples, you must chop. And every time you make brownies, you must stir. Putting all these skills together is imperative to successfully make sauce.
Step One – Cut, Slice, and Dice
Chop the garlic into fine pieces, do the same for the onions. Coarsely chopped onion and garlic are more visible and can by individually tasted, whereas finely chopped pieces blend with the other ingredients and can be tasted throughout the sauce.
Part Two – Pots and Pans May Break My Hands but Stirring Will Never Hurt Me
Now comes the most significant part of making Marinara Sauce; the actual cooking.
Step One – Brown and Sauté Away
Take out the very large pot, drizzle olive oil into the pot so that it thinly covers the bottom and then turn the heat onto medium. Once the oil is slightly bubbling, carefully place the two bone-in pork chops into the pot. Cook the chops on every side until browned. Please note that the pork will stick to the pot if too little olive oil is used. Leave the pork in after it has been browned. Then drop in the onions, sautéing them until they are clear. Add the garlic next, sauté it for no more than a minute. Leave all three of these ingredients in the pot. Note; the pork will probably fall apart while the sauce is cooking, this adds mote flavor to the dish.
Step Two – Tomato Addition
After the pork, onion and garlic have been prepared, open the cans of Cento and one at a time, gently pour them in. Be careful when pouring in the tomatoes into the pot, they will splash. Next use the potato masher and “mash” the tomatoes in the pot, this makes them dissolve faster. The basil is next, take a couple of leaves and mix them into the tomatoes. Stir all of these ingredients together, then you ready for the next step. Waiting.
Part Three – Waiting
For the sauce to be completely mixed up and tasty, waiting with occasional stirring is a must. Put the pot on simmer and let it simmer for at least three to four hours, stirring about every fifteen minutes.
Step 2: Step Two: the Meaballs
Step Two: The Meatballs
Meatballs, according to my grandmother, are not a staple of the average Italian meal, especially in Bari where my grandmother’s parents lived before coming to America. Fish was the main meat, if any was to be had, with meatballs only occasionally being consumed.
Part One – Prep
There is much preparation you have to do to even begin making meatballs. You have to purchase the necessary ingredients and tools, and put aside the time.
Step One – Ingredients and Tools
Meatballs do not contain many different ingredients, but since my family never used any measuring tools, it is difficult to get the same taste twice. First you need as much defrosted ground beef you need (each pound make about twelve meatballs depending on size), and then you must acquire whole garlic, red pepper, Italian parsley, salt, black pepper, parmesan cheese, Italian bread crumbs and two eggs per pound of ground beef. For making this dish, you will need a large mixing bowl, sharpened knifes, a cutting board and hands that can withstand the cold and goo of mixing the above ingredients.
Step Two –Cut, Slice, Dice, Mix and Roll
Meatballs take about half an hour to prepare, most of which is chopping and dicing with a small amount of mixing. First I peel then dice the garlic with a paring knife. The Italian parsley is next, clean and then coarsely chop the tops, then throw away the stalks. Put the ground beef in the large mixing bowl; add the parsley, garlic, salt and pepper, a hand full of cheese and the eggs. Mix the ingredients together with your hands, adding bread crumbs as needed until you can take a small handful of meat and drop it with it only sticking slightly to your hand. Roll the meat into balls about half the size of your fist.
Part Two – Fry, or Bake
There are many ways to skin a cat; however, there are only two ways I know to cook meatballs. If you want to die happily, but with high cholesterol, you should fry them. But, if you want to live long and prosper (and give up much of the taste) try baking them. For this part you will need a large frying pan and vegetable oil, or spray olive oil and a baking sheet depending on which method you choose. Either of these methods takes around an hour to complete.
Option One – Fry
When you fry anything, the hot oil in the pan loves to fizz out and burn you, meatballs are no exception, so be careful. Put the large frying pan on the stove, heating the stove on medium. Drizzle the oil liberally over the pan; remember that you may have to add some more later. Once the oil is sizzling, add the raw meatballs so that they are evenly spaced around the pan. Carefully turn each meatball as it becomes browned, try to look and see if the inside is pink without tearing it apart, and if it is keep in the pan until it’s grayer on the inside. A useful way to tell if a meat ball is done or not is to stab it with a fork and slowly pull the fork out, if the meatball stayed on when the fork is facing down and then slowly slides off, then the meatball is done. However, if the meatball stays on for fork and does not slowly slide down, then it must be taken off the heat immediately; it may be overcooked. Remember that a burnt meat ball is a bad tasting meatball, so, try not to bun them.
