Thursday, February 17, 2011

Good Irish Food

There is no such thing.  I discovered this fact on my honeymoon in Ireland 15 years ago.  Don't get me wrong. I had a delightful honeymoon filled with many pleasurable memories; food, unfortunately, was not among them.  For almost a week my diet was exclusively brown:  potatoes, fried fish, Guinness, and ugh,  the vegetables.  I craved fresh and green.  One night in a "nice" restaurant, at least according to the locals, I ordered a salad.  I was greeted by dingy iceberg lettuce and an anemic pink tomato, each of them struggling to survive in the flood of vegetable oil disguised as a dressing.  Sigh.

By the time we hit Dublin, I was anxious for anything with flavor.  I wanted a meal that would draw me in and keep me there.  I wanted aromas of garlic and and warm bread.  I wanted the food that had sustained my ancestors; I wanted Italian.  Cue the mandolins.  We found an adorable spot complete with checkered table cloths.  Right there in Dublin.  I ordered spaghetti bolognese.  To this day I have no idea if it was any good or not, but to me, at that time, it was simply divine.  That's the beauty of Irish food:  it sets the culinary bar so low that by comparison just about anything is haute cuisine.  I know this first hand because all of my in-laws are Irish.  They love me because in their little world of leathery meat and slithery vegetables, I'm a good cook.   So in honor of St. Patrick's Day, drink all the green beer that you want, but do yourself a favor, make some spaghetti sauce.


1.   If you are Irish, go through your pantry and throw out anything labeled "Ragu,"  "Prego," or "Chef-Boy-R-Dee".   If you aren't Irish, throw them out anyway.  They're bad karma for the sauce.

2.  Saute one large diced onion in olive oil.  You want to get it soft and translucent.  This requires medium to low heat and time.  Too much heat and you will either burn the oil or char the onions.

3.  Brown two pounds of ground beef.  If you don't buy extra lean, you'll need to strain off the fat, unless you'd prefer to die young.

4.  Boil 6 big spicy pork sausage links in water until cooked through.   The spicy Italian sausage from Costco is what I typically buy.  Don't buy breakfast sausage.  Ever.

5.  Open four 27 oz cans of tomatoe puree and pour them into a large pot.  Add cooked onion, pork, and ground beef.   You can go crazy here; we're in suburbia, afterall.  Whole tomotoes run through your blender work too.  Diced tomatoes work if you want your sauce a little chunkier here.  I've even toyed around with fresh tomatoes, but they're a bit of a hassle because you really should peel them first, and Julia Child's blanching technique notwithstanding, it's just a pain. 

6.  Add about 2 heaping tablespoons of dried parsley and 2 heaping tablespoons of dried basil.  You can also use fresh parsley and fresh basil too, I just don't know how much.  I'm not being facetious; fresh herbs all have a different pungency.  You need to taste them, and then figure out how much to use.

7.  Peel 6 large cloves of garlic and pop them in.  And just so you know, it's right about here that my mother, if she's reading this, will roll her eyes, shake her headin contempt, and say in that special tone that always IRKS me "Oh, Cynthia.  That's just too much garlic."  So, in deference to my mother, who only puts one measley clove of garlic in her sauce--you do what you want.  I'm sticking with six.

8.  Add one bay leaf.  I have no idea why.

9.  Simmer on low low low heat for about 1.5--2 hours.  DON'T BRING TO A BOIL; you'll burn the sauce.  Have your husband stir every 15-30 minutes; it makes him feel useful.

10.  Add, most probably, some tomato paste.  This part is tricky, and simply takes some experience.  Check the sauce after about 2 hours; if it looks like soup, add  tomato paste, a 6 oz can for starters.  It should be thick enough so that you can stick a wooden spoon into it and the spoon will stand up straight.

If it's already fairly thick, you might even be able to skip the paste.  Frequently if you start with just a puree that might just be the case.  Conversely, if you start with just tomatoes, 2 or even 3 cans might be required.  There are no rules here.  Believe it or not, tomatoes are like snowflakes: no two are alike--particularly when it comes to their water content.   What you want to avoid at all cost is a sauce that creates a watery pool on the edge of the plate when it is served.  There's only one word for this--yuck.

11.  Taste.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add a pinch or two of sugar if it tastes bitter.

12.  Serve on your favorite al dente pasta.  Freeze the leftovers.

Slainte! (i.e. Irish for "Bon Apetit"!)


  1. Ah, now I know your innermost secrets, and maybe I can get my husband off his crush on you, er, on your sauce.

  2. AH--I copied it. Right out of the 'Godfather". Can't wait to make it myself!

  3. This had me rolling. Irish food (other then Guinness, and yes, its a food) is terrible. Can't wait to try this sauce.

  4. Loved this! But I thought you were supposed to call it gravy??? Looking forward to making this one weekend soon.