Immigrant Food

For a long time, I naively believed there was such a thing as "us" and "them."  Certain events (particularly, unfortunate ones) happen to certain people for certain reasons, but not to me for a variety of others.  What is it that allows us to think like that?  Perhaps nothing more than the evolutionary drive of self-preservation. But life's daily experiences, and a few large punctuating events, have taught me that there is no such difference.  Luck of birth, cosmic whim, whatever you want to call it - much of what we get in life, good or bad, is chance.  

This concept has really hit home for me a few times, but never more so than when my kids were born.  Having children makes you vulnerable in a way nothing else does.  Because, while you are responsible for the health, wealth and well-being of these tiny morsels, these beings you love impossibly so, you have virtually no control over any of it.  Sure, you can try and tilt the scale in your favor with homemade baby food and carseats and hand washing and no-tattoos-while-under-my-roof policies, but there is no guarantee for any of it.  And every parent knows this.  Which, whether you want to admit it or not, makes us ALL THE SAME.  We are ALL struggling to make our lives, and the lives our family, the best they can be. Some of us have more resources than others to achieve said goals, but none of us has more right. 

We had a power outage last week.  For 3 days, we had no heat and no lights and our refrigerator went kaputz.  And just as I was starting to feel really sorry for myself (and my kids, who literally could not understand where the fucking power went, "Will our lights be off FOREVA Mama?") I heard an interview with a Syrian woman who, 9 hours after giving birth, had to walk 200 MILES to escape to a "nearby" village while hers was under attack.  She survived, and eventually made it to the United States as a refugee. Recently, her daughter graduated from law school.  A success story, for sure, but ultimately it left me (in addition to feeling like a COMPLETE asshole for complaining about being kinda a cold for a couple of days) wondering, HOW CAN SHIT LIKE THIS ACTUALLY HAPPEN?

I have this really great spaghetti and meatballs recipe I have been wanting to send your way.  But, like, what the fuck, right?  How can anyone care about spaghetti and meatballs right now? I don't have an answer for you.  Even writing this down feels trite - why aren't I doing more? What DO I do? I am confused by how this world works; how in one neighborhood we can get up and make cupcakes for a living and how in another we might be tortured for being born.  How can chance be so astronomically unfair? It is incomprehensible. Ultimately, though, this gross inequity makes it incumbent upon us, those with heat and alarm systems and funds for baby Uggs and oh, yeah, freedom, to open our hearts and our minds to the rest of the world - to all of those other moms and dads just trying to keep their kids safe - and stand up for them. Not just because we should, but because, by the luck of the fucking draw, we can. 

I am sure you have heard this poem before, written by the Protestant (yup) pastor, Martin Niemoller, who spent seven years in a concentration camp.  It still feels so apropos.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

We must never take for granted how lucky we are to live in this wonderful country, a country that has made mistakes, but was born on the premise, and promise, of refuge.  We must stand up for every person, lest we forget that the only difference between "us" and "them" is nothing more than chance.

Now, for dinner.

Our Fave Spaghetti and Meatballs

This Italian-American favorite came to the United States in the early 1900s by way of some immigrants. But you already knew that.

Serves 4 generously

The original recipe calls for a mixture of equal parts ground beef, pork and veal in the meatballs, but I have started using buffalo or equal parts buffalo and pork and find it is just as flavorful, even though a little leaner.  The key to keeping meatballs from getting tough is to use a gentle hand when mixing and assembling them. A word of caution - if making for young kids, consider omitting the red pepper flakes.  They add a wonderful kick, but may be too much for those little palates.


¼ C olive oil

1 28 oz can whole marzano tomatoes, broken up with kitchen shears

1 28 oz can diced marzano tomatoes

4 garlic cloves, peeled, whole

¾ tsp oregano

3/4 tsp kosher salt

1 bay leaf

¼ tsp pepper

1/3 cup basil leaves, packed

¼ tsp Red pepper flakes (optional)

Cook whole garlic over low medium heat in olive oil 8-10 minutes, until fragrant and browned.  Add in red pepper flakes, if using, and remaining spices cooking 30 seconds. Then add tomatoes.  Increase heat to medium, gently simmering 2-3 hours until thick and concentrated.

Now, the meatballs:

1/2 cup roughly torn day-old Italian bread

1/2 cup whole milk

6 ounces ground buffalo or beef

6 ounces ground pork (or use all buffalo!)

1.5 large eggs, beaten to blend

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

3/4 cups grated Parmesan, divided

1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley, divided

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground fennel seeds

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/8 cup olive oil

1/2 pound spaghetti

 Place bread in a medium bowl, add milk, and let rest until moistened, about 5 minutes. Squeeze bread with your hands to remove excess milk, discarding milk. Tear bread into smaller, pea-size pieces and return to the medium bowl.

Combine meats, eggs, garlic, 1/2 cup Parmesan, 1/4 cup parsley, 1/2 tsp. salt, oregano, pepper, fennel, and red pepper flakes in a large bowl. Using your hands, gently mix in bread until ingredients are evenly distributed (do not overmix).

Before ballin, fry up a small amount of the meat mixture in a pan to test for seasoning and adjust accordingly.  

Then, gently, pat or roll meat mixture between palms into slightly larger than golf-ball-sized balls. If meat is sticking to your hands, you can moisten with cool water as needed. Place meatballs on a foil-lined, greased baking sheet.  You should have about 15-18.  These can be assembled and stored, covered, in the fridge for a 2-3 hours, until sauce is ready.  

Finish the sauce and cook the meatballs and pasta:

After 2–3 hours of simmering, pluck out bay leaves and add basil. Using an immersion blender (or transfer sauce to a food processor or blender, working in batches, if necessary), purée until slightly chunky but not smooth. Reserve 3/4 cups sauce; keep remaining sauce in pot warm over very low heat. Adjust seasoning, as needed.

When sauce is ready, bake meatballs in oven at 400 degrees for 15-18 minutes, broiling for the last 2 minutes.

Once all meatballs are baked, add them to pot with tomato sauce and simmer gently until meatballs are cooked through, 10–15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid, and return pasta to pot over medium-low heat. Spoon reserved 3/4 cups sauce over pasta and toss to coat. Add pasta cooking liquid, 1/4 cup at a time, as needed to loosen sauce and coat pasta.

Divide pasta among plates and top with meatballs and remaining sauce. Sprinkle with remaining  Parmesan and parsley.  If omitted during cooking (see above), you can top with a sprinkle or two of red pepper flakes for some added kick.

Do Ahead 

Sauce can be made, cooled, and refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 3 months. Meatballs can be shaped and refrigerated 1 day in advance. Meatballs can be cooked in sauce, cooled, and refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 3 months.

Adapted from Epicurious