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.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Mother’s Day!

Sitting on the couch tonight, I had my arms crossed over my head, thinking of what to say about Mother’s Day. My fingers on my right hand happened to be touching my pulse on my left hand and I could feel that tiny, steady, thump, thump, thump. And it occurred to me that that thump started with my mom giving birth to me all those years ago.

Fran & Mom

And I wonder where my kids get their inability to take a normal photo with me.

Along with that pulse, I was lucky to get love, encouragement, a wonderful family, a twisted sense of humor, and a serious appreciation for delicious food. They’ve all been essential in my life, but none more than encouragement.

My mom always encouraged me. Always told me I could do anything and be anything. The only person who doesn’t agree lives in my head. She’s been there forever. I’ve tried to evict her, but now I just let her say her peace, then tell her to shut up.

As Franklin Roosevelt (a man with a mother who encouraged him) so wisely stated, “The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.”

So, I salute all you moms this Mother’s Day. If it wasn’t for your encouragement, sense of humor, and  love there wouldn’t be people out there daring to live life and make a difference in the world, with whatever gifts they have. God bless every one of you. Happy Mother’s Day!

Fran and mom with horns.jpg

My poor mother. Here she is trying to give me a dollar so I can buy her a lottery ticket. But I had to get his shot first.

 

 

Granola Cluster Cookies –Even Your Healthy Friends Will Love Them!

Each winter my mother and I sported a light coat of flour from December first to the 25th. My mom flew into a baking frenzy and I was recruited to grease pans, sprinkle sugar on hot fried twists of lemony dough, and run up and down between our upstairs and downstairs kitchens like lightning for whatever mom needed  because she always said, “Honey, you gatta da fresh a legs.”

Once I remember her saying, “Honey go getta me da ting dat goes inna da ting I use to beat uppa da stuffa.” And I brought her back exactly what she needed – the beaters for her mixer.  My dad looked at us incredulously and said, “How the hell did you know what she meant?” I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I don’t know, I just knew.” My mother smiled knowing we had a baking shorthand that transcended the English language.

This year I’m trying to get it all done before I go back to Pennsylvania and I’m relying on  legs that are not quite as fresh as they were 50 years ago to get me through.

I love bringing cookies to work and to friends for the holidays.  Just being in my kitchen, baking in the evening when it’s dark outside reminds me of those childhood Decembers when condensed water in the corners of windows turned into tiny ice crystals. I’d stand at the big picture window  in the dining room, looking out on the frozen backyard and knew I was lucky to be warm and cozy, baking with my mom.

I miss her more this time of year than any other because she was like the spirit of Christmas present — large, laughing, joyful, always giving, and ready to sample every treat that came her way. Everyone, from neighbors, to friends, to the nuns at school, even the mailman, got a sample of Mama Tunno’s cookies.

Keeping that tradition alive makes me feel like our floured fingertips touch every December. And I swear, I am going to bake her banana cookies this year, and give you the recipe because they are awesome dipped in a hot cup of coffee. It’s a dough wrapped cookie filled with a mixture of chocolate, raisins, walnuts, nutmeg and cinnamon, that is awesome.

Each year I also swear I’ll expand my repertoire, then never do it.  (Apparently, I do a lot of swearing this time of year.) But, I actually did try two new cookie recipes this baking season. One was a success, the other was just meh. The success was a fantastic, sweet treat even your health conscious friends will love, called the Granola Cluster Cookie.  My daughter found it on the Bon Appetit website, which she and I both love. Their cooks  are really laid back and fun. You just want to hang out with them.

edited granola cluster.JPGThe Granola Cluster Cookie is made of pecans, almonds, pepitas, coconut and some oats, and it’s held together with egg whites beaten with sugar. I truly couldn’t stop eating them — they’re that good. And I just made another batch with hazelnuts instead of pepitas and they were even better!

But when they tell you to bake them on parchment, they aren’t kidding. They really stick to  the pan and removing them results in some broken cookies, so definitely use parchment, or wax paper in a pinch. And wait until they’re cooled to remove them or you’ll have cookie casualties.

