College Kitchen: Family Staples

Pasta and meatballs to share with homesick buddies.

Cecilia Mazumdar Stanger

Gathering around a heap of pasta lifts appetites and spirits.

Noodles conjure memories of spaghetti dinners, sleepovers and family meals.

Maybe the tomato’s natural MSG makes the dish accessible to people of varying ages. Regardless, pasta and meatballs are easy to prepare.

While there are many brands available in grocery stores, homemade tomato sauce is an ideal food to develop into your own “signature formula.”

My non-Italian mother has done just that with her “red sauce” and meatball recipes.

 

Gita’s Quick Red Sauce

 

Pasta shapes with a lot of grooves work well with thicker, chunkier sauces. Thin tomato sauces coat rod-shaped pastas, like spaghetti. Zucchini strands and spaghetti squash are excellent mild-flavored gluten-noodle substitutes.

Unsalted whole tomatoes work well for quick preparations. I’ve had good luck with Hunt’s and Trader Joe’s canned plum tomatoes. When available at the farmer’s market, buy a cheap bushel of seconds (fruit with imperfections) and peel them yourself to avoid BPA-lined cans. Freeze fresh produce in sealable bags for winter eats.

High-quality fruit makes a flavorful tomato sauce even if you leave out the spices.

 

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup chopped onion

3 cloves minced garlic

1 teaspoon powdered oregano (or 2 teaspoons ajwain)

1 bay leaf

4 whole cloves

2 tablespoons red wine (optional)

Salt, pepper and crushed red pepper to taste

A pinch of sugar

2 cups whole peeled tomatoes

 

1.     Heat oil and sauté onions at medium-high heat until they just begin to brown.

2.     Throw in the garlic, oregano, bay leaf and cloves. When the spices and aromatics start to perfume the room, deglaze the pan with wine (or water).

3.     After the liquid has mostly evaporated, add the tomatoes and a pinch of sugar to cut the acid.

4.     Simmer for 15 minutes to an hour. A longer cooking time produces a thicker sauce with a deeper flavor.

5.     Season to taste, and thin with a little water if necessary. Puree or smash with a fork, depending on the preference for a thin or chunky sauce.

6.     Serve over pasta with grated Parmesan and fresh basil.

 

Mama’s Meatballs

 

These spicy, savory meatballs are hard to resist. Try them atop pasta, sandwiches, salads or even on their own. Thanks, Mom.

 

1 pound ground pork

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons tomato sauce

1/4 cup onion pulverized in a blender, or minced

2 cloves minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon powdered oregano

1 teaspoon ground fennel seed

A pinch of red pepper flakes

 

1.     Preheat oven to 350ËöF.

2.     Thoroughly mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl (using your hands works best).

3.     Wash your hands and keep them wet. This prevents sticking as you shape the mix into ping-pong-sized balls.

4.     Place the balls in a large baking dish or on a cookie sheet with a lip, lined with parchment paper.

5.     Bake at 350ËöF for approximately 30 minutes. The meatballs should be slightly browned, surrounded by clear liquid.