This is the first in a new series of posts. So many of my happiest hours were spent reading to my two children and cooking together. And so many splendid picture books lend themselves to a particular recipe, sometimes more. When my Honey Girl and Sweet Boy were little ones, we walked to the library with our wagon in tow every week. They could fill the wagon as high as was possible with books, and we’d walk home with it wibble-wobbling behind us, with books threatening to topple and held steady by little hands. During the winter, if it was terribly cold or the sidewalks were too icy, we loaded the wagon into the trunk of our car and hauled it into the library. At home, we would work our way through the stacks, setting aside the best books. Then we would read those, over and over and over again, sometimes until my voice was hoarse. Each of us had favorites for the week; our Honey Girl preferred silly books, our Sweet Boy loved books with a lovely music about them, and I favored sweet storytelling. But we all loved that time together on our ratty sofa. “Again, again, again!” my sweet ones would chirp. And I would begin again.
The first book I’ve picked is Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban; I think we must have read it three hundred times. It was my favorite book as a girl, and my two peanuts loved it, too. Frances the badger loves bread and jam, and has interest in eating little else. Her story unfolds over the breakfast and dinner tables of her sweet badger family, and at school, over desktop lunches with her friend, Albert. When Frances grows weary of bread and jam, she is finally beguiled by a plate of her mother’s spaghetti and meatballs. Russell Hoban’s descriptions of Frances and her family, their quiet exchanges, Frances’ and Albert’s lunches, and Frances’ little songs are charming. And Lillian Hoban’s pencil illustrations are tender and evocative. Curl up with it, and then make some spaghetti and meatballs together. And when you eat them, like Frances, make the meatballs, the tomato sauce, and the spaghetti come out even.
Spaghetti and Meatballs
Yield: four generous adult servings, plus leftovers
1 recipe meatballs (recipe below)
1 recipe tomato sauce (recipe below)
1 pound spaghetti
finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- Make the tomato sauce.
- While it simmers, make the meatballs.
- When it’s time to add the sauce to the meatballs, bring a large covered pot of water to a boil over high heat.
- When it reaches a boil, add some salt and the spaghetti. Stir the pasta so that it won’t stick. Reduce the heat a bit, so that the water will not boil over, but will maintain a rolling boil. Cook according to the package directions, or until it is tender but still has a little bite.
- Drain the pasta into a colander.
- Plate some spaghetti, top it with a couple of meatballs and a ladle of sauce. Grate some Parmigiano Reggiano over the top.
If you can’t find strained tomatoes or passata, you can puree tins of whole tomatoes in a food processor or blender.
You know the child(ren) in your life best, but it’s probably not a good idea to have the very young handle raw meat or roll the meatballs, as they might touch their faces. Raw meat can harbor pathogens. There are lots of other ways they can help with this meal.
Simple Tomato Sauce
Yield: 6 c. sauce
48 ounces strained tomatoes or passata (pureed tomatoes) (I prefer BioNaturae brand.)
2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
A pinch of sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
2 t. dried oregano
a handful of fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
- Place all of the ingredients into a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir them together, and bring the sauce to a simmer.
- Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and allow the sauce to simmer. You will pour it over the meatballs later.
Yield: 15 meatballs
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
4 extra large eggs
1 c. Italian breadcrumbs, such as Progresso
1 t. red pepper flakes (optional)
1 T. fennel seed (optional)
1 c. finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
salt and pepper
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
- Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix them together with your hands until they are well blended.
- Using the palms of your hands, roll the mixture into balls a little smaller than a tennis ball.
- As you make them, place the meatballs into a large baking dish. (I use a 9×13” glass baking dish.)
- Bake the meatballs for 25 minutes.
- Pour the tomato sauce over the meatballs and bake for an additional 20 minutes. (You may have extra sauce.)