Cooking With Feeling: The Primary Feeling Being Anxiety - Meat Sauce Edition

Updated: Mar 10


March is National Sauce Month AND National Noodle Month. Few things in the world make this Italian Girl happier than Sauce and Noodles. They are two excellent things that become perfect when combined together. There may not be a better duo in the world. Being able to make a great sauce and pair it with the right noodle to compliment it is a skill. One that I didn't honestly develop until I was stuck at home for most of 2020 and 2021. So let me tell you the story of my Meat Sauce.


As a baker, I live comfortably in the world of recipes. Italian families don't usually have recipes, definitely not exact ones. It's more like "You'll know when it feels right, my child." Sadly with me. nothing ever felt right unless it was coming from a recipe - again this is why I bake. Everything in baking is precise, like science. Cooking is like art. There are few rules. Rules are my happy place, I get a lot of anxiety when there aren't any involved, especially in the kitchen. But I needed to try because there was something I was missing desperately when I was in quarantine, my Dad's Meat Sauce.


That sauce is one of my favorite foods of all-time. Yes, that includes fabulous meals I've had in restaurants. There is something about the meals cooked by the people we love. My favorites are Mom's Meatballs, Dad's Spaghetti (Angel Hair really) and Meat Sauce, and Shari's Beef Tacos/Burritos. When I moved out on my own I was lost without the food of my parents, luckily they all still invited me home for dinner. But when I was craving one of my parents' specialties I couldn't just demand they make it. I was a grown-up I was supposed to make it on my own.


Mom and I make Meatballs together, a lot. So while I don't know that I'm confident enough to make it on my own (it's a large undertaking) I at least have the basics. Shari has tried to teach me her Beef Tacos and honestly when I lived at home I sometimes helped make them. While I can come close it's like she has some sort of magic she puts in it. Dad's sauce was a harder thing to acquire. He loves to mess with me and being able to withhold food I love from me until he was ready to cook it and share was something I am sure he took pleasure in. Honestly, I'd probably do the same thing to him. We have the same sense of humor so it's been a long joke. When I first moved out he gave me the list of ingredients and told me that there wasn't a recipe, you just knew when it was done.


As I stated above, I'm a baker. I don't have the skills of a great chef or home cook to just "know." And not "knowing" always gave me anxiety and usually ended up with me on the floor of the kitchen having a panic attack and crying when I tried to cook anything savory without a recipe. I know that seems dramatic, but it's true. I was always anxious in the kitchen unless my hands were in a dough, a batter, or frosting.


So with that list, I tried and failed for a number of years because my anxiety would get in the way and I'd hand the pot of sauce and spices over to my Mom to make into her sauce. Her sauce is great, don't get me wrong, but there was something about it that was missing. Being home for most of 2020 and 2021 (I sure hope that's not the case for 2022) gave me a lot of time in the kitchen to get over the anxiety and develop better skills. I eventually decided to take the elements I knew were in Dad's sauce and the elements I knew were in Mom's sauce and just mix them together until it tasted right. There was some trial and error, a lot of questions for Mom and about a million taste tests. But I finally got it. I could tell by taste that it was right but more importantly I could tell by sight and smell.


Meat Sauce is now my job in our house because I've developed a recipe that Mom absolutely loves. What I love is that it is 100% my recipe, though there isn't one. It has Tomato Sauce, Tomato Paste, Graziano Bros. Italian Seasoning, Sweet Basil (also from Graziano's), Crushed Red Pepper Flake, Frank's Louisiana Hot Sauce (this is a Dad thing and honestly - no other hot sauce is acceptable to my taste buds), Garlic Salt (occasionally fresh garlic), Parmesan and Romano CHEESE GALORE, Fresh Black Pepper, and a bit of Brown Sugar. I am probably missing something, but it's honestly become muscle memory for me when I'm in the kitchen.

Did I mention I like a lot of cheese on my pasta?

I never imagined getting to this place, but I did. Oh, and it's not just Meat Sauce. It's most sauces now. My Alfredo Sauce I measure the butter, cream (and milk depending on the recipe) and just run with the rest of it based off of what is in the house. Cacio e Pepe is a favorite of mine and it is 100% based off of taste, smell and touch. It's the simplest of ingredients but a pretty perfect pasta dish. These skills have translated to giving me a whole lot more confidence in the kitchen beyond just baking, which is honestly something I'm so happy about. If my parents' hadn't all said "well there is no recipe" I would've never figured out what my sauce was supposed to taste like.


Dad finally tried to write down a recipe for me and pretty much everything is "to taste." It also is enough to feed an army of people, not just the two who call my house home. So it's probably a good thing that I learned how to make my own.


Peace, Love and Pasta,

Annie

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