By Rossana Leeper
The earliest I was able to really process what was happening on a global level with the COVID-19 pandemic was Saturday, March 14th. I had just been told by my sister, who is a doctor, that I was not to leave the house for any reason whatsoever. Panic began to set in when I hung up the phone. For some reason, in that moment the vision that flashed before my eyes was of the scene from Wizard of Oz when Dorothy is swirling through the skies in the eye of the tornado, tables and chairs flying…the witch riding by on her bicycle cackling and the sudden thud when Dorothy’s little house plunks down in the magical, technicolored Land of Oz.
What was going to be my distraction–my “magical land of Oz” that day? My first instinct was to go into my office and spend the day pulling out dozens of old photo albums. Believe it or not, they were well organized and catalogued by the year. I began to thumb through them and access the “safe and happy” times of my life. It was soothing, time consuming and rewarding. I was re-visiting the childhoods of my children and uncovering cherished memories of my own childhood. All of a sudden I was enveloped by the warmth of my parents and my grandparents and I felt whole. I was once again standing in my Italian grandmother’s kitchen attached to her hip while watching her cook…and at that moment, I knew we were all going to be okay.
My Happy Place Is In The Kitchen
I vividly remember my Nonnie’s kitchen. It was a mecca for laughter, swirling aromas and the enchantment of Puccini’s La Boheme arias. I can see Nonnie’s apron, her brown leather shoes, the bun in her hair, her arthritic fingers, her swollen knees–but most importantly, I can still feel her love that envelops every fiber of my being.
Nonnie’s kitchen was my “Oz”. I watched her hands knead the dough for the Italian rolls, mix the crust for spinach pies, roll the homemade pasta while it dried on the kitchen table; stir the sauce, bread the chicken, sautée the escarole, and on and on. There were multiple pots cooking on her stove at all times.
We can’t even begin to understand the tireless energy and the sacrifices these women–our grandmothers–made in order to care for their families. They were not driving all over town attending functions or shopping. They were stationed in their kitchens mixing and pouring the emotional foundations that their children and their children’s children would rely on–never imagining that to be the “secret sauce” of survival for life and its many challenges…this global pandemic in 2020 included.
If there is one thing I recommend during these slower days at home, it is that parents and grandparents use this precious time to cook together. Focus on the simple joys of life–the joys that money cannot buy. Instill these memories that will never be forgotten in times of sickness or financial loss. Gift your family with the kind of nurturing that will create the emotional “safe and happy” place they can rely on as life takes them through its many twists and turns.
My pasta and meatballs (with homemade “never fail” tomato sauce), a favorite among our family recipes, is one I invite you to try in your own kitchens. In the meantime, I’ll be in mine…
Rossana’s Pasta and Meatballs, and “Never Fail” Tomato Sauce
MY “NEVER FAIL” TOMATO SAUCE
4 cans (29 Oz each) of Hunt’s All Natural Tomato Sauce
3 cloves of garlic cleaned and cut into quarters
Olive oil or Mazola Corn Oil– (I don’t measure. Just use enough to fully cover the bottom of the large saucepan)
Pinch of sugar
Garlic Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
¼ cup Whole Foods Shredded Pecorino Romano (I have tried many brands of Pecorino Romano and I really think the brand Whole Foods shreds and sells in their cheese department has the most robust flavor.)
- Cover the bottom of the large sauce pan with the oil and let it start to simmer. Add the garlic cloves (take the cleaned clove and push the palm of your hand down on it to separate it so the flavor is released in the sauce)
- Let the garlic cloves slightly brown to release the flavor, but be careful not to burn it.
- Add the four cans of Hunt’s All Natural Tomato Sauce to the sauce pan
- Sprinkle a good amount of garlic salt and pepper, stir to mix
- Sprinkle a pinch of sugar into the sauce
- Add a few sprigs of fresh basil (If you have trouble locating basil, it will be fine without it
- Let the sauce simmer and simmer and simmer……I cook it for an entire day very slowly and then heat and simmer on day 2 before I serve it that evening. You must watch it carefully because you do not want it to start boiling away or burn. A very light simmer will do the trick.
- Make sure you taste the sauce after several hours to make sure you have enough garlic salt to give it the right flavor.
MEATBALLS (Makes 14-18 meatballs)
Two pounds of extra lean ground sirloin
¾ cup Progresso Italian bread crumbs
1 tspn salt
1 tspn pepper
Olive oil or corn oil enough to generously cover the bottom of the frying pan
WHEN SERVING THE SAUCE YOU WILL ADD THE FOLLOWING TO YOUR SERVING DISH
One crushed clove of garlic for the serving container (see #10 below)
2 tbsn butter for the serving container – (see #10 below)
¼ cup olive oil – (see #10 below)
- Mix the ground meat in a large mixing bowl that is not too deep so you can really mix it around well
- Add the two eggs and breadcrumbs – mix very well
- Add the salt and pepper – mix well
- Prepare a large frying pan covering the bottom with either Mazola corn oil or olive oil – your choice. I prefer the Corn Oil because it has a lighter consistency for frying the meat balls. If you would like a healthier choice, use olive oil, avocado oil or grapeseed oil.
- When the meat is mixed, form balls with your hands and place in the frying pan once the oil has reached the right temperature – you should see it start to bubble slightly.
- Take two teaspoons and use them to turn the meatballs over as they cook. I like to get them somewhat crispy.
- Once they are cooked, place them in the sauce and let is simmer for a minimum of several hours. The longer you leave it in, the better they will taste as will the sauce.
- When you are convinced the sauce is thick and tasty (remember: minimum of 8 hours) place in the refrigerator over night. Remove the next day and continue to simmer at least two hours before you plan to serve it.
- When ready to serve, boil a pound of spaghetti or rigatoni
- While the pasta is boiling, you need to spoon the sauce into your serving bowl– add 2 tablespoons of butter into the serving dish and sprinkle ¼ cup of olive oil as well. (I like to add another pressed clove of garlic for more flavor)
- When the pasta is finished cooking (usually 10 minutes), strain at the sink and place directly into the serving bowl on top of the sauce you placed in and the butter, garlic and olive oil
- Add some remaining sauce so that the pasta is completely covered – garnish with some basil
- Add a generous amount of the Pecorino Romano on top of the pasta when serving.
Wishing you health and life’s simple joys, from my table to yours.