The meh one was the Swig Sugar Cookie.  Apparently, they’re so good people stand in long lines for them in St. George Utah, but the recipe I found on a blog was not worth the effort. They were too sweet, without the balance of salt. I’d read that the sour cream in the icing made them different, but to me, it didn’t and I added a lot more sour cream to see if I could salvage it. I saw a different recipe,  on a Food blog called, The Recipe Critic, and it looked more promising with more salt and sour cream in it, but I have no more time or money to waste on recipes, so for now, I’m sticking with Gramma Ev’s Sugar Cookies as my undisputed favorite sugar cookie.

So, if you’re still looking for a great holiday cookie, I’m posting the recipe for the Bon Appetit Granola Cluster Cookies. This should satisfy your health conscious friends, who want a cookie they can eat with little to no guilt. And they’re really easy to make!

Russian Teacakes.JPGBut, what’s life without a decadent, sweet treat every now and then? So, I’m also posting one  of my, oldie but goodie, favorite Christmas cookie recipes — Russian Teacakes.

My mom called them Butterballs because they’re so buttery they just melt in your mouth.  She loved these cookies at first taste, but she didn’t have a recipe to replicate them, so she tried inventing a recipe. It didn’t work out well, and my brother Bernie, nicknamed mom’s attempt “Cannon Balls.”  Mom laughed it off, but gave up on improvisation.  Years later, my sister-in-law- Patty, gave me a great recipe she had in one of her Polish cookbooks, and I’ve been making them for years. I always lightly toast the pecans before I add them, they’re much better that way.

And, even though I’m usually worried about what I eat, at Christmas, I go with mom’s slogan, “Oh honey, you gatta try dis, ittsa so good!” You only get one life, enjoy it a little. We can all go back on the diet in January.

Granola Cluster Cookies

1 1/2 cups pecans

1 cup sliced almonds (I didn’t have any, so I chopped whole almonds)

1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

3/4 cup pumpkin seeds, (pepitas) or hazelnuts — they are awesome!

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats

1/2 tsp. Kosher salt

3 Tbsp. virgin coconut or extra virgin olive oil , melted (I used coconut)

2 large egg whites

2/3 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 325°. Toss pecans, almonds, coconut, pumpkin seeds, oats, salt, and oil on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, tossing once, until coconut is golden and mixture is fragrant, 10–12 minutes. Let it cool.

Whisk egg whites in a large bowl until foamy. Gradually add sugar, whisking until mixture is thick and opaque. Add nut mixture and fold to coat evenly.

Drop ¼-cupfuls of mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing evenly. (This recipe made two batches for me — about 24 cookies). Bake cookies, rotating baking sheet halfway through, until edges are golden, 15–20 minutes. Wait until the cookies are cooled before trying to move them, they are fragile and will fall apart if they aren’t cool enough.

 

Russian Teacakes

1 cup soft butter

1/2 cup confectioners sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

2 1/4 cups flour

3/4 cup finely chopped nuts ( I use lightly toasted pecans, but walnuts work too)

Additional 2 cups confectioners sugar to roll cookies in.

Mix butter, powdered sugar and vanilla thoroughly. Blend flour, and salt and stir into mixture. Mix in nuts, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill. Heat oven to 400 degrees. (If I leave the dough in the refrigerator overnight, it gets really hard, so I zap it in the microwave for about 15 seconds, and it’s easier to work with.) Roll chilled dough into 1 inch balls, and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes and while warm, roll them in confectioners sugar. Let cookies cool and roll them in sugar again. Makes about 4 dozen.

 

Life’s Magic

I spent the Fourth of July having lunch with a friend, then responsibly cleaning, doing laundry, and ironing the fat pile of clothes that sits in my room staring at me every day. I could have gone to a party, but decided to stay home and get things accomplished.

If I was any more boring, I would have to be dead. Going out would have been fun, but I told myself the same thing my ex-mother-in-law used to say, “Oh, I’ve seen lots of fireworks in my life, I don’t have to see them tonight.”

As the evening wore on, I ironed, watched a movie and a few episodes of Frankie and Grace, then heard the boom of fireworks  and regretted not going out because no matter how old I get, I never get over the thrill of seeing those cascading sparkles against the navy sky. To let in some cool night air, I flung open the short casement window at the top of the stairs and noticed, that if I stood on my tiptoes, I could see flashes and sparkles in the distance. Continue reading

Happy Birthday George Harrison – You Were Part of My First and Best Concert!

