Saturday, January 7, 2017

"The Pleasures of Italian Cooking" - Spaghetti with Veal Dumplings + a bonus recipe, Spaghetti with Bacon Sauce - National Spaghetti Day, 2017


Date I made this recipe:  Wednesday, January 5, 2017 – National Spaghetti Day!

The Pleasures of Italian Cooking by Romeo Salta with an Introduction by Myra Waldo
Published by The Macmillan Company
© 1962; Fourth Printing 1968
Purchased at Hilo Bay Books, Hilo, Hawaii
Recipe:  Spaghetti with Veal Dumplings (Spaghetti Piatto Unico) – p. 73; Bonus recipe (untried) – Spaghetti with Bacon Sauce (Spaghetti all' Amatriciana)- p. 78.

So thanks to Facebook, I was alerted to the fact that Wednesday, January 5th, was National Spaghetti Day and boy was I ever excited.  Mind you, when I was growing up, Wednesday was "Prince Spaghetti Day," as advertised on TV by the Prince Spaghetti Company (go to YouTube and search "Anthony!  Anthony!  Price Spaghetti Commercial." (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8ti1hnLiLw)

"Anthony's" family was not alone in making spaghetti on Wednesday.  We often had it on Wednesday as well because Wednesday was typically the day we scheduled our doctor and dentist appointments for late afternoon, and when we came home, my mom wanted to make a quick and easy dinner.  She often made the sauce in advance in large batches and then froze and thawed them, so that all she had to do was cook the spaghetti, made a salad, slice the bread and dinner was served.

I wish I could give my mom credit for starting National Spaghetti Day but alas, I think not although the Prince Spaghetti commercial might have definitely played a role in all this.

Now I am nothing if not prepared for a day like this as I have numerous Italian or Sicilian cookbooks containing recipes for spaghetti.  But let's be real here:  it's the sauce that seals the deal.

Which is not to say that I don't like spaghetti and other forms of pasta because I do.  In  fact, every time I make a pot and drain it, I always grab a piece or two to "taste," don't you know, before putting it in a bowl and adding sauce.  I get that from my father who always tasted tested the pasta in the same way.  When it came to cooking pasta, dad was the man and he could make a mean sauce too, but he usually left that part to mom.

So I looked through my vast collection for spaghetti recipes and let me suggest to you that the easiest way to find one is to look at the Recipes Indexe found in the back of most cookbooks.  Simply cruise your way through "Salads," "Soups," and there you go – "Spaghetti."  And oh sure, sometimes you have to go rogue and look under "Pasta" but not in the books I looked at.

So I looked through two books and then when I got to this one – The Pleasures of Italian Cooking – I found not one but two great-sounding recipes.  The first one was basic – Spaghetti with Bacon Sauce (Spaghetti all' Amatriciana) – p. 78, but the second one was intriguing – Spaghetti with Veal Dumplings (Spaghetti Platto Unico) - p. 73.  Because I don't know about you, but when I hear the word "dumplings,"  I think of either hearty Eastern European food or Chinese dumplings like Shumai which I love.  In reality, these were really meatballs but the author chose to call them "dumplings" and who am I to argue?

Since both of these sounded good (and boy, was I starving when I finished looking through cookbooks), I decided to photocopy both recipes and then make a final decision at the grocery store.  And happily, I didn't need to purchase much as I had all the ingredients for either one save for some chopped tomatoes and, for the veal dumplings, the veal.

It is here I must pause to a) rant and b) tell a hilarious "What are the odds?" story.

The rant is this:  why do I always have so much trouble finding veal, never mind fresh (not frozen) veal in this town?  Yes, I know that some people have issues with the way veal (baby cows) are raised.  And yes I know that the Italian population here in Minnesota is minuscule compared to that of the east coat.  But for the love of Michelangelo folks, it is nearly impossible to source veal of any kind (ground, cutlets, etc.) and it's not like I live in the backwater, I live in the city!  A fairly good-sized city! "Twin" Cities even!  Yet you can just forget about finding it at a regular grocery store or  some of our upscale stores like Lunds & Byerlys, and even Whole Foods informed me that they are very fussy about their veal vendors (well, who isn't), and so they have not secured one for their local area stores.

Seriously?  In the entire state of Minnesota and/or Western Wisconsin and/or Eastern Iowa, you cannot find one – o.n.e. – vendor to provide you with veal?

What is this country coming to?

But folks, all is not lost.  Kowalski's grocery store (also somewhat upscale) carries it, as does the St. Paul Meat Shop on Grand Ave in St. Paul (but theirs is frozen) and so I had those two options but it's not like I had racks and racks of veal products to peruse at either because I did not.  At best, I'd find maybe a few packages.

As a side note, I have to confess that I was stuck with only two grocery options until it dawned on me today that I forgot a store: Cossetta, an Italian grocery store in St. Paul.  But Cossetta is a little further for me to drive, the parking lot is the size of a postage stamp, and it's a veritable "zoo" inside which is to say crammed to the rafters, "all day, all night, Marianne" ("down by the seaside siftin' sand...").

