Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Meal Fit for a King

When I was a kid, there was nothing like walking up the block and seeing my Grandfather's car in the driveway.  Gramps is the King of all grandfathers (just ask any of his 10 grandkids!!), and with him at the house, we had a really good chance of getting Genovese for dinner.   It is still Rennie's favorite dish and Mom always loved to make it for him.  Quick sniff when you walked in the door would confirm it, cause Mom always cooked this one long and slow during the day and the smell... well it was really somthin' else.  It always hit you like a freight train when you walked in the door, especially on a fall or winter day.  On days when I'm missing home or thinking of Mom, nothin really hits the spot like a big dish of Genovese.  This is a great dish that gets even better when you take your time cooking it.  I usually like to give myself at least 3-4 hours. I keep it going over a tiny flame (about the size of a match will do) and walk out of the house and then back in every now and then, just to judge the scent.

I like to start with a nice roast- a bottom round or a chuck roast with plenty of good marbling.   In a heavy bottomed pot, I braise the meat in some olive oil.  While it starts searing on the first side, I start peeling and cutting my onions, usually a half a dozen, maybe a little more if they are small.  (To this day, in his 80's, Rennie still cuts the onions for this dish every time Gramma makes it) 
Once the meat has been turned for the last time, the onions go in and get a little time to sweat it out.  I hit it with some salt and fresh ground pepper and a secret ingredient that I will probably get into trouble for sharing (sorry Gramma, but they're practically family!!)- a couple of quick turns around the pot with a pour of soy sauce.   Last thing to do is fill the pot with water till the meat is almost covered.   After that, turn down the heat till it is just enough to maintain a little steam coming off the surface.   Since the gravy that comes from this is like liquid gold, I like to vent the cover off the side, but still leave it mostly covered, keeping as much as possible for dinner.

And now, we move to our breif intermission.  This is about the time I like to pop open a bottle of Fortissimo and maybe turn on a good classic movie- something with Frank and the boys... Robin and the Seven Hoods or Ocean's Eleven- or maybe some Cagney- Angels with Dirty Faces or Each Dawn I Die...

As we get closer to "go time", I get my big pot of water going- at least two pounds of spaghetti or linguini for this one- if there are any leftovers, they are worth fighting over.   I'm like Joe over at I like some good macaroni.  If I don't make it, or get it fresh, I like my DeCecco- great texture, perfect body... boiled up a little al dente in some nice salty water-mmmmm- just thinking about it, I can taste it and feel the strands coming off that first big fork.   (I still remember fighting with my older brother in that Bronx appartment about who got to be Gramma's 'taster' when it was almost done... sweeet memories.)

While the mac's are cookin' away, I throw together a basic salad- romaine, cucumber, and tomato, as long as the season is right; dress it wih a little olive oil and red wine vinegar, maybe a cap or two of the balsamic, and toss it into the fridge for the time being.

Get the cheese out of the fridge at the same time.   I know everyone is high on Parmigianno, but not me- I can't do it; feels too much like betting the favorite.    For me, it has always been Pecorino Romano with dinner.  Big chunks of it, with a small hand grater on the table.  Now, slice that bread, get it in a basket (if it's yesterday's, give it a few minutes in a hot oven to hide it) and get it on the table.  I'm gettin hungry here!!!

Ok- so, now with your macaroni cooked, drained, and appropriately dressed in gravy (like a kid after Sunday dinner!!), let's get this thing going.  Get the meat out of the gravy and give it some time to rest on that big wooden cutting board.  Get the macaroni in a big bowl with plenty of gravy and tell everyone to sit down so you can start dishing it up.  We always start with a couple of dishes of macaroni (do any of "us" eat our secondi piatti with our primi piatti?? I hope not!!).  I can still hear my brother "Gramma, can I have some more?"... "OK Michael, give me your dish, but keep your fork"- more of those sweeet memories.

Next, bring out the salad and get your meat sliced and onto a platter, with a good amount of gravy and onions over it.  Time for round two.   I love to get my fork in there and grab an end cut- and don't you try to fight me for it!   Some fresh gravy and a good sprinkle of cheese and we're off to the races... Don't forget to hold onto some bread for the gravy in your dish.  Better yet- get a spoon!

I like to eat my salad last, a little vinegar to help cleanse the palate and aid in the digestion. And I like it in the same dish.   I love getting all those flavors together... you get the dressed salad, the gravy, the cheese left in your dish... mmmmm- I can 't get enough.

A little caveat on this dish- most of the time, you either get a great, flavorful gravy, or a very tender piece of meat.  It is a rarity to get both, even my Gramma who has been cookin' this dish up for the last 60+ years would tell you that.  But sometimes, just on a blue moon... you could get both. The evidence you are looking at here was just such a time and I am glad you could be here to share it with me- but don't think you're entitled to leftovers!!

OK- not sure I could feel any more hungry than I do right now... occupational hazard of writing about all of this.  Sadly, this post was finished long afer the leftovers were gone so we're all in the same boat as far as being able to enjoy more than a few good pictures.

One disclaimer- the meat you saw on that dish of macaroni?... just there for purposes of the photo op... that was put back on the board and eaten later, in its proper order.

And there you have it- a meal truly fit for a King... This one (like so many others) is worth all the time that goes into it.  Get the people that matter the most to you together for a sit down and enjoy- even if it doesn't come out so good, it will still be great.  'Cause Johnny Tomatoes says so!

Grampa and Gramma