Jennifer, Jenny or Jen Ju (as in the popular Taiwanese bubble tea) is the baby in our little army. Ask Jenny where she was born, and she will excitedly tell you the true story of how she popped out on the foyer of my family’s Taiwanese apartment. She may be 12, but in my mind she’s still a tiny three-year-old sneaking into my room at 6 a.m., dragging her favorite book and hoping for story-time.
Adventurous and curious about food, Jenny is the kid that chefs and food lovers wish for. Jenny always claims the seat next to me when we go out for dinner, not because I’m such pleasant company, but because—as she once explained—I always order the most interesting food. My husband is convinced that she is actually mine. I swear she’s not.
Phone conversations with Jenny inevitably land on the topic of food. Sometimes it’s about something new she tried and loved—jellyfish salad for example. Other times it’s all about the things she could do without—tuna casseroles. She loves to hear detailed descriptions of weird things I’ve eaten, like the bull testicle tacos I once treated myself to in Mexico.
But like any other kid, Jenny just can’t seem to get enough spaghetti Bolognese. This dish has been her favorite from the time she could sit up in a highchair—often requesting seconds, or even thirds. Growing up, our spaghetti was never perfect; it’s not easy to make a GIANT batch of pasta perfectly al dente. In an effort to make sure there was enough for everyone sometimes we would be forced to stretch the sauce so thin we were basically topping nests of spaghetti with chunky tomato soup. When we were feeling extra flush with cash a green tube containing “parmesan cheese” appeared at the table and we would blanket everything in that, oh-so-delicious and yet oh-so-wrong, faux dairy product. And you know what? It was fabulous! There’s something wonderfully comforting about sitting around a big table with the whole family digging into a massive bowl of pasta.
So, for this final post in my Third Culture Kids palates series, it seemed only fitting to create a simple recipe for something it seems every kid—no matter where they grow up—can’t help but love.
½ medium onion, minced
2 small carrots, minced (I’m talking carrots as thick as your thumb)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbs. olive oil
1½ tsp. salt
1 28oz. can diced or crushed tomatoes
¾ lb. ground beef
Fresh ground black pepper
Good fistful of dry spaghetti
Parsley or basil
- Set a large skillet or wide-bottomed pot on the stove over medium heat. Add one tablespoon of olive oil. When the oil starts to shimmer add the onion, carrots, garlic and ½ teaspoon of salt. Cook gently for 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the canned tomatoes and another ½ teaspoon of salt. (I rinse the empty can with a splash of water and then add that to the pan as well)
- Keep the heat on medium until the tomato sauce begins to bubble then turn the heat down to low.
- Place another skillet over high-heat; add a splash of olive oil. Once the oil is hot add the ground beef, ½ teaspoon of salt and a few generous grinds of fresh black pepper. Cook the beef, breaking apart any chunks, until nicely browned.
- Add the meat to the pot/pan with the tomato sauce. Partially cover with a lid and allow the sauce to simmer gently.
- I let the sauce cook for about 1 hour but if you like to let your sauce simmer for hours that’s up to you. Just keep an eye on it and if it starts to look a little too thick add a splash of water.
- 30 minutes before serving time place a large pot of water on the stove. Salt well. When the water comes to a vigorous boil add the pasta. Cook according to the instructions on the back, stirring frequently to avoid clumping.
- Drain the pasta just before what would be considered “al dente”, reserving one cup of the pasta water.
- Add the drained pasta to the sauce (if the skillet/pot is not big enough return the pasta and then the sauce to the pasta pot). Finish cooking the pasta in the sauce, adding a splash of the pasta water if necessary.
- I don’t like to buy herbs for a single dish because I hate to see the leftovers wasted. I grow thyme and chives on my balcony, but I use so much parsley that it is the one herb that I buy every week. When it comes to this dish you can add some torn or thinly sliced basil at the very end… or you can throw in some roughly minced parsley. Your choice!