Sergio was short. Handsome, but very short. I didn’t notice this at first, however, as when I met him I was sitting down. By the time I stood up and realized my mistake, it was already too late.
I was at a private club called Lochness located just a few blocks from my Florentine flat. Private clubs are common in Italy, where the "members only" policy allows the bar owners to skirt one (or a dozen) of those complicated Italian government regulations. The term is used casually in this city, though, and I was able to offer un sorriso (a smile) in lieu of the 3 Euro membership fee. I still have my card in my wallet; a green laminated rectangle featuring a cartoonlike image of the famous monster inviting me to “get messy with Nessy.”
The night I’d met Sergio, I’d been stood up by my wonderful, albeit flaky, roommate who’d promised to meet me after running an errand. I quickly realized that errand had turned into a sleepover with the boy she was not-so-secretly shagging, and so I was left alone at the bar chatting with the cute barman who kept generously refilling my wine glass each time the owner looked away. He spoke Spanish and English, but I preferred to use my newly-acquired Italian to chat away about cooking school and living in the city. He convinced me to stay until closing and offered to drive me the few blocks home in his funny-looking little Italian car.
I met him at the bar again the next night(this time in flats)and again the following evening. But I was quickly starting to realize that the problem with dating the bartender is that he can never leave the bar. That, and the fact that a cute bartender fluent in English in study abroad-saturated Florence is never a good idea. After a week or two of copious text messaging and side-street kisses, I arrived a few minutes later than usual one night to find him kissing the neck of a willowy blonde who giggled as she loudly massacred the Italian language. Furious and humiliated, I shot him a look of death and quickly turned to head out the door. He darted past me, blocking my exit, and in a pleading ménage of languages explained that he was just "helping her with her Italian." I stared at him in stony silence, prompting him to ask me nervously:
I laughed despite myself. Though it was a word I’d not yet officially learned, I recognized it from countless dinner menus back home. Arrabiata. I instantly understood the way my feelings at that moment mirrored the fiery, spicy red sauce.
“Si!!” I shouted angrily, as I pushed him out of the way and walked out the door.
That was the end of Sergio, but as it just so happened, arrabiata sauce was on the menu in my class the following week. It was then and still continues to be one of my favorites.
You can adjust the spice in this dish by adding more or less red pepper. I, as I'm sure you've guessed, like it hot...
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 28 oz canned crushed tomatoes with their juice*
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup chicken stock
*Remember to use canned, not fresh. Tomatoes aren’t in season now so canned is going to taste much better.
1) Place a heavy saucepan over medium –high heat and add the olive oil. Sauté the minced garlic until it starts to turn golden, but not toasted.
2) Add the tomatoes (along with their juice), chicken stock, and pepper flakes to the garlic and reduce your heat slightly. Season with salt and pepper, and allow the tomatoes to cook down for about 30 minutes, until the sauce is thick. Lower the heat if it starts to boil—you want to keep it at a gentle simmer.
3) When the sauce has thickened and the tomatoes have broken down. Turn off the heat and either serve over meat or pasta (or both) or allow to cool before refrigerating
This is basically a giant meatball for the lazy. Instead of lots of little balls you just shape the meat and bake. The replacement of breadcrumbs with bran and flaxseed dramatically ups the fiber content and lowers the carbohydrates. How perfect is that?!
1/2 cup chicken or beef stock
1 diced medium-sized yellow onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 handful of Italian parsley, chopped
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground veal
1/2 lb ground pork
1/3 cup course unprocessed bran
3 tablespoons ground flax seed
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup Extra Virgin olive oil
1) In a heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil and sauté the onions until transluscent.
2) Add the garlic and cook until golden. Remove from heat and let cool
3) In a food processor, blend together the stock, cooked onions and garlic, parsley, red pepper, and salt.
4) In a separate large bowl, combine the three meats and knead until combined evenly.
5) Pour the stock mixture over the meat and combine well with your hands
6) Add the bran and flax seed and mix in well
7) In a separate bowl, beat the egg slightly and then pour over the meat mixture. Again knead until everything has been distributed evenly.
8) Turn the meat mixture onto a large roasting pan and mold into a loaf in the center, allowing room on all sides.
9) Bake at 450 degrees for approximately 35-40 minutes.
10) Raise the oven to broiler, and broil for an additional 3-5 minutes until the top is golden and develops a nice crust.
11) Remove from oven and let sit for ten minutes before slicing so as to not lose all the juices.
To serve, place a thick slice on a plate topped with a couple heaping tablespoons of the arrabiata sauce. Shave Pecorino cheese on top and garnish with more parsely if desired.