Okay! Since this is so picture-heavy, I'm going to try to ease off the irrelevant writing and stick to the recipe. It's sort of complicated, so bear with me.
RECIPE: Five Hour, Multi-Meat Pasta Sauce
-2-3 medium white or yellow onions
-1 whole bulb of garlic
-A tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil
-1 6oz can tomato paste
-1 8oz can tomato sauce
-1 29oz can tomato puree (We highly recommend using Contadina for all of these.)
-1 package sweet Italian sausage (5 or 6 sausages, not one of those giant packages) (You could use hot Italian sausage if you wanted to. We wouldn't be upset. Mike just isn't a fan of spicy. You could also use one of those herb-y or garlic-y sausages. Seriously. It's up to you.)
-1 lb lean ground beef or buffalo (surprisingly buffalo is available in most grocery stores and doesn't really cost all that much!)
-1 cup Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs (we haven't gotten quite ambitious enough to make our own yet, but if you want to, by all means go for it--just add some Italian seasoning!)
-1 cup finely grated Romano cheese (Parmesan would work just as well; we use Romano because Mike prefers it)
-Copious amounts of Basil, Italian seasoning, and Rosemary
-Frozen leftover pieces of steak and/or pork chops and/or chicken (make sure it's all boneless)
-8-quart stockpot (6 would work, but you'd have to let everything simmer down for a few hours before adding the meat so it doesn't overflow, and having all the meat in the whole time makes it more awesome)
-A roasting pan with a wire rack that allows grease to drip under the meatballs instead of letting them absorb it (I mean, you could probably use a cookie sheet if you wanted, but this is healthier and they cook more evenly)
-A tiny rubber spatula that will fit into the tomato paste can
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (don't forget to do this first because forming the meatballs doesn't take very long).
2. In a large bowl, combine the ground beef/buffalo, breadcrumbs, grated cheese and egg. Mix thoroughly. Divide and form into about 12 balls, or whatever amount of balls you think makes a good size. We like this size.
3. Spray the roasting pan (with wire rack in it) with cooking spray (Pam makes an olive oil spray that I prefer over most others) and place the meatballs on top of the wire rack, evenly spaced. Put the meatballs in the oven and bake for 1 hour.
4. Peel and chop the onions and garlic (yes, the whole bulb) and put them in the stockpot with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Turn the heat on medium-high and sauté until the onions become clear and soft.
5. Ideally at this point the meatballs have been in the oven for about half an hour.
6. Add the tomato paste, sauce and puree. Make sure to get all the tomato-y goodness out of the cans! (This is why you have the tiny rubber spatula.) Fill the tomato puree can (the largest one) with water and pour it into the stockpot. Repeat two more times so you have three cans of water in there.
7. Grab your seasonings. Sprinkle enough basil on top of the sauce to cover the entire surface, then stir it in. Repeat with italian seasoning, then cover only half the top with rosemary. (This was the first time we'd used rosemary, so we didn't want to add too much, especially considering it's a fairly strong herb. Mike couldn't really taste the amount that we put in, I could detect a hint--next time we'll probably coat completely like with the other spices.)
8. Stirring frequently, bring the mixture to a soft boil, then reduce heat so that it reaches a low simmer. Put the lid on the pot slightly ajar.
9. Put the sausages in a medium frying pan and put enough water in with them such that the sausages are about 2/3 submerged. Stab them all over with a knife. TRUST ME. (See picture for explanation.) Put on medium heat. Flipping the sausages occasionally, allow the water to boil off completely, then increase the heat and brown the sausages on both sides. Turn off the heat.
10. When the sauce has been simmering for half an hour, add the sausages, meatballs (which, ideally, have just come out of the oven) and any frozen leftover meats that you have (we had two small steaks and two pork chops). TIP: If you enjoy making sauce, make and save leftovers. If you're cooking for two, make three steaks/pork chops/chicken breasts, toss them in plastic bags, and toss those in the freezer. Label them if you think you'll be confused. They are excellent in the sauce and that way, if you want them, you don't have to cook them while you're also doing everything else--they're ready to just drop in.
11. Stir. Let the sauce continue to simmer, stirring at least every half hour. When you're not stirring it, keep the lid ajar.
