Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Square Roots

My mother never liked to cook, and would much rather have been doing something more pleasurable, like ironing, at which she excelled.  I'm sure I was the only kid on the block who started the day wearing underwear still warm from the iron.  I'm not casting any aspersions, mind you. Edna worked a full-time job, and cooking was just an added burden, not a pleasure.  I'm sure she heaved a great sigh of relief when I was old enough to toast my own damn frozen waffles.

What she did like was pleasing my father.  And what he liked, inexplicably, was Spam. He liked it plain, he liked it fried (these days, in Florida, he likes it "lite").  How or when this led to square meatballs, I can only guess, but by the time I was ten , the only meatballs I ate at home were squares of fried Spam, served in Spatini spaghetti sauce.  I knew that there were round meatballs out there, big and messy and spicy, but it would be a few years yet before I would be picking at leftovers after school in the kitchens of the Guidarellis and the Ricciardis. wasn't all that bad. Could it be updated?  Should it be updated?  One recent afternoon, looking  over the slice of Polish meatloaf  I had just bought from the Ukrainian butcher, I decided that it could.  Spam comes from SPiced + hAM, which is what Polish  meatloaf is, anyway.  In homage to my Marine Park roots, I chose to used a jarred sauce from Michael's of Brooklyn, a restaurant located a few blocks from the ancestral home.

Cut the meatloaf into cubes, heated some butter and olive oil in a pan over medium heat, and tossed in the meat.  Brown them on all sides, about 10 minutes total (yeah, like anyone is actually going to do this), remove them from the pan and set aside.

More fat, if needed, to fry chopped onions, garlic, shallot until soft and aromatic.  Add a large jar of good-quality sauce (Rao's is another favorite of mine), and a very healthy slosh of red wine.  Add some  oregano, red-pepper flakes, whatever tickles your fancy--this ain't a classic recipe.  Simmer until thick.

Add the square meatballs (I think it's fair to call them that at this point) to the sauce and let simmer for a few minutes to let the flavors meld.  Toss in some chopped parsley and parm.  I ladled it over Italian bread,topped with more parm and parsley,  but its spiritual home is spaghetti, overcooked for extra authenticity.

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I'm a ninth-generation Brooklyn native living in Manhattan.