I have a love affair with Italian food. Most of the cook books that I have in my little library are from Italian kitchens..Lidia Bastianich, Giada DeLaurentiis, Mario Batali, and then there's all the recipes I've collected over the years from other sources. I've always loved Italian food. I remember being 5 or 6 years old, standing at our neighbor Vera's sink nibbling on a crumari cookie. She spoke very little English, but always welcomed me in to her big Italian kitchen. I loved watching her chop, stir and create wonderful smells coming from those huge pots on her ever lit stove. Sometimes I'd follow her down the steps to the dark, cool basement. There, just at eye level, were rows of colorful jars of tomatoes, beans and other vegetables that I didn't recognize. I thought those rows of jars were so beautiful!
My next experience with real Italian cooking came many years later when I was fortunate enough to have known the wonderful Italian grandparents of my boys. I learned from this family that pasta sauce is called "gravy". I'm not sure why, maybe it was related to the region in Italy that the family came from, but I do know that the pasta gravy that came out of their household (and one that I remember dearly) was delicious. The grandfather was the Italian, and when he could, he loved to cook the meal. But their Irish grandmother knew how to cook a mean Italian dinner just as well. The smells that drifted from that kitchen were so wonderful; you could almost taste the steaming plate of pasta, (and all that went along with it) that would soon be presented on that dining room table.
I was given the recipe for the long version of gravy, and the shorter one as well (to which I am very grateful). I made it many many times over the years, but never as good as what came out of their kitchen.
With the majority of Italian recipes that I use, I feel the longer versions, in my opinion, are just that much better. With a longer, slower cooking time, the gravy has a chance to develop a rich delicious flavor...and then of course, there's that wonderful aroma throughout the house that says,"garlic, tomato, olive oil, basil, oregano..."
So, after all that being said, there's always a time for a quick version of a dearly loved gravy. All of my books have these scaled down versions, and as I mentioned I have a treasured copy of "quick gravy" that is really delicious. From these, and my experience eating my way through Italy in 2006, (it wasn't just me; my husband, sister and brother-in-law were right there with me) I've come up with some really delicious Italian meals. I don't usually write them down (I know..) but I make them so often they're right here in my head, always at the ready.
So last week when I was craving something Italian for dinner and didn't have much time, or tolerance for a hot kitchen, I put together a fairly quick, scaled down version of my husband's favorite...
Turkey Bolognese with Spaghetti
- your favorite cooking olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 3-6 cloves garlic (depending on size)
- salt and any other fresh Italian herb (I use oregano or basil from the garden)
- 1 # ground turkey
- 28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes (the best there are unless you have a bounty of fresh summer tomatoes, then use those!)
- a splash of a red wine you'd be happy to drink
- freshly grated Parmesano Reggiano cheese
Heat the oil, add the onions, give them a good sprinkling of salt. Let the onion caramelize (resist the urge to stir; once is enough for 5-10 minutes). When they're close, add the garlic. When you can smell the garlic, add the turkey. Add more salt and let it brown on a med heat. Don't be afraid to let the turkey brown. As it does, it caramelizes, adding another layer of flavor to the gravy. Add the tomatoes, (if you like a smooth gravy, give them a whirl in the food processor) and turn up the heat. Taste the wine, if you like it, add a splash to the mix. Let it simmer for 30 min or so. Taste every now and then; add salt to taste and herbs. Boil and drain your pasta (always reserve a cup of pasta water, to thin sauce if needed) Put a little sauce in your hot pasta pan, a small knob of butter and a drizzle of olive oil. Add some cheese to the gravy, then the pasta. Plate it, then top it with the sauce. Delicioso!