When I first migrated to LA back in the late 70’s, I moved into one of those sprawling apartment complexes in the San Fernando Valley. It housed transplants literally from all over the world. Young people who came seeking fame and fortune and hoping to get their big break, and people like me who were just looking to escape the cold, brutal weather of the east coast. I came with nothing but a suitcase and $400, so moving into a furnished apartment meant I could live with some of the comforts of home. It was a lovely place really, gold shag carpeting, plaid sofas and avocado colored formica counter tops. It had all the warmth and coziness of a Motel 6, but it was home.
I remember those first months living in LA all by myself so well. It was lonely and exciting all at the same time. Everyone at this complex was very friendly. We all seemed to be in the same boat; without family, little money, and crappy jobs, but very intoxicated by the perpetually blue skies, balmy weather and swaying palm trees. (You didn’t see many palm trees in Philadelphia.) My neighbors across the hall were a brother and sister team from North Jersey named Theresa and Anthony. He called her “Tree” and she called him “Ant”. I guess being east coasters we connected. Every night they saw me come home from work with a McDonald’s bag in hand, so they decided to teach me how to make Tomato Sauce and Meatballs. I’m not sure they were necessarily very good cooks, but I’ve been making their sauce (or gravy as they called it) and meatballs ever since.
Homemade Tomato Sauce
- 3 cans (28 ounce) crushed tomatoes – I used San Marzano
- 5 large basil leaves
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 1 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Empty the 3 cans of crushed tomatoes with the juice into a large stock pot. I used a deep pot because tomato sauce splatters like crazy. If you have a splatter shield, now’s the time to bring it out.
- Add the basil leaves, thyme sprigs, salt, brown sugar and butter, and heat on medium until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and stir until the butter is melted. You’re going to cook the sauce low and slow for about 2 hours, stirring every 15 minutes or so. When sauce is ready, pull out the basil leaves and thyme sprigs and discard.
- As the sauce cooks it will begin to reduce, so you will have to add some water to it to get your desired consistency. I wanted a smooth and creamy sauce, so at the end of cooking I used my immersion blender for about a minute or two. You could also pour it into a blender for a smoother consistency.
- 3/4 pound ground beef
- 3/4 pound ground veal
- 1/4 cup bread crumbs
- 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
- 1/4 cup grated romano cheese
- 1/2 small onion, pureed in food processor
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- 1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
- Place your onion in a food processor and process until it’s finely minced. (I used my mini food processor). Put the onion and all the other ingredients into a large bowl and mix with your hands. Make sure to incorporate all the ingredients evenly throughout.
- Form into balls, a little bit larger than a golf ball. Don’t work the meat too much, because you don’t want the meatballs to be dense (like golf balls).
- Put about 2 tablespoons of oil in a skillet on medium heat, and brown the meatballs just til you get a nice crust to form on the outside. You are not cooking them through in the skillet. When the meatball is a little crusty, then pop it into the pot of sauce, and let all the meatballs cook for about 30 minutes on a very low heat. The meatballs will flavor your sauce as it cooks, and then it will taste awesome!
Cooking the meatballs in the sauce is what gives the sauce it’s amazing flavor.
This recipe makes enough meatballs (about 30 – golf ball sized) and sauce, that you can have some now and freeze the rest for another meal. Just place in an airtight container.
Meatballs don’t always have to be served with pasta. I make these as an appetizer all the time. Put the meatballs on a dish with a fancy toothpick through them, hit them with a dollop of sauce and sprinkle with fresh grated parmesan cheese.
For Friday night dinners with the kids, I get some good Italian rolls and make some awesome meatball sandwiches.
I have nothing but warm memories of growing up in Philadelphia in the 60’s and 70’s. Although I live in Los Angeles now, I think that Philly will always be “home” to me. It’s where I learned to love Italian food. And one of the dishes I grew up loving was Linguine and Clams. Whenever I eat a bowl, the smell and the flavor takes me back to some family owned restaurant in the 9th Street Italian Market when Frank Rizzo was mayor of the city.
I was in 7th grade when I met my best friend Carol. It’s now many…many years later and we are still best friends. Her mother was a great cook. Like my mother, her parents grew up in South Philly and moved out to the suburbs. Although they were living in suburbia, her mom never lost her “downtown” style of cooking. On Sundays, they would invite me over for family dinner which always included a big bowl of “gravy”, which is code for spaghetti and tomato sauce. Well, Carol inherited her mother’s talent for cooking pasta.
While she was out here visiting me this week, we cooked many dinners together. How lucky am I to have a best friend who likes to cook as much as I do. My only stipulation was, that before she left she had to make her famous Linguine and Clams recipe that was passed onto her by a close friend. It’s a must. And I’m not just saying this because she’s my friend, hers is better than any upscale Italian restaurant I’ve been to. So, I’m going to pass her recipe on to you, and I hope that you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
Linguine & Clams ala Carol
1 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
5 cloves of garlic
3/4 cup olive oil
2 cups fresh chopped clams or 2 cans chopped clams
1 bottle of clam juice
4 dozen Manila clams (they’re the tiny ones)
juice of 1/2 lemon
crushed red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste
1 pound linguine
Begin by soaking clams in a sink of cool water to rinse off sand. If there is a lot of sand in the bottom of the sink, drain and fill again with water until there is no more sand on the clams.
In the food processor, chop parsley until fine and set aside.
In the food processor, process garlic until fine.
In a large pot, over medium heat, add olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes and saute until garlic is golden. Add 2 cans of chopped clams and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Add 1/2 bottle of the clam juice. Add the Manila Clams and cover pot. Cook over medium-low heat for about 1/2 hour until all the clams open. (Any clams that don’t open are not good and should be discarded).
Add remaining clam juice and fresh lemon juice and cook for another five minutes, Add salt and pepper to taste.
Boil linguine in salted water and drain.
In a large serving bowl, add pasta and pour clam mixture over the pasta and toss gently. Sprinkle fresh parsley over pasta and toss gently.
We served this dish with a fresh tomato salad and a loaf of hot, crusty Italian bread.