Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Gelardi Family Spaghetti Sauce

This is an old Sicilian recipe passed down to me via my maternal Great Great Grandmother, Ignazia Dimino, born in Sciacca, Sicily in 1875.  In 1899, Ignazia made the journey to the United States to meet up with her husband-to-be, Pasquale Gelardi.  They married and settled in San Fransisco, where they had 10 children.  

My Great Nana, Lena Gelardi, was their eldest child, born in 1900.  She passed away before I was born, so sadly I never enjoyed a meal cooked by her.  Fortunately my mom has an excellent food memory (it's almost a superpower).  Thanks to my mom's awesome food memory, I'll be sharing more of my Great Nana's recipes here soon.  For now, I believe her (and her mom's) spaghetti sauce is a good introduction recipe.  
Ignazia Dimino-Gelardi (my Great Great Grandmother), 1875-1938 (Sciacca, Sicily to San Francisco)
Lena (my Great Nana), 1900-1970, San Francisco
Vera (my Great Great Aunt), 1907 - 2008
About 15 years ago we visited my Great Great Aunt Vera (the second eldest Gelardi daughter) and her daughter, N.J.  One evening N.J. treated us to spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, using the old family recipe.  Vera confirmed that this was the recipe that Great Great Grandmother had taught her.  It was DELICIOUS!!!  Total bliss in my mouth.  However, the recipe wasn't written down, and N.J.'s dictated version includes "a little of this" and "a pinch of that"... "sometimes this"... "sometimes that."  Like many traditional recipes, you sort of let intuition, preferences, supplies, and habit guide you. If the recipe looks too precise or complicated, it's probably not the "real thing"...  Hehehehe... 

We're fairly confident that this is also the recipe that my Great Nana used, and was taught to her by her mother.  We also know this because... my mom doesn't like it... and for a very distinct reason;  whenever my mom tastes it, her mind expects to hate the meat... which was originally brains.  In this case, her food memory is perhaps a bit too vivid (usually that's a good thing).  Yes, Great Nana's version included cow's brains.  Mom didn't know why she always hated the meat until years later when she was reminiscing and complained about the meat's texture, and her dad told her the secret.  

THIS version does NOT contain brains.  Being a total coward when it comes to experimenting with new cuts of meat (I've failed many attempts at being a vegetarian), I'm not interested in achieving that level of authenticity.  Besides, it was originally served to me with proper yummy meatballs.  Great Great Aunt Vera didn't say the meatballs didn't belong with the original recipe, so perhaps it was only my Great Nana who used brains, and not her mother.  We'll likely never know.

That said, this recipe can easily be turned into a meat sauce with the addition of... meat... or meatballs.  We love it with meatballs, but also enjoy it as a purely meat-free meal option.  I've never altered the recipe to incorporate ground meat (though I probably will someday).  It's probably quite yummy that way as well!

I just made a pot this sauce, and had promised to (finally) write down exactly what I add and how much.  The quantities are subjective and were measured to my preferences.  So, even now, it's just a rough idea and very tinker-friendly according to personal taste... without compromising authenticity.  My measure of success is whether the final product triggers my mom's food memory and makes her cringe, expecting brains.  This does that.  And it's delicious.  

(I seem to have misplaced the photo, so I promise to add a photo the next time I cook it!)

Gelardi Family Spaghetti Sauce


2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped small
3 large cloves of garlic, chopped or crushed

1 large can can (29 ounces) tomato sauce
1 small can (6 ounces) tomato paste

2 large carrots, chopped small
2 stalks of celery, chopped small
1/4 cup red wine
4 large mushrooms, chopped
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more or less to taste, and is optional)

In a medium-sized pot on medium heat, saute the onion in olive oil until it's somewhat transparent (a few minutes), then add the garlic and saute for about another minute (careful not to burn).  Add the tomato sauce and paste, carrots, celery, red wine, mushrooms, and seasonings.  Simmer over low heat for at least 30 minutes.  Serve over the pasta of your choice, with Parmesan cheese.  You can add meat (brown before adding onions) or meatballs, but really should simmer longer if you do.  

Honey Oaty Bread

(re-published from June 23, 2010)

Aside from occasional sandwich rolls and sourdough baguettes, this is our household bread.  I make it approximately once a week, and Sean helps punch the dough.  In fact, we're due for another batch!  Pardon the horrible quality of the photos...

