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Keeping Traditions Alive through Food, Friends & Family

Passport & Plate - Grandma's Secret Family Sauce over Cavatelli, with

Italy | Saturday, 22 February 2014 | 5 photos

Ingredients for Meatballs:
1 Heavy Pinch of Salt
Approximately ½ tsp Black Pepper
1.25 lbs ground beef
0.5 lbs pork sausage
2 large eggs
Approximately ½ Tbsp Italian Seasoning (Basil, Oregano, Rosemary, Marjoram, Thyme)
Small Handful of Fresh Parsley, minced
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
Approximately ¼ Cup Breadcrumbs (Italian or plain; add more if meatballs don’t hold together well)
Approximately 2 Tbsp Pecorino Romano cheese

Ingredients for Sauce:
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
Four large pork neck bones
28 ounces of San Marzano tomatoes, pureed
12 ounces of tomato paste
3 Bay Leaves
4 Cloves Garlic, minced
Black Pepper (to taste)
Small handful of baby carrots, diced
1 Tbsp Italian Seasoning (Basil, Oregano, Rosemary, Marjoram, Thyme)
1 tsp Salt (or to taste)
Small Bunch Fresh Parsley
Small Bunch Fresh Basil
About 2 cups red wine (optional; your choice in varietal)
Pecorino Romano Cheese for Serving (or, if you’re a traditionalist, Parmigiano)

Ingredients for Cavatelli:
2 lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes
1 Large Egg
8-12 Cups Flour (plus more for rolling)
1 Cup Ricotta Cheese
2 Pinches salt


How to prepare this recipe
1-Heat oil in large pot over medium heat 3-5 mins
2-Quickly brown 2 cloves garlic till fragrant; do not overcook
3-Lightly brown neck bones in oil on all sides
4-Add pureed tomatoes & about 10 ounces water
5-Add tomato paste & 3 small cans water
6-Add the rest of the seasonings & stir well
7-Put all meatball ingredients in a large bowl & knead together with hands. Form into 2.5” balls & drop into sauce
8-Reduce heat to low & cover (with vent) 7-8 hrs. If sauce begins to reduce too much, add red wine or more water
9-While sauce is cooking, skin & then boil potatoes till soft
10-Cover a wooden butcher block or other cooking surface with a light coating of flour & use a ricer on its finest setting to break up potatoes directly onto the surface
11-Create a “well” & sprinkle potatoes with 3 cups flour
12-Put salt, egg & ricotta cheese into the well & incorporate with hands. Continue adding flour until dough is only slightly sticky. Break off a small chunk & set the rest aside under a damp towel.
13-Continue adding flour to the piece you are kneading until it does not stick to your fingers. Sticky dough will get caught in the cavatelli maker
14-Roll the dough into 12” strips 3/4” thick. Place a baking sheet to catch the pasta. Insert one end of the dough between the dowels of the machine. When you turn the crank, the cavatelli will drop from the other end. Continue with all the dough.
15-After sauce has simmered 7-8 hours, salt & pepper to taste. Remove neck bones. Pull meat from the bones & incorporate into sauce. Extinguish heat.

To Serve:
1-Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil & add cavatelli. As they float to the top, remove them with a slotted spoon & place in serving dish
2-Remove meatballs from sauce with a slotted spoon & set aside in a serving bowl
3-Lightly cover pasta with several ladles of sauce & a good sprinkling of cheese
4-Put additional sauce in a carafe with a small ladle
5-Serve pasta, meatballs & sauce to a loving group of family & friends


The story behind this recipe
My grandmother–Esther Capuano–was a huge part of my life. We called her the Energizer Bunny; nothing could bring her down.
That changed 2 years ago when she was diagnosed with cancer and began chemotherapy. She was constantly exhausted and couldn’t stand for hours to cook Sunday dinner for the family. She was devastated.
So I, who barely knew how to heat-up a Lean Cuisine, told her it was time I learned her secrets. It wasn’t just a nice thing to do for my grandmother; it was important –to her and to me– that the recipes and traditions her family had brought over from Italy would live on, that the family would always gather for Sunday dinner. These things define us in ways we don’t always recognize; they connect us to history and to each other.
Passed from mother to daughter for generations, the recipe for her family’s pasta sauce with all its rich, layered flavors had never been written down. She told me that was the next recipe on the list; we’d make it the next time I flew home.
Two weeks later she passed away.
Later that year I was rifling through her recipe box and found, to my surprise, the non-existent “recipe” scribbled in my 12-yr-old handwriting. I suddenly remembered sitting at her kitchen counter years ago, shocked that no one else knew the recipe, grabbing a notepad and writing down everything I saw.
Last month I visited the hilltop village where our family is from, 2 hours east of Naples. I could imagine my great-grandparents on a Sunday afternoon: Pop playing cards with his brothers while Mamma set the table, the cousins playing tag in street, running barefoot over the cobblestones. And all while this pasta sauce simmering on the stove.
I realized that, even though it’s a simple recipe, it’s the traditions, the history and the memories that give this sauce its rich layers. You can taste it all–every Sunday dinner in that mountaintop village in Italy to the Sunday dinners in my grandmother’s bright Orlando, FL kitchen–in every single bite.

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