I was going to make spaghetti for the weekend but an ‘end of the world’ freezing rain storm is (literally) on the horizon, so …
And since I did not have enough spaghetti noodles (nor redred wine) I had to brave the mean little snow flakes that felt as if they were cutting my face, and get both.
Happily, all the other ingredients were already in place, and the process began.
Two cans of prepared tomato sauce (with roasted garlic). Two large onions. Two stalks of celery. Five cloves of garlic. Chop everything that is to be chopped, with no piece larger than your thumbnail. Put them into the pot of prepared sauce. Put on low heat.
Take as much lean hamburger as you think is healthy (I stop at a kilogram/two pounds). Put some of the chopped garlic and onion in a frying pan with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Cook them up until the kitchen smells wonderful. Add the hamburger. Let it all cook as you stir them up. Stop when the meat is brown.
Add the meat to the pot. I never drain. And a half cup of whatever wine you are going to drink with the spaghetti. And two tablespoons of Parmesan cheese. Add a quarter teaspoon of sugar. Bring to a bubbling boil while stirring. Reduce heat and simmer for two hours, stirring a few times per half hour.
Pour on cooked spaghetti noodles.
Sprinkle on an outlandish amount of Parmesan cheese
Drink a glass or two of the wine.
My father, who helped liberate Italy in the Second World War, told of the time he was invited into a farmhouse to share a meal. Spaghetti sauce was simmering away in a cauldron in a fireplace. He was told that same sauce had been simmering for decades.
In my novel, China Lily, the good ship, The Pegasus, makes a voyage from Italy to China a number of years before Marco Polo. This is a taste.
The cook, Matzerath, was a thin and abrasive man from some vague Northland who was not a particularly good cook. His selection of dishes was limited, and his ability to make meals taste appealing was hit-and-miss. He would probably not have had much success in a village or a town, but he had abilities that made him sought-after aboard ships. He could make dishes – if not tasty, at least palatable – from the poorest of ngredients. He could feed many on scant provisions. And the crews he worked for rarely became ill from the food.
Cepa did not know what methods Matzerath used to achieve his ends. He did possess a chest of herbs and spices and dried plants, but they seemed to be used to either stop putrefaction or make putrefaction edible. He took as many onions from Cepa as he could, but the results were rarely rendered up in the taste of the dish. In many ways his skills were more of an apothecary or doctor, though he did not possess the temperament to acquire their knowledge.
Matzerath did have one trick of the trade that continually amazed Cepa. He could take basic eggs and make a dish you could put down in front of a prince. Perhaps the opportunity to use eggs was rare enough that it interested him, or perhaps he just liked eggs. At any rate, for a few days after they left any port, the crew was blessed with egg as part of their diet. Matzerath served them fresh, on their own, and also made omelettes and frittatas with them. He also – to make some last longer – boiled a number when their worth was near exhaustion.
He had an odd method of boiling eggs, to which Cepa became a party because Matzerath used onions. Not fresh onions or green shoots, but the outer layer of brown skin and some inked parchment into boiling water. After a vigorous boil that leaves the eggs overcooked but more durable, the shells become a mottled brown colour. Cepa can’t tell if this is a deliberate decoration or a side effect. Matzerath did not seem a person concerned with beauty, but Cepa didn’t see how onions helped the boiling of eggs – they did not alter the taste. He queried Matzerath about the procedure, but the only answer he got was that was the way it was done ‘where he came from’.