If you have seen some of my previous posts you might remember Dinner #1: Spaghetti. For many years I relentlessly cranked out the same dishes (with some subtle variations) week after week. Getting kids to eat healthy food was a real trick.
Pizza was always Dinner #5. Friday, the last day of the work week, was a day when I knew I could really relax and spend some time in the kitchen.
I still come home Friday evenings and think, “how about pizza?”
This time, I made three pizzas. Hamburger with mushroom and onion, Pepperoni and Italian cold cuts with spinach, mushroom, and tomato.
A quick rundown of some of the ingredients and then straight to the pizza…
Capocollo and Calabrese. These Italian cold cuts are perfect for pizza and many grocery stores sell them packaged together, in 6 to 12 ounce portions. They are a little pricey by weight but I don’t spend more than $5.00 and they can make two large pizzas!
Pepperoni. Oh, no! I accidentally picked up turkey pepperoni at the store. I don’t like turkey pepperoni but, I put a char on it and pretended I was eating the real deal.
Mozzarella. I bought “fresh mozzarella” at the store on an impulse. It’s a step up from the brick of mozzarella but I’m not so sure that it’s worth the cost. Real, fresh mozzarella is a treasure. I want to make my own! Freshly grated Parmesan is always a good thing!
If you want to see how I make pizza dough, check it out here.
Portions are arbitrary when it comes to pizza. Put whatever you want on your pizza and use as much as you want, but use some common sense. My cautionary advice is, if you think you’re putting on too much cheese, you are. If you think your pizza toppings are excessive, they are. Simplicity is key to really good pizza.
There are some meals that I can cook in my sleep, with one
hand tied behind my back. Spaghetti is
one of those meals. Long ago, when I
when I was just establishing myself as a home cook, I had a very limited
repertoire. It wasn’t because I lacked a
willingness to experiment and it wasn’t due to a lack of creativity, training
or knowledge that curtailed my culinary endeavors to a mere handful of
Being a parent of very young children changes a person in
many ways and one of those inevitable changes is a parents’ diet. I don’t regret anything about having
children. One of the greatest things
about having children is watching them grow up to become living, breathing,
free-thinking adults. I wouldn’t trade
the experience of raising children for anything.
Young children don’t have refined, educated palettes. Surprise! For a long time, my wife and I didn’t even think
about making something like Steak with Roquefort
Cheese Sauce, Bratwurst with Sauerkraut
or Tandoori Chicken. Heck, we were lucky if we could sneak a
vegetable past our kids every now and then without them noticing.
We realized pretty quickly that our meals repeated week
after week. Four or five basic recipes
stayed in constant rotation. It got to a
point where I assigned a number to the meals.
Monday nights were spaghetti
and Friday nights were homemade pizza
so, Spaghetti became Dinner #1 and Pizza became Dinner #5. Dinners 2,3 and 4 varied over the years and
they entered and exited the rotation as young taste buds changed. They included simple meals like, chicken
nuggets and tater tots, tacos with salad and fish sticks, with macaroni and
cheese. Our weekends were “anything goes”
days. It might be barbacoa tacos, pan
fried chicken or a pasta casserole. We
made sure to include fresh fruit as often as possible, especially because the
only vegetable our kids would willingly eat was raw carrot sticks.
Eh, they survived.
And, so did we. I look back on
those days fondly.
Fast forward nearly twenty years and Dinner #1 is still one
of my favorite go-to meals. I have made
spaghetti over 1,000 times in my lifetime.
That’s not a guess…that’s real math at work!
Now that my children are grown, I have more free time which means I can add flair to simple recipes, like spaghetti and meatballs. For this version, I used homemade tomato sauce. I also employed some extra tricks to make this meal a little more special. Plain tomato sauce tends to be acidic. I could have added a few tablespoons of sugar or honey to balance the sauce but I used Marsala wine, roasted garlic and fire roasted bell pepper, which provided all of the necessary sweetness and it gave the sauce an additional depth of flavor.
This recipe will feed about 6 people.
24 oz tomato sauce (store-bought sauce is perfectly fine)
1 whole garlic bulb
¼ cup fresh basil
½ red bell pepper
¼ cup Marsala wine
1 lb. ground beef (80/20)
½ cup bread crumbs
1 Tbs dried oregano
2 tsp dried rosemary (ground)
¼ cup grated, dry Parmesan cheese
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
½ cup grated, fresh Parmesan cheese
For the spaghetti
4 quarts water
12 oz dry spaghetti noodles
1 Tbs kosher salt
1 bay leaf
1 Tbs olive oil
If you are using store-bought tomato sauce, feel free to skip
to the section on Preparing the
Heat an oven to 300°.
Prepare the herbs, onion,
garlic and bell pepper.
Roughly chop the basil and set aside.
Chop the onion into ¼” pieces and set aside.
Separate the garlic bulb in half. One half of the garlic will be roasted in the
oven and the other half will be minced, fresh.
Wrap one half of the garlic bulb in aluminum foil and place
on the rack, in the oven.
Rest the half bell pepper on a stove burner and char the pepper over low heat. Rotate the pepper for several minutes to all the pepper to char on all sides.
Wrap the pepper in foil and put it on the oven rack, with the garlic.
Allow the garlic and red pepper to bake in the foil for about 20 minutes. Remove the garlic and pepper.
Unwrap the red pepper and allow it to cool for a few minutes. Rinse under water to remove the charred
Slice the top and stem of the pepper and discard. Lay the remaining red pepper on a clean
surface and dice into ¼” pieces. Set
Remove the roasted garlic from the foil and squeeze the soft
garlic from the papery husks. Mash the
garlic into a paste with the broad side of a kitchen knife and set aside.
Mince the cloves of the other half of the garlic bulb and
In a large mixing bowl add the ground beef, bread crumbs, eggs, dry Parmesan cheese, oregano, rosemary, salt and pepper.
Mix until all of the ingredients have combined.
Form into 1” balls and leave the meatballs in the mixing
In a large skillet, set the heat on the stove to low and add
a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the
onions and sauté until slightly softened.
Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute.
Add the meatballs and cover the pan.
Simmer the meatballs for about 5 minutes at low heat and
then turn them over. Cover the pan and cook
for another few minutes. Keep turning
the meatballs every few minutes until they become firm.
Strain the meatballs to remove the grease. Return the meatballs to the pan.
Add the tomato sauce to the meatballs. Stir the meatballs in the sauce and add the Marsala,
roasted garlic, roasted bell pepper, fresh garlic, chopped basil, oregano,
rosemary, salt and black pepper. Stir
briefly to incorporate.
Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
While the sauce is finishing, prepare spaghetti noodles in a
large stock pot. Add the water to the
pot and bring to a boil. Add a tablespoon
of salt, a bay leaf and 1 tablespoon of oil. Add spaghetti noodles and cook until the
noodles are al dente.
Serve with fresh Parmesan cheese, garlic bread and salad.