Beatles ticket stub cropped.jpgWhen talk of first concerts comes up, I always sit quietly, smugly waiting for my chance. Then, as casually as possible I say, “My very first concert was a Beatles concert at Cleveland Stadium in 1966.” People’s jaws usually drop. They are amazed, either at how wretchedly old I must be, or that I really got to see the Beatles in person. Continue reading

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

What Will Change in a Year?

fish-house

The Fish Shoppe, no Christmas starts without it.

I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas. I love it. I love the decorating — filling the house with all my favorite things from Christmases past, laughing and remembering as we put up our ridiculous ornaments, baking, and being with family and friends. But I hate the rushing to try to get everything done and most of all, I hate taking it all down, packing it up and putting it away.

I hate it for a few reasons. Mostly, because it takes time. I’m anal enough to try to wrap each ornament in the same box it came in, if I still have it. I wish I could just be like normal people — throw it all in a box and not worry about it — but I make sure everything is wrapped securely to survive a summer in the heat of a California attic. I also make sure it’s organized so I can easily find things. I sometimes even label the boxes, but not always, because I kind of like the thrill of opening boxes and being surprised at what’s inside. Continue reading

Mi Dispiace, il Pranzo Era il Mio (I’m Sorry, The Lunch Was Mine)

I have been torturing myself with Duolingo lately.  It’s a website where you can learn another language. For the past 40 years I have been trying (clearly not hard) to learn Italian.

This week possession has been making me miserable because I can’t tell the difference between him and her.  I’m learning handy phrases like: “Il gatto beve il suo latte,”
which means the cat drinks his/or her milk. This is very confusing to the cat and me.  I am also learning things like, “Lo squalo mangia pesce,” which means the shark eats fish. These phrases will both come in handy when I cat sit for Italians or visit Sea World with my relatives.

Tonight I was learning, “Io mangio i tuoi panini,” which means, I eat your sandwiches. That got me thinking about sandwiches. Then I was talking to my brother, Bernie and we started reminiscing about the sandwiches my mom used to make for our school lunches. (No Tunnos can ever have a conversation without the subject turning to food – a scientific fact.) Continue reading

Happy Fourth of July!

Mom- Birthday Girl

The Birthday Girl

Today, my mother would have been 103. She’s been gone since 1992 and we still get “Mary” stories. Just today my sister forwarded me a note from our cousin’s daughter, Nannette.

The note said, “One of my favorite memories of your mom is when my mom took us to the old Beaver Falls movie theater to see, “Ammityville Horror,” and she busted out the rosary and started praying out loud , right there in her seat. At the time I wasn’t sure what to do, but now, just thinking about it makes me laugh.”

I love Nannette’s story because it corroborates my, “Raider’s of the Lost Ark,”story. My mom didn’t know how to be quiet in a movie theatre (or anywhere) and I remember shushing her — a lot, the day I took her to see, “Raiders.” Then, at the part where all hell breaks loose, the Nazi melts and the wind blows, my mother started crossing herself and yelling out loud, “Ooooh Jesus, Godda  forbid, Ooooohhhh Jesus Godda forbid!”

Mom-excited birthday girl.jpg

This is a woman who truly believes that whatever she wishes on that birthday candle is absolutely coming true! I loved that about her.

I’m with Nannette, just thinking about it makes me laugh too, which is what I love about all my memories of her.

However you choose to celebrate today, do it with gusto, like my mom. Leave people talking about you, or with their mouths hanging open, because, “Life is a daring adventure or nothing,”as Helen Keller wisely said.

Happy Birthday Mom and the USA!

P.S. If you have a funny Mary memory, please send it my way. I love hearing them!

 

 

 

A 93-Year-Old 36-Year-Old

Bianca, Pat and Alessandro

Bianca, Patrick, and Alessandro, their new baby, who will undoubtedly speak Italian one day.

I think a 93-year-old is inhabiting my nephew Patrick’s body. He sings Italian songs to his newborn son, plays Italian folksongs on his phone, makes homemade pasta, and goes out of his way to stay in touch with relatives, both here and in Italy, because he values family more than anything. Call me crazy, but this doesn’t seem like a typical 36-year-old. Continue reading