This whole grain bread fulfills my Hubby's one request: it's squishy.  It's sturdy enough for sandwiches too!  This dough rises three times.  I inherited this practice from my mom, who believes (and I agree) that the extra rising helps bread to last longer without going stale.

Jenai's Honey Oaty Bread
Turn on your oven light.  This will gently warm your oven to the perfect temperature for raising the bead dough.  However, it takes a bit of time, so turn on your light now.   If it's quite warm in your house (80s or warmer), then don't bother with this step.  Instead you'll raise the dough on your counter.

In a small saucepan, begin gently warming 2 cups of milk (half&half or whole milk are ideal, though 2% works also. I can't speak for lesser fat varieties, so you'd have to experiment).  If your milk is already pasteurized, then don't bother fully scalding the milk.  For this step, you're just getting it hot enough to pour over oatmeal to soften the grain and melt butter.

In a heat-tolerant bowl, combine:
2 cups old fashioned oats
2 Tablespoons honey (I use raw honey, and therefore need the hot milk to melt it)
2 Tablespoons butter
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Once the milk is hot and steamy, pour it over the oat mixture.  Stir, and set aside (stirring it around now and then, especially when you're bored).  This is going to need to cool to less than 116 degrees, so that it doesn't kill the yeast.  I aim for anywhere between 104 and 114 degrees.

In a glass measuring cup, combine 4 1/2 teaspoons of yeast in warm water (I use plain Red Star, and buy it at Costco. You may also use two packets of yeast instead).  Set it aside to dissolve.

In a large medium-sized bowl, combine:
2 cups whole wheat flour (NOT pastry flour. I use Bob's Red Mill, organic whole wheat flour)
1/2 cup dark rye flour (If this isn't available, you may substitute more whole wheat, or another grain such as barley flour)
1/2 cup vital wheat gluten (hopefully available at your local store.  If not, then go ahead and try it without)

Spoon about 1 1/2 cups of the flour mixture into a large bowl.  Stir the yeast and water mixture, to make sure its fully dissolved.  Pour the yeast mixture into the large bowl with the flour.  Beat this with a wooden spoon for about 1 minute, then cover with a damp warm cloth.

Wait about 10 minutes.  Sometimes I poke around at the oatmeal mixture, take its temperature now and then. Sometimes I check my email.  And sometimes, I take longer than 10 minutes (which is technically a good thing for this stage, though I won't go into those technicalities).  My point is that this is a very low stress recipe with lots of breaks.

After the 10 minutes has passed and the oatmeal mixture is between 104 and 114 degrees, add the oatmeal to the yeast-flour mixture.  Beat the goop with your spoon.  Once that is combined, add a couple large spoons-full (I use large serving spoons) of the flour mixture.  Add little by little until it's still a little sticky, and yet you can kind of maneuver the dough into a ball and knead in the bowl for about a minute.  This isn't exact, so don't worry if you didn't add enough flour yet.  You can add more later, while you do the Big Knead.  I always have about 1/2 cup of flour left over, which I save for future batches.

Cover the bowl with a damp warm cloth, and rest for another 10 minutes (or so).

Now is an ideal time to prepare your kneading surface.  I have tiny tile counters, which means I knead at the kitchen table.  I lay a large Silpat smooth-side down, and knead on that (a smaller Silpat would work also).  However, I've kneaded straight on the table also (until Mumsy suggested that might eventually wear away at the surface... especially since I made bread so often).  Just make sure your surface is smooth and can be floured.  Oh yeah... go ahead lightly flour the surface (with the bread's flour mixture).

After the 10 (or so) minutes have passed, turn the dough out onto your happy kneading surface, and knead! Try to tolerate as much stickiness as possible, knowing that it will eventually turn to silky smoothness the longer you knead.  However, if it's sticking all over your fingers, then sprinkle a little more flour. Sprinkle the flour as needed, until your hands are relatively dough-free whilst you knead.  The key is time and patience.  Whole grains absorb a lot of moisture when given enough time.  Knead for about 10 minutes (no less than 10 minutes, though a couple minutes longer won't hurt).

When you're finished kneading, cover the dough ball with a damp cloth.  Clean and lightly coat the large bowl with oil (I use Safflower oil. "Veggie" or sunflower oil will probably work fine.  However, do not use canola oil... it soaks in and sticks!).  Move the dough ball into the bowl, smooth-side down.  Then turn it smooth-side up.  It should now have a nice oily sheen from the bottom of the bowl. Ta-da!

