There have got to be more than a million recipes for meatballs and spaghetti, but this one is near-and-dear to our hearts. Willa and Phoebe’s grandmother, their Nona, grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn; her father was off-the-boat from Italy as a young boy. Nona has passed this family recipe down to my wife and her sister, which we now follow as faithfully as possible every time we’re in the mood for the truest comfort food we know. This sauce is a good-old Brooklyn-style gravy, as they like to call it on our current neighborhood. My wife’s family just calls it “red gold.”
Aside from this dish being a sure-fire way to fill up Willa and Phoebe’s bellies (they know it as “ring pasta” and it often ties as a favorite along with Bucatini all’Amatriciana) , it also stirs up some strong memories for me. As a latchkey kid growing up on Long Island, I would try to help out by cooking dinner every once in a while. Before this sounds like a significant tooting of horn, let me clarify: I boiled some frozen tortellini. The exact recipe was cooking the tortellini in four cups of water with four chicken bouillon cubes. Mmmmm, salt.
I spied this recipe for Spaghetti alla Nerano on Food52 a couple of weeks ago and was immediately intrigued. Once or twice a week we try to get the girls to try a new food. We’re also not above a little assistance to make that happen, and pretty much any dish that involves pasta gets us halfway home. Since like most parents we’re generally obsessed with getting them to eat green veggies, our goal for this meal was simple: eat the zucchini.
If you have young children and you’re like me, you dream of the day when your kids start eating shellfish. The first hurdle is allergies—you hope that they don’t bust out into hives or something far more nightmarish. There’s a little voice in the back of your head wondering if you are about to poison your child the first time you give them any foods that could cause these reactions. But once that hurdle is crossed, the usual first response is of a look of wonderment that quickly turns into “WHAT THE HELL AM I EATING?” and ends with a mushy bite regurgitated onto the plate or other nearby receptacle, probably your hand.
This is the Big Bang, the prime mover. Without this dish, I wouldn’t have thought about unleashing yet another food blog on the world. But this is the first dish that got our kids really excited about food, and gave mommy and daddy some hope that all would not be mashed sweet potatoes and plain fried chicken for the rest of our lives.