Cassie ( Casseruola ) did not have it easy, she was born beautiful and she just could not shake that. Her stunning looks were unique and often intimidated those around her.
Her makers had even upped the game by decorating her copper-clad coat with a “Martellato” decoration, one that made her copper glimmer in the afternoon light. She wore the inset medallions in each of her sculptured handles as if they were pearl earrings.
She was aplomb with elegance and style she was born that way, but this girl also had stance, character, and strength. Most people did not notice that they were so hypnotized by her beauty.
She was not just a pretty face and she wished the other copper pans around her would take notice of that, but they did not. They all snubbed her, as far as they were all concerned she was too beautiful and could not have made great food as they did, they though Cassie was just a show pony.
Oh boy they were wrong!
She came into my life just in the nick of time. I had been sad for quite some time, there had been a series of events in our family which had deeply saddened my soul, cooking as always became my magic potion, my secret antidote to the harsh reality around us.
This one time, late in the evening, I wondered in the kitchen looking for something to do. Cassie from atop the stove glimmering in her resplendent copper coat looked at me and said: “ La Vita e’ Bella! ( life is beautiful)”.
I had forgotten that rule of life at that very moment, the sadness of the day had robbed me of my optimism. “ Cio’ gnocco ,andemo a cusinar! ( yo! knuckle head, let’s go and cook some!)” Cassie kept talking to me and now she was sporting a Venetians dialect.
Cooking had been a saving grace for me all my life. My first years in America, alone and away from home, were quite difficult for me, loneliness and nostalgia were my worst enemies. I taught myself how to cook because the flavors of the food I had left behind was for me like a medicine for my saddened soul. I had promised my family I would conquer America but, it turned out I had grossly underestimated the difficulty of my journey here, especially what it meant to be alone, far away from my tribe.
As I left my mind wandering I heard Cassie again: “ Ndemo a cusinar Nicolin, esfasemo un tocco de ragu’! ” ( let’s go cook little Nick, let’s go make some meat sauce!)”. t that very moment, I looked at the pan and asked myself: “ Everyone else in my kitchen speaks either English or Sicilian dialect, how did Cassie end up speaking Venetian like everyone else in my mother’s family?”. Cassie did not respond but she looked at me with the sweetest Gioconda-like smile. We did not need to talk much longer, by then I got the point.
I unsheathed my chef knife made with 67 layers of Damascus steel and in typical Stellino fashion, I snapped into action. By the time I had finished chopping my Mirapoix, I was already angling for the
fresh herbs and soon enough those little San Marzano tomatoes were molded into tiny chopped cubes of delicious concasse’, by the time I was done, I looked back at my prep and saw how much
I had learned in 6 decades. Cassie was staring at me with admiration, she had seen my knives but little did she know about my cutting skills with a Damascus blade at hand and my innate organization on the cutting board, I knew I was showing off, but she let me be.
By the time the blue flame of my gas stove burner started to flicker, Cassie and I had already snapped into action. The finely diced carrots, celery, and onion cooked gently with a touch of garlic and a bay leaf, the heat, so perfectly distributed throughout the whole area of the pan, gently transformed these raw ingredients into flavor milestones of epic proportion.
These were the pilaster of flavor that created the foundation of the sauce. Cassie maintained her true north, inhibited, fierce and gentle. The ground meat cooked slowly into this mixture, inebriated by a splash of wine and some more stock and tomato sauce was brought to a soft boil, then it was gently simmered until this group of terrestrial ingredients created a sauce of celestial depth and flavor. Nothing stuck to the bottom. This Copper panhandled the aggression of the gas blue flame with
ease and panache, the slow and methodical reduction of the sauce kept generating more and more level of flavor. As excites as I was about the initial promise of this sauce, I became ecstatic upon tasting its final flavor.
The gods had favored me, this was just perfect. I figure: “ in for a penny, in for a pound!”. I had some potatoes hanging around so I even made some gnocchi to go with the sauce, Russuliddo e Giacinto came to help, the whole battery of copper warriors was now sitting atop my stove creating a dream far more beautiful than my own imagination.
The sinking feeling of sadness which had sat heavy upon my soul dissipated like snow in summer, what was left behind was this enormous feeling of joy, hope and the realization of the preciousness of life and every passing second our journey on the hearth.
By the time I served the gnocchi, everyone at the dinner table had been subjugated into a state of delicious culinary submission. Every bite was like a note in a symphony and every layer of the flavors within, shimmered with pride, honor and love.
Love is that ingredient you cannot buy at the supermarket, I needed Cassie to remind me of the importance of love and the restorative powers of cooking. I looked around, we all told stories, we sang our memories, we held hands and drank the best wine I had in my collection, for this was a celebration of love and a life
My late parents would have loved Cassie, she just happened to be beautiful, but more than that, Cassie had a soul, a beautiful soul one that inspired my culinary poetry. That is how me and Cassie became great friends.
Bolognese Meat Sauce Recipe
5 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup finely chopped celery
½ cup finely chopped carrot
½ cup finely chopped onion
4 garlic cloves, thickly sliced
1 large bay leaf
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 ounces finely diced prosciutto (optional)
¼ pound ground veal
¼ pound ground pork
¼ pound ground beef
⅓ cup red wine
½ cup tomato sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups chicken or beef stock
½ pound frozen peas
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound rigatoni pasta
Grated Parmesan cheese to taste
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan set on high heat until sizzling, about 2 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes, celery, carrot, onion, garlic, bay leaf, sage, and basil, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook 10 minutes more, stirring occasionally.
Raise the heat to high, and add the optional prosciutto, and the veal, pork, and beef.
Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the wine, reduce the heat to medium, and let it cook until almost evaporated about 5 minutes. Raise the heat to high, add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, and stock, and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring well every 15 minutes.
Add the peas and simmer for 15 more minutes.
If you like your sauce thicker, remove the cover during the last 15 minutes of cooking.
When it’s done, remove the bay leaf and taste for salt and pepper.