Growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Sundays were all about family and food — good food. During the formative years of my childhood and beyond, my mom and dad would drive me and my younger sister to my paternal grandparents’ house after Sunday Mass. There we would be joined by my dad’s sister and three brothers and their respective families. In all, we were 12 adults and 12 kids, and I loved it.
During my earliest years, Maw-Maw and Paw-Paw Young lived in the old area of Baton Rouge, off Winbourne Avenue. Their backyard was enclosed by a ramshackle, rusty chain-link fence. Through a slim gap between the corner of their fence and their neighbor’s wooden stockade fence grew several blackberry bushes. As one of the smallest and skinniest of the bunch, I was often pressed into service by my older and bigger cousins, who would toss a small bucket over the fence to me once I squeezed through the gap. My job? To gather blackberries for them. Sometimes they even let me have some. What I remember most, however, are the painful thorn pricks and my hands getting stained a deep purple from the blackberries. Those were good times.
Years later my grandparents moved to a different area of Baton Rouge. By then I was older, and my cousins and I all were into expressing our independence. That era is marked in my memory by long walks through the neighborhood with my cousins, talking and dreaming about what the future might hold. Incidentally, I am very thankful that the neighbors around my grandparents’ new house did not have blackberry bushes.
But no matter which house we went to on Sundays, what I recall the most is my grandfather’s rocking chair and how his house smelled of sautéed onions in butter, brown gravy, and rice. Beef roast with rice and gravy was a staple, a fairly simple meal that would easily feed the small army that was our family. Homemade cornbread, garden salads, and collard greens were also frequently on the menu. On Thanksgiving, Paw-Paw Young would cook two turkeys. He would bake one in the oven, and the second he would inject with Cajun seasonings and then deep-fry in a special fryer outside. Those fried turkeys were the best! I savored them. As a matter of fact, I savor the memory of them even today.
The word savor intrigues me; it always has. It conjures up for me images of beautifully set tables with fine china and exquisite serving pieces filled with warm, rich foods. It hints at leisurely afternoons around the table with family and friends, laughter and stories echoing through the house. Maybe that’s just me.
The basic meaning of savor is to taste good food or drink and to enjoy it completely. A deeper meaning of savor describes enjoying or appreciating to the full some good thing or experience, especially by dwelling on it or pondering it. We can savor moments, experiences, even life itself. To that end, savor calls me to attention, reminding me of the necessity to slow down, to relax, to take my time and to enjoy what is before me … both the food and the company. I don’t know about you, but that type of slowing down, that type of attention, is not always easy. Life is simply too busy for most of us in this age of distraction.
This column is named Savoring Sundays, and I hope that it helps both you and me to hold onto the importance of slowing down, relaxing, and attentively connecting with friends and family regularly … even weekly!
It seems that savoring came naturally to me when I was a child. I had less to worry about (mainly those blackberry bush thorns — and sometimes my cousins), and life was just simpler back then. There were no smartphones, no mobile devices, no video games, and only three channels on the television. It was very different than today.
Today, if we are going to savor our Sundays, our families, and our family meals, then we have to be intentional. We have to make some kind of special effort. To that end, in each issue I will share with you some practical suggestions along with a recipe or two to help us learn to savor Sundays.
This month I want to share with you my recipe for pasta Bolognese, a hearty Italian dish that can feed a large family (or a small army). A tomato sauce featuring beef and/or pork, pasta Bolognese is often referred to in Italy as ragù alla bolognese or simply ragù.
This recipe makes a tomato sauce that is rich and hearty, and the soffritto (onions, celery, and carrots) gives it a nice sweetness. Serve it over any wide, flat pasta, such as fettuccine. Fresh basil pushes this dish over the top in a good way. It’s a big recipe, one you can serve your family for two or three dinners. You could always freeze some, so you’ll have a meal ready to serve one night when you don’t have time to cook.
If you try this recipe, let me know. I’d love to hear how it turns out for you!
3 sweet yellow onions, chopped
3 carrots, washed, peeled, and grated
3 ribs celery, chopped
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt, to taste
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
1 to 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper, or to taste
1 can tomato paste
2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes (I prefer Cento brand.)
1 cup dry red wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup milk
2½ pounds ground round
4 ounces pancetta or bacon, finely chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano
Fresh basil, chopped, to taste, plus extra for garnish
Romano cheese, grated or shredded, as garnish
Wide pasta, cooked al dente according to package directions
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, add the olive oil, onions, celery, and carrots. Sauté until soft, about 10 minutes.
Add the ground beef and pancetta or bacon. Sauté, breaking up the meat with the back of a cooking spoon. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until browned, about 15 minutes.
Create a well in the middle of the pot by moving the contents to the sides. Add the tomato paste to the well and stir constantly for a minute or two, slowly incorporating the tomato paste with the contents of the pot.
Add the wine and allow to boil for 1 minute, stirring and scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot.
Add the chicken stock and stir to blend. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 1½ hours so the flavors will marry. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes.
Heat milk in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Slowly add the milk to the sauce, stirring well to incorporate. Partially cover the sauce with a lid and simmer until milk is absorbed, about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, and add more stock — ¼ cup at a time — to thin the sauce, if needed.
Prepare pasta al dente according to package directions, reserving the pasta water. Transfer a portion of the sauce (enough for the amount of pasta you are going to serve) to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pasta to the sauce and toss to coat, adding more sauce as necessary. If the sauce seems too dry, stir in some of the reserved pasta water one tablespoonful at a time.
Serve pasta on warm plates. Top with shredded or grated Romano cheese and chopped fresh basil.