When the girls are home from college, all sense of time and reality are suspended. For a few precious weeks, we return to the days when they were babies, sleeping all day and awake most of the night. Winter break mandates that we loosen our grip on structure and routine as we have come to know it. We submit to a less rigid lifestyle: no schedules, no plans, no predictable outcomes from day to day. It’s at once unsettling and deliriously perfect — and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
In this winter break fantasy land, breakfast never occurs before noon and lunch becomes obsolete. So when the chicks begin chirping in earnest long after the evening news has ended, the dinner question takes on a sense of near urgency. Fortunately the long months of less than satisfying fare on the college meal plan means that the kids will eat just about anything – as long as it has been cooked by me in our kitchen.
Here is my go-to dish when the clan is hankering for a hearty bowl of pasta. We like to scoop up each mouthful on hunks of crumbly fresh baguette. And even though the girls have returned to their respective college campuses and a disconcerting quiet has settled on the house, I still choose this soul-satisfying meal every once in a while. It’s quiet at the table, but there’s always spring break to look forward to.
2 T olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 garlic cloves minced
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes *
2 T. tomato paste
1-1/2 lbs. lean ground beef (ground turkey or chicken are both good substitutes)
1 t. nutmeg
1/4 T. sugar
1/2 T. dried oregano
1/2 T. dried basil
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb. pasta **
grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
*As an alternative to the crushed tomatoes, you may use canned whole tomatoes and crush them by hand. This creates a chunkier texture to the sauce.
**Our family favorite is good old spaghetti, but any long pasta will do – fettuccine, linguine and the like.
In a dutch oven or large pot, sweat the onions in the olive oil and add garlic until aromatic, but not brown. Add tomatoes and tomato paste, bring to a simmer and cover. While sauce is simmering, brown meat in a separate saute pan. Drain beef and add to tomato sauce, followed by remaining ingredients, except pasta. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain, reserving 1/2 c. of pasta water in case it is needed to thin the sauce.
Pour cooked pasta into a large, shallow bowl or platter, and top with meat sauce and grated cheese if desired.