Uncle Richard’s Meatballs and Sauce!

edited Uncle Richard in sauce stained apron

Uncle Richard and his son, Rich, in their fully equipped basement kitchen – because what’s an Italian home without two kitchens?

Today is my Uncle Richard’s 89th Birthday.  To honor him, I’m posting my most prized possession, my video of him showing me how to make meatballs and sauce. (It’s at the end of this post.) It was the highlight of my year!

Most people’s bucket lists are filled with things like: Stay in a Scottish castle, or dance in the sand in Greece. But at the top of my list has always been: Cook with Uncle Richard and learn the secret to his meatballs and sauce. The opportunity has eluded me for years, but every time I’d visit Pennsylvania, I went in hope it would happen.

To understand why, you have to know this man.  He is spry, sweet and sarcastic, with a wacky streak I love!

The way he rolls his eyes when I walk in the door and says, “Oh God, look what the damned cat dragged in,” is his way of saying, “I’m happy to see you.” Then he wraps me in a tight hug and we end up sitting at his dining room table drinking wine and eating home made Sopressata with chunks of sharp cheese while he tells me stories.  Aunt Blanche used to hover in the kitchen, constantly putting food on the table, and never sitting.  Now, sometimes she sits with us, but because her eyesight’s bad and she’s very deaf, she interrupts a lot without realizing it. She’s adorable though. And because Uncle Richard is her hairdresser now, her hair was an interesting shade of purple when I saw her last. God bless them both.

I love hearing my uncle’s stories about growing up in Italy during World War II. He tells the remarkable story of  how he blew two fingers and part of his thumb off playing with a bomb someone found and kept after the war. (You’ll see it hasn’t stopped him at all!) He has dozens of stories and remembers details like it was yesterday.

He is a wonder, with more energy at 89 than people half his age. And he is still a fabulous cook, but when I’m home I’m always so busy visiting people, I’m never able to make the time to cook with him and learn his secrets. You have to cook alongside him to learn, because he says he doesn’t use a recipe. And, if you’ve spent any time with Italians, you know, none of them measure. I don’t even measure, but I force myself to for this blog!

meatball and sauce on bread.jpg

Uncle Richard’s meatball

Every time I’d ask how he makes his sauce or his meatballs, he’d emphatically reply, “I DON’T HAVE A RECIPE, I JUST MAKE IT!”

But I got lucky over Labor Day weekend. I knew he was making pasta for a party my brother was throwing. I couldn’t wait, I called him within an hour of my arrival, to ask if I could finally be his sauce apprentice. He said he’d be cooking on Sunday and he’d call me when it was time to come over.

Finally circumstances came together perfectly and I was going to get the chance I’d waited for, for decades! The Holy Grail of sauce was near.

I didn’t hear from him Sunday morning, so I called at 10 a.m., hoping he hadn’t started. When he said he wanted to begin soon, I said, “I’m not showering, I’m coming right over!”

“I don’t want you stinking up my kitchen!’ he said, “Go take a shower, I have to take one too.”

When I arrived, we started in his garden with beautiful, fresh tomatoes that were red and gigantic. He said his neighbors were eyeing them, but he told them he was saving them for me.

We picked tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh parsley, and fresh rosemary. We put the tomatoes in a pot of boiling water to loosen their skins and make the sauce.  Then we rinsed the herbs, dried them, and added them to some chopped garlic in a food processor. Then he handed me two slices of Italian bread that he wet with water, then squeezed.

It was only then I realized he was letting me in on the meatball recipe too, I could hardly contain myself. (I know, I need to get a life.)

Once the herbs, garlic and bread were processed together, I scraped them into a bowl with about two pounds of beef, two pounds of pork and a few Italian sausages he said he’d had in the freezer for 17 years. (Let’s hope he was kidding.) He mixed them together, added a dash Worchestershire sauce, a dash of hot sauce, two eggs, some breadcrumbs, a sprinkling of cheese, some salt and pepper.

How much of any of this? Well, I’m going to approximate, but if you can eyeball it from the video or photos, better than my guess, more power to you.  I tried to get it all on videotape, but my battery kept running out. I think I deleted 10 apps just to get as much as I did.

jars of tomatoesThen came his sauce, which is so good, and so simple. (It helps if you have beautiful fresh herbs and  tomatoes growing in your yard and recently canned about 8 million jars of them.) He canned all the tomatoes you see here himself.

The video only gets most of the meatball action, I didn’t get to show our meatball taste test, or how he rolls the meatballs in wine, then flour, then fries them.  And while I was rolling the meatballs in wine and flour, he started on the sauce, so I couldn’t tape it all, but I did my best. If you’re wondering who the woman in the video is, she’s my cousin, Nancy.

When it comes to special people in my life, Uncle Richard, or Zio Riziero is one of my absolute favorites. The My Sauce is Better Than Yours apron is really perfect for him, but was inspired by my mom and the six simple words that can end your life story .

