My grandmother came to this country from a village in Salerno, Italy, when she was 10 years old.
When I was growing up, my family and I would go to her house in Hays for Sunday dinners, which always included her homemade pasta and sauce. This ritual would go on until my grandmother passed away when I was 12 years old.
When I think back to those days, I always remember a big pot of sauce simmering on the stove while my grandmother -- her hands and apron dusted with flour -- rolled, cut and shaped the dough for the pasta that she would serve to as many as 25 cousins, uncles and aunts for our Sunday dinner. I miss those days but treasure those memories.
I guess that's why on one of my trips to a consignment shop last year I bought a pasta machine.
It was perfect: A heavy-duty electric pasta machine that would only require that I press a button -- the machine would do the rest. I carried the big box into the house and put it on a shelf in my pantry. That's where it stayed until my husband said, "You know that pasta machine has been sitting on the shelf for five months now. Are you ever going to use it?"
Actually, I had been thinking about throwing a Steelers party. It hit me -- let's have a Steelers pasta party. And, of course, I was going to make my own pasta.
A few days later I was cleaning out my closet and found a stack of papers that were stapled together and sent to me -- oh, three years ago by my cousin, Elaine Kray, the family historian who lives in Hampton. And on the first hand-written page I saw "Louise DiLuccia Carrola's Sauce." It was my grandmother's "lost" sauce recipe as recorded by Elaine, who is seven years older than I am and has a better recollection of those family Sunday dinners.
Here are some excerpts from this letter:
TOMATO SAUCE THE OLD WAY
Pick ripe tomatoes in a large wash tub or large container. Pour over a soup pot of hot boiling water. Cover several layers of old sheets made from feed sacks (our designer sheets had chickens and chicken-food brand names). Let the tomatoes steam. Gather six children, armed with paring knives and hand rags to wipe the burning, acidic juice off hands and arms. Ignore all complaints. Uncover the tomatoes and peel, quarter and core. Deposit in a large dishpan. Add the tomatoes to an already simmering pot of an earlier batch. Toss in parsley, basil and salt. Simmer, and squish and mash; cook until it's sauce. Pour into Mason jars, seal. Continue until you have 300 jars.
TOMATO PASTE THE OLD WAY
Simmer tomato quarters in a large skillet until soft. Squish and mash. Pour into a big piece of an old sheet. Tie the sheet in a knot and hang it from a water pipe. Let a pot catch the drippings. Allow your grandchildren to drink the dripping juice -- tell them it will make their hair curly. Let it drip overnight until all is drained. Place the tomato residue into a bread pan; cover with a clean white rag. Place in hot sun to dry.
Allow to dry until brick-hard. Store in basement covered. Slice off a 1-inch slab to use in sauce.
So what does this have to do with my pasta machine? Read on.
The night before the pasta party, I took the pasta machine out of the box, read the instructions (that I thought were pretty simple), placed the pasta machine on the kitchen counter and gathered all the ingredients. I called my husband into the kitchen, and I said, "We're ready to make pasta!" I placed all the ingredients in the container attached to the machine, closed the lid and pressed the "on" button.
Maybe I should have stirred the dough before I put it in the mixing bin. I removed the lid and moved the dough around, replaced the lid and pressed the on button. I said, "This time it's going to work." We watched as the mixer worked its magic and out came one strand of pasta. One strand -- nothing else.
By the time my machine and I had made our one noodle, it was 11 p.m., and my husband and I both agreed it was time to give up and say goodbye to the pasta machine.
I wound up going to Giant Eagle and bought six packages of Market District pasta.
But first, at around 8 a.m. Sunday morning, I got to work frying the meat to start the sauce:
Louise DiLuccia Carrola's Sauce
You will need a large pot and a frying pan. The sauce actually includes a lot of meat, including braciola, or rolled stuffed meat (our family uses round steak and a bread and cheese stuffing). This recipe is at least 75 years old, so I updated it a bit using canned tomatoes and tomato paste.
For the sauce
2 29-ounce cans tomato sauce
6-ounce can tomato paste
28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
29-ounce can tomato puree
Meatballs, braciola, 3 to 4 pork chops and 4-inch chunk of pepperoni, sliced
For the meatballs (polpette)
2 pounds ground chuck
1/2 cup chopped parsley
2 to 3 eggs
2/3 cup grated Romano cheese
Salt and pepper
2 cups fresh bread crumbs (I break up stale Italian bread then process until it turns to fine crumbs)
Mix all ingredients and form into balls (about 1 to 2 inches; I use a 1-inch cookie scoop). Place meatballs in the frying pan and cook until done, about 10 minutes for each batch. Remove the meatballs and place in the pot. The meatballs may not stay round as they are tender and soft. But that's OK. Remove any grease from the frying pan. You will use the same pan to cook the remaining meat.
