Twentieth-Century Food

fresh tomato sauce

Monday:          Guacamole / Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato and Basil Sauce and Parmigiano Bread


Tuesday:          Antipasto of Olives, Salumi, Cheese, Herbed Goat Cheese / Grilled Brats / Salad

Squash soup

Wednesday:    Winter Squash Soup / Crostini with Eggs Tartare

D morgan

Beez, Bill, Father Drew Morgan

Thursday:        Fillet with buns and Horseradish Sauce, Brown Rice with Tomatoes and Basil, Pickles, Olives, Salumi and Cheese App / Applesauce Cake


The Table for Thursday’s

Friday:             Leftovers

Spaghetti dinner

Saturday:         Cheese, Salumi and Crackers Spaghetti and Meatballs / Garlic Toast / Iceberg Salad with Italian Dressing / Applesauce  Cake

janice's salad

Sunday:              Guacamole, BLTs, Greek Salad (Janice Hart), Bread Pudding

It was a grand week, with another visit and talk by Father Drew and a spectacular crowd on Thursday, and the Harts over for the game on Sunday with Janice’s fine Greek Salad.  The meals for the week may strike you as old hat – but that is precisely the kind of food we like when the weather turns cool and the leaves begin to fall.

I grew up craving spaghetti with meat sauce, left-over pot roast that my mother turned into a wonderful hash we ate with ketchup, and, of course, meatloaf, roast beef and tuna-noodle casserole.  Above all, I loved it when our parents took us to the Italian restaurants which, in those days, dominated the Pittsburgh culinary scene – such as it was.  These joints served spaghetti with meatballs and the coldest, crispest salads with dressings so tart they made your eyes water.  I loved them – still do.

So last week, we indulged my childhood comfort cravings and stuck to a cooking script from the 50s and 60s.  The highlight was certainly our spaghetti dinner with Billy and Emily on Saturday.  Actually, this was our second spaghetti, the first being served with a fresh tomato sauce made with the fruits of Jamie Anderson’s garden.  We also grilled sausages, had fillet with horseradish sauce, and, on Sunday, BLTs.  My mother and father would not only have recognized all of that food, they would have eaten it without any hesitation.  And there was certainly no hesitation at the Stewart house last week.

We’re going to share our favorite dinner of the week – Spaghetti with meatballs and iceberg lettuce with Italian dressing.  There are a few modern twists to the meal – a slow cooked tomato sauce from scratch (Mom used sauce from a jar), mozzarella and sharp provolone in the salad with a home-made dressing.  All of this should be eaten while anticipating the family viewing of Gunsmoke and the Jackie Gleason Show.

spaghetti with meatballs


Spaghetti And Meatballs           (adapted from bon apetit, October, 2017)

 Timing:                        About 2 hours and 40 minutes, but you can cook sauce ahead

Ingredients:                                         Serves 4 – 8

For Tomato Sauce:

¼ cup oil
6 garlic cloves, thinly slice (we used 4)
2 sprigs basil
2 x 28 oz. cans, whole peeled tomatoes (we used crushed)
Kosher Salt
Ground Black Pepper

For Spaghetti and Meatballs:

3 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
2 large eggs, beaten to blend
2 garlic cloves finely chopped (we grated them into the mixture)
1/3 cup whole milk ricotta
¼ prosciutto, finely chopped
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
1/3 cup grated parmigiano, plus more to taste
¾ teaspoon fennel seeds
¾ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon finely ground black pepper (we just used our coarse grinder)
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (we used more)
1 ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 lb. ground chuck (beef)
2 tablespoons olive oil, more as needed
12 oz. spaghetti  (we used 16 oz. and had enough to feed 8)

Cook the Sauce:   (Do this first, since you need to finish the meatballs by cooking them in the sauce)

Heat the ¼ cup of olive oil in a large, heavy pot (Dutch oven) over medium-low.  Cook the garlic, stirring from time to time, until a few pieces are golden brown at the edges – about 5 minutes.

Add the basil prigs and stir to wilt.

Add the tomatoes and their juice, crushing them by hand as you go.  (We just used crushed tomatoes – much easier).

Season with the salt and pepper and increase heat to medium high to bring to a simmer.  Then reduce hit to maintain a gentle simmer.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened and flavorful.  60-75 minutes

Make the Meatballs and Serve with Spaghetti:

Run cold water over the bread until it is fully soaked.  Wring as much water out of the bread as possible, then chop it fine.  (Yes, Joey, that means doing a fair amount of back and forth and regathering and re-chopping.)  Mix it, in a large bowl, with the eggs, the garlic, the ricotta, the prosciutto, parsley and 1/3 cup of parmigiano.

In a mortar and pestle grind the fennel seeds into a powder.  (You can use a spice grinder to do this – we didn’t because we find the pounding and grinding reduces our desire to tell the world what the heck is wrong with it.  If you don’t use the mortar and pestle, you’ll find that one or two martinis takes the edge off.)

Add the ground fennel seed to the bread mixture, along with the oregano, nutmeg, black pepper, red pepper flakes and 1 ¼ teaspoons of salt.  Mix well -you should have a sort of coarse, wet paste.

Now add the beef, breaking it into smallish pieces (use some forks to do this).  Mix in with your hands into smooth and evenly incorporated but be careful not to overwork or you’ll get tough meatballs.

Make meatballs with about ¼ cup of the mixture for each one.  At this point begin to reheat the tomato sauce mixture, if you’ve already cooked it.  You want it warm to cook the meatballs.

Brown the meatballs first by heating 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium.  Add as many meatballs as fit with room between each one and cook, turning, for about 5 minutes, until browned all over.  Add the meatballs to the sauce and cook remaining meatballs in the same manner.

Cook the meatballs in the sauce at a gentle simmer for about 45 minutes.  Scrape the bottom of the pan to make sure the sauce is not burning and add splashes of water, if necessary.

Transfer the meatballs to a cooking sheet and cover with foil to keep warm.  Remove basil from tomato sauce and, if you have used whole, peeled tomatoes, uses a potato masher to break up an large pieces.

Reserve 2 cups of the sauce for serving.

Cook the spaghetti until al dente, then transfer with tongs to the pot with the sauce.  Stir and toss gently, adding pasta cooking liquid as needed, until the pasta Is well coated.

Transfer the spaghetti to a serving dish.  Top with the meatballs and a cup of the reserved sauce.  Sprinkle with more parmesan and some torn basil, if you like, and enjoy.  (You’ll want to have the extra sauce and more parmesan on the table.)

Note:  We served this with a salad of torn iceberg lettuce, red onions marinated in white wine vinegar for 20 minutes, mozzarella, sharp provolone and pepperoncini with a very tart dressing (a little mayo, olive oil, white wine vinegar, dried oregano, salt, pepper and a little grated garlic)


2 thoughts on “Twentieth-Century Food

  1. Ed Sullivan or Perry Mason, too! There’s a post going around on Facebook re: what meals you were served as a child you hated – I was appalled to see tuna noodle casserole make some people’s list – it’s still comfort food to me.

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