UNA FAZZA, UNA RAZZA

SPAGHETTI WITH MEAT SAUCE

This recipe for spaghetti with meat sauce is prepared Greek style, my mother-in-law’s way. My Sicilian girlfriends, their mothers and grandmothers also use cloves and cinnamon.

Ingredients:

1 lb. or 16 oz. package spaghetti
1 lb. lean ground meat (such as sirloin)
4 oz. canned tomato sauce
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. ground cloves
Dash cinnamon
Coarse grain salt and pepper to taste
Grated mizithra or parmesan cheese

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.

In another pan over medium heat, sauté garlic in olive oil.
When garlic is soft, about 1-2 minutes, add tomato sauce.
Mix tomato sauce well into garlic and oil.

Add ground beef.

Mix beef with sauce, then add ground cloves and cinnamon, salt and pepper, stir.

Cook over medium heat until beef is done, stirring occasionally.

The meat sauce, when done, should be somewhat thick – add some pasta water if you like the sauce loose.

Drain cooked pasta and add to the pan with the meat sauce, or plate the pasta and add spoonfuls of meat sauce over the plated pasta (my mother-in-law serves it the latter way).

Top with the grated cheese.

Recipe Courtesy of Harriet Gianulis

After a long day skating on ice, one needs marinara to replenish the soul.

“Meet us at 5:30, it’s the Italian restaurant in the strip mall by your house,” said my Mom. Mom and Dad occasionally (well, often times) treat my husband, kids and I to dinner on the weekends. Sometimes you just want someone else to cook Sunday dinner for you.

Aside from my craving for Marinara, the restaurant choice seemed meant to be – the name of the place is Pietro’s, what our many Italian friends call my husband, Pete.

When we got to the restaurant where my parents waited, I saw seats filled, smelled garlic immediately, and was tempted to swipe a few ornamental jars of bucatini, which sat next to the pictures of the 2006 Italian soccer team (the team that won the World Cup). Chianti bottles waited in wine racks and posted Italian proverbs had me trying to remember the romance languages I knew. But sometimes you have to hear a proverb to get its full effect, like this one…

Unna fazza, una razza. One face, one race. Greeks and Italians – who share culinary traditions, history, architecture, political models and a love for soccer say this catchy phrase to each other, as I learned at dinner that evening, to establish a short cut to brotherhood based on said similarities.

Dinner started with bruschetta – fresh torn basil, mozzarella, tomato and bread over garlic and olive oil. We were happily devouring these antipasti when a man approached our table, pointed to my husband and said, “I think I know this guy.” It was Pietro, the chef. The owner of the neighborhood restaurant that has been serving authentic Italian cuisine for thirty-one years. That’s a long time to be competing with corporate restaurant chains. How does he do it? Well, with an Old World charm, congenial nature and heavy-on-the-last-syllable accent, he walks the house and says to his new customers as well as his regulars, “I know you, don’t I?”

I know you, you want your kids to have fresh food and scratch sauces. I know you; your Mama probably uses cinnamon or cloves in her tomato sauce, too. I know you; I overheard your son talking about soccer. I know you, you like extra red pepper flakes and I make sure you get them.

“He’s Greek, not Italian,” I said, I don’t know why. I love my husband’s Greek-ness, and think I was Italian in many former lives. “Ah, una fazza, una razza!” said Pietro. That didn’t take long to decipher. Even without any linguistic reference, it was clear they just established unity over culture, a culture I could never get enough of.

All of a sudden, I loved this guy, Pietro. He talked about a Greek Opera singer he loves, he asked if we like our food, but was careful not to disrupt our family meal which was silly. I wanted to ask him to pull up a chair and tell me about the little boy in the pictures on the wall making pizza dough with him. I wanted to hear him go on and on about his family and secret ingredients. Pietro is the type of guy one can learn from.

He represents everything I love about Europeans (I have never traveled to Europe, but I know many Europeans; it’s the next best thing). Passionate for cooking food, for pleasing people with food, for communicating with food – and Pietro radiated warmth that comes only from people with good will and no pretensions. It was in his smile and the marinara stains on his chef’s coat.

I imagine that he could chat about the history of his country as he made that marinara, both being second nature. Because with that fazza exclamation, it’s clear he knows the history of his country. He knows how the Greeks colonized much of Italy, and left culinary traces that bring them all together. Not just culinary, either, as Pietro is quick to point out. “The Greeks and Italians, we both like soccer, and we both like the girls.” My Welsh-English father pats my son on the back as only guys do with each other. My husband smirks as he finishes cleaning the olive oil, minced garlic and oregano off his salad plate with a piece of bread from the large basket brought to us. My youngest daughter eats the pitted Kalamata olives plucked onto her fingertips without a clue as to the language they are speaking, thankfully.

So the una razza at the table began their dialogue when our Chicken Marsala, cheese ravioli, eggplant parmesan, pepperoni pizza, spaghetti with sausage and lasagna arrived. I have seen how these expressive Europeans get started with a little bit of wine and a lot of food, then a lot of wine and talk of Mussolini and democracy, then on to women and soccer. It’s very entertaining and I actually sit and listen every time. But that night, I was hungry and chilly and I just wanted my marinara.

The lasagna and eggplant were steaming with a thin, rectangular layer of mozzarella draped over them like a bridal veil. The sausage was made at the restaurant, this I know, I could taste the different types of meats that went into the casing with the fennel. The Bolognese sauce was hearty and deeply red, as if it had been cooked for hours. The marinara was light, with the color and taste of a just-been-picked tomato, and was a little brothy beneath the spaghetti (that made it real to me). The cheese ravioli was the most unpredictable – the ricotta inside was sweet and pillowy; I could have eaten it all night. But the Chicken Marsala had our usually generous family fighting – really, fighting – over who got to take the leftovers home, if there was Chicken Marsala left (there wasn’t). Because the sliced mushrooms added to the chicken and wine were whole just seconds before being sautaed, and the Marsala flavor rang a bell somewhere between the Mediterranean and the New World. What not just the una razza but the human race would cook if everyone was as happy at the table as we were.

When we left, Pietro stood by the door to wish us buona notte, and my son told him “The Marsala was my favorite, I am going to order that next time I come here to eat.” Pietro seemed pleased with this. Pietro then said to my husband, Pete, “Next time you come in to eat, we’ll talk about soccer and food and other things we know.” Because they already know each other, the una razza. And what do I know? I know, because of my acquaintance with the una razza (as well as the human razza) that it will start with a food and end with a bottle, or the other way around depending on the day, and continue at a later time with a [soccer] ball.

This could go on for centuries. I certainly hope it does.