“Once upon a time there was a sweet young newly married woman who was cooking her husband’s favourite dish, Fasolia (a traditional Greek bean dish). She had been brought up by a mother who was the best cook in their village and she was so confident that her Fasolia recipe would be the best her husband had ever tasted. During their first week of marriage, she spent hours preparing this special meal with so much excitement, completely prepared to be worshiped as a culinary goddess upon his return. When he arrived home, the familiar aroma immediately alerted him to his favourite meal and as he sat down, spoon in hand, she prepared herself for the onslaught of love and devotion. He took his first bite and hmmm-ed and ahhh-ed sweetly patting his new bride on the arm and said it was delicious. However, she noticed that even though he finished every bite, he didn’t seem as delighted as she was expecting. She asked him if everything was OK and he smiled sweetly, reaffirming that it was very nice but as she pressed further he admitted, to her disappointment, that it wasn’t as good as his mother’s! Although at first she was rather insulted, her resolution to make the best Fasolia known to any person drove her to keep making this dish week in and week out, trying every trick she could think of, even getting tips from his mother. But, each time, she would hear the same response. He kept agreeing that it was delicious but just not as good as his mum’s. One day she was so busy taking care of other things in her daily routine that she got completely side tracked and accidently burnt the Fasolia. She was mortified and tried to remove any blackened pieces and other tell tale signs that her dish was not perfect. She anxiously served up her dinner to her very hungry husband that evening and after several servings, he beamed at her in complete satisfaction. ‘Honey’ he said ‘I don’t know how you did it but that was the best Fasolia ever- it tasted just like my mother’s’!”
My own mother told me this great story one day as we were cooking away together in the kitchen. Obviously this was a Greek tale that had been passed down from mother to daughter and it has all the old-school gender ideas still somewhat prominent in certain communities. Don’t get me wrong, my mum is not old fashioned about gender roles and is most definitely a huge advocate for equality. I have always felt empowered as a woman because of her influence. She did not tell me this story to make me ‘know my place in my future marriage’ or to ‘find my identity in my husband’s approval’. It was just a funny story about how everyone prefers their family’s cooking no matter the quality! And I think that’s true- the food we eat at home as children can play a huge part in how we assess the food we eat as adults. That doesn’t mean we can’t change our ideas and opinions and taste buds, but there is something unmistakably familiar and comforting when we eat something from our childhood. If you grew up eating Kraft Mac n Cheese from a box (or Super Noodles if you grew up in the 80’s in Britain!) it doesn’t matter how wonderful the exquisite Lobster Mac n Cheese with Gruyere and Aged Parmesan tastes, it can’t have the same emotional effect of transporting you back several years that eating the Kraft does. Luckily, John and I really were raised by the best cooks in their ‘village’ (and not just our mums but our dads can rock the kitchen too!) so we were spoiled by delicious food our whole lives.
One thing our parents both made was great spaghetti sauce. However, they both made it very differently, so in our early days of marriage when I presented my first Spaghetti Bolognese to John in full confidence, I was sad to find that it wasn’t like his dad’s! Over the years my sauce has therefore evolved and I have incorporated things from both our families to make the one I use today. Fortunately there was no burning involved but I am so pleased with it that I have been using it for more than just spaghetti bolognese. Here is my latest creation- The Meatball Boat. It’s basically my version of a meatball sub but without having the rich tangy sauce dripping everywhere and filling up your plate instead of your belly! You will find this sauce is really good wherever tomato sauce is required including pizza, pasta sauces and for dipping garlic bread.
Leia’s Meatball Boats
1 can organic chopped fire roasted tomatoes (optional- I pulse these right in the can with a hand held blender to remove all the chunks)
1tbsp tomato puree
1tbsp brown sugar (if you use a sweeter wine, omit the sugar)
½ cup Cabernet Sauvignon
½ onion chopped finely
3 medium garlic cloves chopped finely
1/2 tbsp dried rosemary
1/2 tbsp dried basil
3 bay leaves
1Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
pepper to taste
All great things begin with olive oil, onions and garlic. Warm the olive oil and then add the onions, stirring on medium-heat until golden brown.
Once the onions are ready, pop in the garlic. It’s important not to add the garlic earlier as it will burn and become bitter.
Once the garlic is just beginning to brown, pour in the wine to deglaze the pan and let it bubble for about half a minute. Add the tomatoes, brown sugar, herbs and spices then let simmer on medium-low heat for about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.
1 lb lean ground beef
2 eggs (you can use just the whites if preferred)
½ onion diced very finely
2 crushed garlic cloves
½ cup breadcrumbs (Panko or wholewheat )
1 tsp of dried rosemary
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix with your hands.
Take just over a tablespoon of mix and shape into meatballs. These are smaller than your average meatball so that they will fit more comfortably into your ‘bread boat’.
These meatballs are so tender and juicy but it does mean they are a little soft and delicate so handle carefully when placing into the pan.
They only take about 3-4 minutes each side. I like to leave mine ever so slightly underdone as they will continue to cook and heat through under the broiler.
Building the Boat
Line a baking tray with foil then dig out the middle of your favourite thick crusty loaf
I guess it’s more of a canoe than a boat!
Begin with a layer of sauce (as much or as little as you like) I put lots don’t let this picture fool you.
Add your meatballs- really squish them into the sides.
Another layer of sauce…mmmmm
Cover with Mozzarella cheese. Honestly, if I had no self discipline, I would just cover the whole sheet in cheese because what’s better than molten stringy cheese?
Place under a hot broiler and wait for the cheese to bubble and brown and the loaf to become nicely toasted.
I like to toast the loaf top too and then dip into some extra sauce.