Option Two – Bake
Baking is probably the simplest and safest way to make meatballs, however they do not taste the same. The instructions for baking meatballs are only this; Bake at 350 degrees until brown.
Part Three – Cooling and Relocation
Once all of the meatballs have been cooked; put as many as you will eat in three days aside to mix into the sauce. Put the rest into a container in the freezer to eat later in the week.
Step 3: Step Three – Braciole
Step Three: Braciole
Braciole, according to my grandmother, is a delicacy, only served on that most important and special occasions. Contrary to my grandmother’s words, somehow we always end up being served this “delicacy” every time we have a spaghetti dinner. I’m not complaining, Braciole is the best part of the meal, once you try it, that is.
Part One – Prep
Braciole is more difficult to make than meatballs, it requires more patience, knowledge and practice. There are more steps to take in order to even be ready to cook.
Step One – Tools and Ingredients
To make Braciole you need the following tools; a meat pounder, tooth picks or cooking string, and a large knife. The choice between the cooking string and the tooth picks depends on which one you think will be easier to wrap and secure the Braciole with, I suggest you try both and then make your decision. The ingredients used to make Braciole are similar to meatballs; red pepper cheese, parsley, salt and pepper, breadcrumbs and chopped garlic. The exception is the ground beef, it is replaced by Top Sirloin beef sliced ¼ of an inch thick.
Step Two – Cut, Slice, and Dice
The first step of Braciole Making is the same as meatballs – peel and dice the garlic with a knife. Clean and then coarsely chop the tops of the Italian parsley, throwing away the stalks. After that the method becomes different. Take your sliced beef, cut it into segments around four to five inches in length and two to three inches wide (remember that the meat will get larger and thinner in the next step) pound it with the meat pounder until it is easily pliable, but be careful not to make the meat so thin that it tears when you roll it (if this happens, the meat cannot be used).
Part Two – Add, Roll and Tie
After the meat is prepped and the garlic and parsley chopped, it is time to truly begin making Braciole. Take one of the pounded slices of meat, lay it out flat and put the following ingredients on top of the meat in a small pile in the middle of the slice. I would like to remind you that no exact measurements will be given here simple because they do not exist. First take a pinch of red pepper (the size of the pinch depends on the diner’s tolerance to spice) and place in on the meat, a pinch each of salt a pepper follow. Then sprinkle the cheese and bread crumbs over the red pepper, salt and black pepper. Lastly take put a few pieces of chopped garlic and a pinch of parsley and put them over the pile. After all of these ingredients have been placed I the pile, gently, but firmly, roll the meat up. The hard part has come! If you have decided to use cooking string, wind it tightly around the roll at least three times, tying a secure knot to keep the Braciole from falling apart when cooked. This way is safer than toothpicks in a sense, a toothpick can stab you in the mouth if you aren’t careful, however you can also choke on the cooking string if you swallow it. Please be careful when eating Braciole, it can be hazardous if you are not carful. If you do decide to use tooth picks, poke the toothpick through one end of the Braciole, curving it so that it goes into the other side. Then put a last toothpick perpendicular to the first tooth pick (See figure 1 below) PLEASE NOTE: toothpick placing is approximate, different pieces of meat need different amounts and positioning of toothpicks. After you have completed the rolling and the tying or tooth picking the Braciole is ready to be cooked.
Part Three – Fry, Don’t Bake
Frying Braciole is like frying meatballs, and perhaps a little bit easier. You can use the frying pan you used for the meatballs a second time. You will want to save the grease; there is a use for it later. Once again please be careful with the hot oil, it can sizzle and pop and burn you if you don’t look out. Oil the pan and then heat it on medium once the oil is bubbling slightly, place the Braciole in the pan, with space in between each of them. Turn the Braciole as needed until they are browned.
Step 4: Step Four: Wrap Up
Step Four: Wrap Up
Part One – Putting It All Together
One the sauce has been simmering for at least three to four hours, put the desired amount of meatballs and Braciole into the sauce for dinner. Remember that the meatballs and the Braciole will fall apart in the sauce if left in too long.
Part Two – Freeze
It is unknown to my family why, but the sauce always tastes better after is has been frozen for a couple days. Feel free to try this after you have eaten your fill of spaghetti, Braciole and meatballs and maybe even the pork. All you have to do is freeze the leftover sauce and meats separately
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Italian Food Contest