Cover the bowl with a damp warm cloth, and place the dough in your semi-warm oven (or the counter, if your house is quite warm).  Let this rise for about 1 hour, or until the dough appears doubled in bulk-size.  If you live at a high altitude, this might take less time.  Peek at it now and then, and don't fret!  The bread won't fail merely because you aren't sure if it's quite doubled, or perhaps it's slightly more than doubled.

Once the dough has risen to double, take it out and punch it.  Then punch it again.  And again.  You're trying to beat the air out, and return the dough close to the original size.  After abusing it, take the dough out of the bowl and knead it for about 1 minute.  You'll notice that the kneading surface doesn't require flour this time.

Return it to the bowl (don't bother greasing it again).  Cover with the damp warm cloth, set it in the semi-warm oven, and let it rise again.  This time it will take about half the time (these are rough estimates, don't worry if the timing is different from what I state here).

Whilst waiting, grease two loaf pans.  When the dough is ready, abuse it again. Punch it, knead it, and get that air out!  Cut the dough into two equal parts.  Set one half aside, and roll the other half into a medium rectangle (about 2/3 the width of your loaf pan).  Beginning at the narrow end, pinch and roll the dough into a loaf shape.  You'll need to pinch the ends now and then also.  Pinch the seam well.  Give the ends a couple pats, and place the loaf in the pan.  Repeat for the second loaf.

Cover the loaves with your damp warm cloth, and let them rise again.  After about 20 or 30 minutes (or nearly doubled in size), remove the loaves from the oven (still covered with the cloth).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Once it's preheated,uncover the loaves, and place them in the oven.  Please don't bake your bread with the towels still on them.  Please.

Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes.  Remove from the oven.  Turn the loaves out of the pans and onto cooling racks.  Cool for about 10 or 15 minutes before cutting a steamy hot slice of bread... and smothering it in butter... perhaps honey butter... and jam... Mmmmm...

Since this has no preservatives, I store the bread in the refrigerator so that it lasts longer.  However, I do store it in a plastic bread box for a day or so before refrigerating.


Toast Pudding

Sean often begs for toast and butter.  And begs.  And begs.  It would be lovely if I could give this to him for every meal, but alas I cannot.

When I first looked at the bread pudding recipe in Meta Given's "The Modern Family Cookbook" (1958 edition), it was an attempt to find breakfast alternatives that would thrill Sean's little mouth.  Meta's recipe was more of a "bread and butter" pudding, and called for buttered toast.  Perfect!  Of course, I morphed her recipe quite a bit... but I still owe Meta thanks for the inspiration!

Sean watched me baking in the kitchen, and named it "toast pudding."  He was extra proud seeing me use the Oatmeal Bread he helped Mummy to bake.  This is my recipe, inspired by an idea out of Meta Given's cookbook.  (I wish they'd re-publish her works!).

 Toast Pudding
from Jenai May's kitchen

Toast and lightly butter both sides of          thick slices of bread (I dare you to use whole grain bread... it's delicious!).  I cut these slices close to an inch thick. It's great if you can cut your own, or perhaps double up two thin slices.  Take it easy on the butter, because it's really only there for flavour.  Not that it isn't delicious with more butter...

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a 7x11 baking pan (I think an 8x8 would work fine as well), break up and evenly distribute three of the bread slices into hearty chunks.  Sprinkle 1/2 cup of raisins (I placed these on top the first time, and burnt a few... as you can see in the photo).  Then break up the remaining three slices of bread.

In a medium mixing bowl (or 4 cup liquid measuring cup), combine well:
3 cups of warm milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 Tablespoons honey (or 1/3 cup of brown or white sugar)
5 beaten eggs
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Pour the liquid mixture over the toast, whilst pressing down any bits of bread that might dare poke up and stay dry. I also like to sprinkle a little more nutmeg and cinnamon over the top. Bake for about 35 to 40 minutes (don't bother with baking this in a pan of hot water, as this recipe doesn't need it), or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool and then either serve this warm or refrigerate and serve cold.

This recipe is fairly flexible.  You can decrease the eggs to about 3... and I've used as many as 6 or 7 (yes, it gets a bit "eggy" when I use that many).  Make it sweeter if you like, or saltier.  Try using cardamom, ginger, or other spices.  Perhaps you enjoy using agave nectar?  Go ahead!  Play with it.  :)