Note: The meatballs may be baked. Line a large baking sheet with foil. Place the meatballs on the pan and bake at 350 degrees about 30 minutes or until done. Place in the pot.
For the braciola
About 2 pounds round steak
5 or 6 slices day-old Italian bread torn in small pieces
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 to 3 tablespoons grated Romano cheese
Salt and pepper
Water to moisten the bread
2 cloves garlic
1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil
Place the bread pieces in a bowl. Add a few tablespoons of water and mix. If the bread still seems dry, add 1 or 2 tablespoons water until the bread is moist but not soggy. Mix in parsley, cheese, and salt and pepper. Set aside.
Trim fat from steak. Spread the stuffing over the steak and roll into a tight log. Tie the steak with cooking twine. Place 1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil in the frying pan, add the garlic, turn heat to medium. Place rolled steak in the pan and fry until the steak is browned. Place steak in the large pot.
For the other meat
Place the pork chops and pepperoni in the same frying pan and fry until the pork chops are browned and just a little pink on the inside, about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chops. Place the pork chops and pepperoni in the pot. (You may add sweet sausage to the meat mix. Be sure to prick it while frying to release the grease before it goes into the big pot. You don't want the sausage grease in the sauce. You also can add 1 tablespoon fennel seed.) Remove the grease but not the tiny browned bits that stick to the pan.
For the sauce
Place 1/2 of a 29-ounce can of tomato sauce in the same frying pan. Add about 1/4 cup water and stir. Cook the sauce over medium heat until it starts to simmer, about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently to pick up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add this to the pot.
Add tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, remaining tomato sauce and puree to the pot. Cook over very low heat 6 to 8 hours.
-- Louise DiLuccia, via Elaine Kray
Although my first attempt at making homemade pasta was a disaster, all that mattered to me was finally making my grandmother's sauce. I served the pasta the same way my grandmother did, but each person got his own bowl of salad.
We offered a toast to my grandmother and her sauce that night. Everyone had a good time.
And the sauce?
As good as I remember.
I'm sorry to say I don't remember gram's pasta recipe.
I remember a big pile of flour on the cutting board. She would make a crater in the middle of the flour. Sprinkle salt across the flour. She had a bowl of water with a cup in it. She would add some water to the flour with one hand while mixing with the other. She would continue until all of the flour was mixed into a dough ball. Sprinkle flour on the ball and roll it out into a thin sheet. Then roll the sheet into a jelly roll. She would use her fingers as a guide as she cut narrow slices off the roll. The pasta must air dry. Spread a big white cloth on the kitchen table. Toss the pasta onto the cloth. It will unroll and spread out. All about 1 hour drying time." -- Cousin Elaine
From Cousin Elaine:
Cooking meat for the sauce
While grandma was cooking the meat for the sauce she let us take some of the pork chops out of the pot, but we had to toss the bones back in the pot. No concerns about germs. It's all in the family.
And we made slices of broth bread while the sauce was cooking. Cousins came in and helped themselves. We would go through three loaves of homemade bread. You rip off a big chunk, spoon sauce over it and let the excess drip back in the pot. An occasional meatball also disappeared. Grandma got extra hugs as cousins feasted. We would go to our aunts' houses and do the same thing. They were very tolerant! If it was summer, you went outside. In winter you stayed in the basement. You didn't dare go upstairs into the clean kitchen or living room with a drippy piece of broth bread. Those basement kitchens had a good purpose. Aunt Philomena even had old living room furniture in hers!
SERVING THE PASTA
Arrange a layer of pasta on a platter. Cover with sauce, sprinkle with grated Romano cheese to which pepper has been added. Add a second layer of pasta, cheese and sauce.
Place braciola on a large platter; remove the string and slice in 3/4-inch-thick pieces. Add the pork chops and pepperoni to the platter. Put meatballs in a shallow bowl. Put extra sauce in another bowl. Serve with salad and sliced Italian bread. My mom doesn't like to talk about this, so don't tell her I told this story. At Grams's everybody ate salad from the same big salad bowl. Forks were flying! I think this was a common practice.
Arlene Burnett writes The Kitchen Mailbox column: email@example.com. First Published January 10, 2013 5:00 AM