By now most foodies know how to make spaghetti the highly stylized and sublimely tasty way that Italians religiously do. I also love it this way. But here I am going to offer an Americanized version. Just as imported bees have “Africanized” our native docile breed, so there is a version of spaghetti that we Americans have morphed out of the original Italian import. I will give you my interpretation here.
As per my recipe for meat loaf, start with the meat, “a mélange of ½ pound of ground beef, ½ pound of ground pork and ½ pound of ground veal is certainly a winner. However, if your taste runs to all beef … cajole your butcher into grinding you 1 ½ pounds of beef neck meat. It’s the sweetest and tastiest of all the beef cuts.” One thing that ruins my appetite for such ground meat is gristle … so make sure that your butcher is equally averse when preparing your order.
Now, place a large enameled pot on high heat and add a quarter cup of good olive oil. Dice a large Bermuda onion and sauté until translucent. Then add four (or more) minced garlic cloves and cook briefly. Next add the ground meat and brown thoroughly … breaking it apart completely. (Use a potato masher if you can’t do a good enough job with a fork.) Add one small can of good tomato paste (Red Pack) to a cleaned-out space and let it cook for a minute or so ... prior to adding four large cans of good crushed tomatoes (Red Pack or Muir Glen).
Next add a good wine-glass-full of the red wine you intend to drink with dinner (a Pinot Noir or an old-vine Zinfandel?) and the following: a quarter stick of butter, a palm full of salt, a good pinch of red pepper flakes, a tablespoon of fennel seeds, about 5 good dried mushrooms (Cremini or Polish ones), a good pinch of oregano, and a teaspoon of dried basil. (Yes, dried basil … I know that many believe that dried basil has no taste, but I strongly disagree.) Stir real well.
Cover this concoction and gently simmer for about an hour until well amalgamated. Then, uncover and cook for about another half hour to fill the kitchen with those great childhood aromas. It is now permissible to dip a chunk of baguette into this sauce to assuage your galloping hunger and adjust the sauce’s seasonings. Finish the sauce off with a handful of chopped Italian parsley and a good drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
Finally, boil your spaghetti (I prefer angel hair or vermicelli, my wife likes the thicker kind) in a good amount of salted water until it is just done (a little past al dente)… and then drain well in a colander. With a pair of tongs place a small mountain of pasta on your plate, at least a ladle-full of sauce and a generous sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese. I realize that this later ceremony diverges markedly from the way that real Italians do things, but this is the way I often like it. I also enjoy my accompanying crusty baguette with lots of butter and a tall cold beer (certainly not Peroni … how can Italians drink that panther p*ss?) or the aforementioned red wine.
(Left-over spaghetti sauce can be made into chili quite easily. Just add a can of drained pinto or kidney beans, a handful of chili powder (you choose the number of alarms), more oregano, and a good tablespoon of cumin. Heat and serve over rice or on some steamed hot dogs in their buns. In some parts of the Midwest U.S., they even serve chili over cooked spaghetti. Try topping any of these variations with diced sweet onion, diced jalapeno peppers, and a grated cheese of your choice. How's that for morphing an Italian classic?)