His sauce is simple, creamy (because the meatballs rolled in flour are cooked in it) and just wonderful. I can’t believe I actually got to cook with him and he’s finally sharing his elusive recipes. I am a firm believer that moments like this are to be treasured. I hope you enjoy him as much as I do. Here is the video:

 

Happy Birthday Uncle Richard. I wish you many more years filled with the good health you enjoy today. Cent’anni!

Uncle Richard’s Meatballs (WOO HOO, I can’t believe I’m writing this!)

4 cloves of garliccropped meatball ingredients with bread.jpg

1/3 cup fresh basil

1/4 cup fresh parsley

1 sprig of  fresh rosemary finely chopped

2 slices of white bread (soaked in water or milk then squeezed.

1 tsp Worchestershire Sauce

1 Tsp. Hot sauce

1 Tsp. of pepper

1 Tbsp. salt

3/4 cup of Italian style bread crumbs

1/4 cup grated cheese

2 eggspork cooking

2 lbs. ground beef

2 lbs of ground pork

2 sausage links (remove casing)

1 glass of red wine (cabernet or merlot is fine)

1 cup flour

2 to 3 cups of canola oil

2 to 3 large pork neck bones or pork ribs

Mix together the basil, parsley, garlic, and rosemary in a food processor. Then add the soaked, drained bread and process until combined.  Next, mix together the three meats and add the bread mixture. Then add the hot sauce, the Worchestershire sauce, the bread crumbs, the salt, pepper, cheese and eggs. Mix thoroughly. Then take a small piece and fry it in some oil in a pan, so you can taste it and see what it needs.

meatball in flourIf they’re good, start rolling them. Then roll the meatballs in the red wine, then in the flour. Set them aside until you’re ready to fry them (I think he used canola oil, for the frying, but I’m not sure. (I’ll get back to you on that.) Then add them to the pasta sauce and cook them about an hour and a half over low to medium heat, making sure the sauce doesn’t burn on the bottom. (I always use a trivet.)

Uncle Richard’s Pasta Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 to 4 garlic cloves finely chopped

1 Tbsp. fresh basil finely chopped

1Tbsp.  fresh parsley finely chopped

2 large fresh tomatoes peeled and crushed

2 large bottles of homemade canned tomato sauce

OR: 3 to 4  large cans Cento Pomodori Pelati with the seeds removed (or not)

Or 3 to 4 cans Cento tomato puree

If you don’t have homemade, Cento Pomodori Pelati (peeled tomatoes) are pretty good, but you have to process them in a blender before adding them (I remove the seeds, but it’s not necessary) .  If you can find Cento tomato puree, that works too.

Pour the olive oil in a large, deep pan and saute the garlic and herbs for a minute, then add the whole tomatoes, pulverizing them with a masher. Add the herbs and let the mixture cook down until some of the water boils off. Then add the canned sauce and stir to combine. Then fry the meatballs and add them. Then fry the pork and add it. Let it all cook together for about an hour and a half.

 

 

 

 

 

Cannoli Teleportation

My mother visited me last night.  Well, maybe not physically, but she was definitely here, because I went back to being a 9-year-old tasting her homemade cannoli at Christmas time in our flour covered kitchen.

But this time it was me making the cannoli.  I am a very novice cannoli maker and was spurred into a cannoli frenzy because I promised my friend Debra I’d bring them to a dinner tonight.  I’d only made cannoli shells one time before and they were kinda meh. That was four years ago,  but I tried again last night.

Mom's recipe

I love the fact that her recipe is written on a notepad from my brother Bernie’s Insurance company.

It was a challenge because I had two recipes, one I’d written down myself, probably with input from Angelina Belculfine, my mom’s best friend and the most amazing baker. The other one was in my mom’s handwriting. I actually have it framed on my dining room wall because it’s a classic. Mom was adorable, but not terribly accurate, so I wasn’t sure whether her teaspoon meant tablespoon, etc.  But I mostly trusted her and just went for it.

I wasn’t going to eat a cannoli tonight because I’m not getting any thinner, but how could I bring them tomorrow without knowing how they’d taste? Clearly, that wouldn’t do, so I filled the smallest one, and dusted it with powdered sugar.

Cannoli beauty shotI’m certain mom was beaming because it tasted just like hers.  I ran upstairs and made my son try it and he thought it was pretty awesome too.  So, once again, through food, I was teleported to 1965 and very happy to be in my mom’s New Brighton kitchen with powdered sugar all over me.

If you’d like to be teleported to 1965, here is her recipe.