12. When the sauce has been simmering for about two and a half hours, get the herbs out again. Sprinkle the basil and Italian seasoning over the top just as you did before (so that it covers the surface), and the rosemary again to cover half of it (and next time we make sauce, we'll know whether we should completely cover with rosemary both times, but for now I'd say stick with half). Stir, cover (ajar) and resume stirring every half hour. (If you're making fresh pasta or gnocchi, this is a good time to start it!)
13. When the sauce has been simmering for five hours, it should be reduced to the perfect consistency (if you like a really thick sauce, though, you might want to simmer it a little more). Taste the sauce--it's probably pretty acidic. If it is, add a tablespoon or two of butter (I think we used two) to reduce the acidity (so you don't end up with awful heartburn after eating the sauce because that would be bad). Once the butter is melted and stirred in, the sauce is ready to eat!
Step 2! This seems to be a good size for the meatballs. And also this is what I mean about the roasting pan.
Step 4: It looks like so much garlic, but we couldn't really taste it--next time we'll probably add two (possibly three) bulbs, and throw it in halfway through the simmering with the second round of spices, instead of at the beginning. That might give it a stronger garlic-y taste. (This was the first time we'd added garlic, though--we're learning!)
Also step 4: the onions and garlic (and olive oil) ready to start. Yay!
Step 6: after adding all the cans of tomato, but before adding the water. It can be hard to incorporate the tomato paste well!
Step 7: Now you've added the water and the seasoning and your entire house should start to smell REALLY GOOD.
Step 9: I was so skeptical when Mike first showed me how to do this and he boiled the sausages, but it gets a lot of the unnecessary fat out of them--just make sure to prick them in a bunch of places with a knife. Otherwise they develop large pockets of grease and you stab them and they sort of explode and you're covered in hot grease. NOT COOL.
Also step 9: When they look roughly like this, they're done and ready to go in the sauce.
Step 10(ish): meatballs right out of the oven. If you can tell me why the meatballs are nice and round and pretty when they go into the oven and come out all deformed like this, you'll win a prize. (Not a good prize. Probably just gratitude and the knowledge that I'm slightly less confused. But I'm calling it a prize. Maybe that guy who does the show about food and science on the food network should answer this for me.)
Also step 10: Mike drops a little frozen steak into the sauce.
Step 13: yay butter!
This time, we had the sauce with freshly made whole wheat pasta. I always hated whole wheat pasta when I was a kid because the texture was too grainy, but when you make it yourself it comes out way better. That could, however, be due to the fact that I used half whole wheat flour and half pasta flour. To replicate this pasta (which was delicious and will probably be how I make pasta from now on), combine two cups whole wheat flour and two cups of pasta flour. Make a mound with a dip in the middle like a volcano and put four eggs into the hole. Stir the eggs, slowly incorporating more and more flour. When you're out of egg and need to get the rest of the flour in, add a little bit of water at a time. An important thing to keep in mind is that the whole wheat for some reason becomes a stickier dough, so when you're rolling it out later you'll want to keep flouring the surfaces with the pasta flour.
Once it's all rolled out and cut, hang the noodles on something and let them dry a little. My dad uses a ski pole; we used a hockey stick. Whatever you use, just make sure it's clean! This amount of pasta gives you lots of leftovers--to keep them, nest them in ziploc bags and toss them in the freezer. (If you don't have a pasta maker and want uniform noodles, flour the rolled-out pasta sheets well and them roll them up. Then, with a sharp knife, cut at the width you want your noodles! This way they're a uniform width the whole way through without you having to be really obsessive about cutting straight lines.)
Boil the pasta for a few minutes (fresh pasta cooks so fast!) and toss it with some sauce to coat. Then let everyone add more sauce to their liking and pick the pieces of meat they want out of the pot. (I keep wanting to call it a bucket because it's so huge.) Sprinkle with cheese, mix everything up, cut the meat into bite-size pieces, whatever you want--just enjoy your meal, you've been working on it all day!
UPDATE: When I first posted this I'd totally forgotten where I read the tip about rolling up the pasta sheets, but I googled it and found it! If you're making pasta without a machine, whether it's whole wheat or not, go here for some more great tips and an overall lovely blog. :)
Thank you so much, Mike, for letting me share your awesome family recipe here!