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It’s National Noodle Ring Day.
I’m all about comfort food. It’s just that the food that comforts me is wild mushroom risotto with sherry and truffle oil; or the upcoming (watch for it) oysters, duck and champagne dinner Della and I have planned for Boxing Day.
There are recipes all over the internet for baked noodle rings with cheese sauce (it’s apparently a German recipe). I thought I’d spruce it up a bit by making an authentic baked macaroni and cheese (in a ring, of course). Perhaps drizzle in some truffle oil (that would definitely comfort me). But I couldn’t do it. It’s too close to Christmas. I tend toward a certain “curviness” as it is, and as I have only a few precious Christmas calories to spend, I prefer to spend mine on eggnog. Vats of it. I could go on and on about eggnog. Deanna will be blogging about eggnog on Christmas Eve, and I eagerly anticipate her recipe.
So instead (shameless cheater that I am), I made a ring with whole-wheat spaghetti and my Mom’s spaghetti sauce (with a few adjustments of my own). Less calories than mac-n-cheese, leaving room for those vats of eggnog.
Spaghetti Sauce is the “Betty” to Bolognese’s “Veronica”. It’s the girl next door of pasta sauce: uncomplicated and friendly, it will give you a hug at the end of a long day and listen to you complain about your life with love in its eyes. This sauce is the height of simplicity. It was often a birthday dinner in our house (who doesn’t love spaghetti?).
Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
A note on the dried herbs: you will recall that I grew up on the prairies. When I was growing up, you couldn’t buy fresh herbs in the grocery store year-round. Also, I’m surprised to discover that fresh herbs can become bitter in a sauce that’s simmered over several hours. I like to use the dried and then finish with fresh just before the end.
- 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large or 2 medium onions, small dice
- 3 stalks celery, small dice
- 6-8 cloves garlic
- 2 lbs extra-lean ground chicken or turkey
- 3 C sliced mushrooms
- 1 large carrot, peeled & grated (feel free to add other diced vegetables as desired)
- 2 T dried oregano
- 1 T dried basil
- 1 T dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried rosemary, crumbled
- 1 bay leaf
- 3, 16-oz cans whole plum tomatoes, with juice
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2-3 T fresh herbs (oregano, basil, thyme or a combination)
- tomato paste (if required)
- Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Add the onions and celery and sauté until the onions are translucent and starting to brown (5-7 minutes).
- Add the garlic and chicken or turkey. Sauté until lightly browned, using a wooden spoon or spatula to break apart the chicken into small chunks.
- Add the mushrooms and sauté until browned and moisture has cooked off.
- Add the carrot, oregano, thyme and rosemary and cook for another 5-7 minutes until the carrot is softened.
- Add the tomatoes, using your wooden spoon or spatula to break them up a bit (don’t worry, they’ll have lots of time to soften up). Add the bay leaf.
- Don’t salt and pepper it yet – it will reduce and the flavours will intensify.
- Simmer gently (do not boil the hell out of it) for 3-5 hours with the lid off. (This way you’ll thicken the sauce to the point that you shouldn’t need tomato paste)
- When thickened (or when you give up), add the fresh herbs and cook for another hour with the lid on. If your sauce is watery, add some tomato paste to thicken. Taste your sauce and add salt and pepper as required.
- Then… put it in the fridge overnight. (Yes, that’s right. The best spaghetti sauce has had some beauty rest before the big show. Come on, do you think Betty would try to seduce Archie after a long, tiring day?)
- The next day, slowly heat the sauce to simmer (not boil).
Serve with spaghetti and fresh parmesan.
If you want to make the recipe more “Mom-thentic” (for all of you shameless bacon-eaters out there):
- skip the olive oil. Instead, dice -8 slices of good bacon and sautee until browned.
- add the rest of the ingredients as above, but
- use ground beef instead of chicken.
P.S. Sage, the apron was a sturdy blue jean. Jim has a matching man-apron in the same fabric.