Mama Tunno’s Cannoli 

2 1/2 cups Flour

1 Tbsp. sugar

3/4 to 1 tsp. salt (this was one I wasn’t sure of. She’d written 1 tablespoon, but I think she messed up the writing so I erred on the side of caution)

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon Butter Flavor Crisco (Plain Crisco works too)

2 eggs

3 oz white wine

(One additional egg beaten in a separate cup for making the cannoli stick together)

Mix together the flour, sugar, and salt. Once combined, add the Crisco, mixing it with your fingers. Once it’s pebbly, like pie dough add the eggs and wine.  Mix well with your hands until combined. Wrap dough in plastic so it doesn’t dry out.

In a large skillet or deep fryer, pour about 40 oz of canola oil. Heat it to 375 degrees.

Lightly grease the outside of 6 metal cannoli tubes.

Dough being cut.JPGWhile the oil is heating, roll out the dough to pie crust thickness, or slightly thinner, about 1/8 inch. With a rolling cookie cutter, cut a circle in the dough about six inches in diameter. Wrap it around the cannoli tube and where it overlaps, rub some of the beaten egg to seal the cannoli shell together. (I just sat the tube on the dough and rolled around it, eyeballing how much dough I would need. It doesn’t need to overlap too much — that was my mistake with the first several I fried.

Cannoli frying.JPGThen carefully place the covered tube into the hot grease. Let it fry for about 3 to five minutes or until it’s golden brown. Carefully remove it from the pan. You can cook a few at once, but I didn’t do more than three, so I could keep an eye on them.   Once the tubes have cooled enough to touch, gently remove the metal cylinders, grease their outsides and make more cannoli until the dough is all used up.

Cannoli Filling

(My mom used Citron in hers, but I’m not a fan, so I don’t. You Cannoli purists out there can hate me if you want for that.) Feel free to chop a little up and put it in if you like it.

For the White fillingTwo containers.JPG

1 32 oz container of Galbani Ricotta (This is the absolute best for cannoli. It’s smooth and not gritty!)

3/4 to 1 cup powdered sugar

2 to 3 good sprinkles of cinnamon

2/3 cup of mini chocolate chips

With an electric mixer, whip together the ricotta, the powdered sugar and cinnamon. When it it mixed and nice and creamy, stop whipping and add the mini chocolate chips. Then separate the filling into 2 parts. Use 1/2 to make the chocolate filling.

For the Chocolate Filling

1/2 of the white filling

1/2 cup chocolate chips melted

2 Tbsp whipping cream

Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave or on the stovetop and and add the whipping cream. Mix together until smooth, then blend it into the 1/2 white filling.

Cannoli to be filled.JPGNow comes the fun part. Find 2 clean plastic Ziplock bags. (Or, if you’re advanced, use your pastry bags.) Fill one with chocolate filling and one with vanilla. Snip off one end of the plastic bags and use them to  Squirt the ricotta filling into separate ends of the cannoli.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve. Do not fill until ready to serve because they get soggy.

If you like, you can dip the ends into chocolate chips or pistachios, but I like them plain.  Enjoy!

But be sure to change your shoes before you bake, I didn’t and now mine are a floured mess – just like Mom’s always were!Foured shoe and pantyhose.JPG

 

 

 

 

 

The World’s Greatest Sleepers

I was at work last week, fighting a nasty bout of  bronchitis and kept nodding off at my desk. I thought I was being very sly, but someone walked past, noticed and mentioned it to me. He said it looked like I was in deep thought, but I think he was just being kind.

I know what I look like when I’m nodding off and it is definitely neither thoughtful looking nor attractive. I never think I’ll do it, but learned years ago that nothing can stop a determined Tunno sleep gene. Continue reading

Pasta Sundays are Kicking my Butt

I’m a great housewife, if I say so myself. Nothing thrills me more than inviting people for dinner and being hostess for an evening. I love gardening, fixing up houses, even cleaning them. Correction —  I love how I feel when they’re clean — big difference. Having all day to frame my favorite photos and decorate my living room would be a dream for me, but it ain’t happening. Continue reading

A Man And His Crabs

Bernie crabs

Bernie, with a crab leg the day after gallbladder surgery.

What makes a man recover from gallbladder surgery almost instantly?

a. The promise of a waiting platter of king crab legs and shrimp

b. The promise of pasta with crab sauce

c. The promise of scallop pasta with cream sauce

d. The promise of an adoring family

e. Leftover novenas prayed by his mother.

f. All of the above Continue reading

And the Winner is…

I’m still recovering from a week of food preparation and a day of serious hostessing. The heavens smiled on me and food magic happened, which means all my food turned out great, except for the gravy, which was a little iffy.  From now on, it’s only flour, no cornstarch in my gravy. My guests were wonderful, there were no awkward pauses in conversation, and my kid’s friends turned up too, which was great because I think of them all as my kids.

And, I did something different with my turkey this year.

It involves salt, bacon and a good massage.

Oh stop it, I know what you’re thinking. Continue reading