I come from a long line of women who can cook: My great grandma, I’m told, made legendary pasta. My grandma rolled her own cannoli shells. My mom, a woman who loves to say, Oh, it’s so simple (particularly when her only daughter asks for clarification on some new recipe trick), has a vast cooking repertoire that ranges from bakery-worthy apple strudel to hot chicken curry just the way my dad likes it.
And as with a lot of things in life, I feel there are different ways to approach this kind of heritage: Embrace it. Or resent it.
I’ll let you guess which way I tended towards for most of my childhood and only say this: it’s amazing how we can turn blessings into curses, how we can choose to be intimidated by that which can help us grow. You may call it perfectionism; I call it ugly.
It’s like, say, when you have the opportunity to start working from home: This is such an obvious good (especially as it is the thing—the very thing—you have wanted and worked towards for years!), yet you can let yourself see it as a bad (citing all the potential problems/risks, from insurance to pay to the way it feels to step into the Unknown).
That same vice that makes you see the negatives in one situation will make you see the problems in others. But I’ve been thinking. Maybe the parallel works both ways? Maybe by learning to embrace a heritage of good home cooks, for example, you step towards learning to embrace everything else. What do you think?
I’m starting with this meat sauce.
This is the latest version of my mom’s meaty tomato sauce. I say latest version because she often tweaks or adds to it, pulling from new recipes or improvising on her own. Somehow it’s always delicious, chock full of tender meat, loaded with chopped tomatoes, slightly sweet to the taste. I have been known to say she should bottle the stuff, that’s how much I like it. I mean, people: this is a pasta sauce you build a meal around, like a great pair of shoes that commands an outfit. Pour it over pasta: instant win. Use it on your pizza (over and over again, if you’re like me): good enough for company.
I’ve spent years thinking there was some secret to Mom’s method, but sometime last month, she handed me two pieces of scratch paper, filled with ingredients and the classic women-in-my-family sketchy instructions, telling me I should use the leftover meat I’d been freezing from that time I grilled burgers this spring.
I took her advice last weekend, spending just a little over an hour near the stove, and oh, man. It does the women in my family proud. I don’t know what took me so long.
Mama’s Meat Sauce
You could also add a cup of chopped mushrooms to the sauce, if desired.
Olive oil, enough to coat the bottom of a large stock pot
2 pounds good-quality ground beef or sirloin (preferably grass-fed)
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
6 cloves crushed and chopped (or grated) garlic
6 diced tomatoes
12 to 14 ounces tomato puree (we like POMI brand)
1 cup chopped white or yellow onion (from about one medium onion)
1 cup chopped green pepper (from about one bell pepper)
1 Tablespoon basil
1 Tablespoon oregano
1 Tablespoon parsley
1 Tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon rosemary
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 cup Sucanat or coconut sugar (or dark brown sugar)
Place a large stockpot over medium heat on the stove and warm olive oil. Add ground beef and stir around with a wooden spoon until it’s all lightly browned. Chop up your hamburger meat and brown it in a large pot with olive oil. Add salt on top. Add garlic and cook for a few more minutes over medium heat.
Add the rest of the ingredients, stirring everything together. Continue cooking until meat is very tender and sauce is the consistency/thickness you like, probably at least an hour. Taste and add salt until it’s the way you like.
[Bonus!] Homemade Pizza Breads
I had the idea for these pizzas for a while before I made them. I wanted a good-quality sourdough bread as the crust, Mama’s meat sauce on top, then some mozzarella and basil. What I didn’t expect was it would be one of the best homemade pizzas I’ve ever had. And so easy!
Slice of sourdough bakery bread (We like Breadsmith or Berlin spelt)
1 to 2 Tablespoons of butter
Mama’s meat sauce (above)
A few basil leaves
Sliced good-quality mozzarella
Turn the oven to 350 degrees and toast buttered sourdough bread until it is golden brown. Remove from oven and turn on broiler. Top toast with generous helping of meat sauce, basil leaves and mozzarella. Stick back in oven under broiler until cheese is all melty and brown, probably about five to ten minutes. This is especially nice with a salad on the side. Enjoy!