And now we turn to the second pause in our (riveting) story, b) "What are the odds?"   So I elected to shop at Kowalski's meat department where I found one, lone package of ground veal.  Well then, maybe I should make the dumplings after all, no?  Except I thought about the rest of you trying to source veal and thought maybe I should just go with the Spaghetti with Bacon sauce because if you all can't get your hands on some bacon, then I don't know what to tell you.

Still though, I vacillated and it was getting late in the day and I had other groceries to buy and so I left the one, lone package behind.  I did this in part because Andy was not going to be home on National Spaghetti Day and so I felt I had a day to make up my mind on the veal before making our spaghetti meal the next night.  Because seriously, what are the odds that someone else would buy "my veal?"

Turns out:  considerable!  Because I went back the next day and "my" veal was gone.  Gone, Baby, Gone!  I mean, the freaking nerve!  Honestly, I am still obsessing about the person(s) who absconded with my veal because who besides me was on the lookout for the stuff?  I was half tempted to ask to see store footage...

Luckily, even thought the ground veal was Gone, Baby, Gone, there were a few packages of veal for veal scaloppini.  And so I inquired of one of the butchers whether I could just put this in my Cuisinart and he said "sure," and so I brought it home and pulsed it in my Cuisinart for just a few seconds and I tell you what:  I would put up my version of ground veal against a bona fide butcher any day.  It was perfect!

So I added the rest of the ingredients to the veal, made them into little "dumplings" and fried them up as directed, and then all that needed to be done was to add the chopped tomatoes and some pepper and let it all simmer for 30 minutes.  Tack on another 8 minutes or so for the spaghetti (plus another 24 hours since I made this on Thursday) and we had ourselves a very tasty National Spaghetti Day dinner!

But I'm still stuck on how to accommodate the people who want to observe a late-breaking National Spaghetti Day but who can't find veal and so here's a thought:  if you can't source veal you might try using ground chicken or turkey.  The consistency is about the same as the veal and so it might work.  Or you could try ground pork although it might make the meatballs a tad more greasy so perhaps ground beef?

Or, you can try the runner-up recipe for Spaghetti with Bacon Sauce below.  I didn't try it but it sounded tasty and is oh-so-easy.

Finally, I have to mention that as you will see by the photo, this cookbook was likely well used as it is coming apart at the seams and that is sad.  Inexplicably, I found this book in two places, one in NYC and this one in Hawaii.  I passed on the one in NYC because at the time, I felt the cover was kind of tattered plus it was pricey, coming in around $25.00.  But when I found this version in Hawaii, even the falling-apart cover could not persuade me to pass on a book that was priced at $6.00.  I can be such a smart shopper even while being a dumb one with the veal.  And so we come full circle!
As to the book, when I Googled author Romeo Salta's name, I found that he was a pretty important person in Manhattan, enough to merit an obituary in the New York Times on September 6, 1998 ( Romeo died on August 31, 1998).  As the obituary noted, "one of the first Manhattan restaurateurs to introduce fine Italian cuisine" to NYC.  He owned a couple of restaurants, worked at a few hotels including the Waldorf Astoria, and according to the New York Times, even had a line of frozen foods with his name on it for a short period of time.  All that and more from a guy who immigrated here from Italy!  So "Oh Romeo, Romeo," I wish you were still alive so I could tell you how much I enjoyed these veal dumplings which is a damned good thing considering all the hoops I had to jump through to get them!  And they made for a very good accompaniment to spaghetti on National Spaghetti Day 2017.  On to next year!

Spaghetti with Veal Dumplings (Spaghetti Piatto Unico)  – serves 4
½ pound ground veal
1/8 pound prosciutto, or cooked ham, finely chopped
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 ½ teaspoons salt (Ann's Note: use ½ teaspoon for the dumplings, reserve the rest for the sauce)
1 egg, beaten
½ cup dry bread crumbs
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons dry vermouth (Ann's Note:  You can probably get away with using a dry white wine here)
1 pound tomatoes, chopped (Ann's Note:  I use Pomi brand chopped tomatoes. They come in a carton already chopped and ready to go.  And as I love to say, "Why do for yourself what you can pay others to do for you?")
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound spaghetti, cooked and drained

Mix together the veal, ham, cheese, ½ teaspoon salt and the egg.  Shape teaspoons of the mixture into little balls.  Roll in the bread crumbs.

Melt the butter in a saucepan; brown the balls in it.  Add the wine; cook until absorbed, add the tomatoes, pepper and remaining salt; cook over low heat 30 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.  Pour over the hot spaghetti and serve with grated cheese. This dish is served as a main course.

Bonus recipe:  Spaghetti with Bacon Sauce (Spaghetti all' Amatriciana) – serves 4-6
¼ pound bacon, diced
½ cup chopped onion
¼ cup dry white wine
1 pound tomatoes, peeled and chopped
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound spaghetti, cooked and drained
1 cup grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese

In a saucepan, cook the bacon and onion until browned.  Add the wine; cook until almost evaporated.  Mix the tomatoes and pepper; cook over low heat for 20 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.  Pour over the hot spaghetti and sprinkle with the cheese.










 






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