Fusilli with Meat Sauce and Peas

Enemies At The Gate

Ever had a childhood memory that became an Urban Legend? Well, this is one of them. This story has been told more times at family gatherings then the time my cousin stole and hid my grandfather’s night cap and got barred from the house for months. This story does include my two cousins and my brother. Yes the same cousin that hid my grandfather’s sleeping cap.

This is the old house today. I believe the new owners put in a metal fence.

This is the old house today. The new owners installed a metal fence.

We lived on 77 Street in Brooklyn where the row houses were semi-attached. We shared a driveway with our neighbors the Volaro’s. At the back of the houses we each had our own garage and next to the garage a small plot of dirt that my grandfather used for his vegetable garden. It didn’t get much sun back there but God forbid if you planted a vegetable garden in the front of the house. That was not considered proper, at least on our block. At the foot of the driveway my father made a wooden fence that we closed at night to keep the driveway private I guess. The fence was about 6 foot high and each side swung in when it was opened. On this particular day the fence was closed.

Me on the left and Junior a few years before the incident.

At the top of the driveway my brother Richard and cousins Johnny and Ralph (my grandmother’s sister’s boys) were horsing around with our pedal cars. Junior, my best friend that lived next door to me had a modern red sedan and my car looked more like my grandfather’s 53′ Hudson Wasp, bad paint job and all. That is how I remember them. My brother must have been around 11 years old, my cousins Johnny and Ralph a little older. Junior and I were about 3 or 4 years old and playing with our cap guns and plastic horses and cowboys in the back yard.

The day started out innocent enough with one of my cousins in a car, my brother in the other, and my second cousin was the engine, pushing both down the driveway in a race to the finish line, which ended just before or at the fence. Now, if there was an angle to create chaos my cousin Johnny was always the instigator. On a trip to the home town in Sicily, Johnny was throwing bags of water out the hotel window and hitting the grounds crew. When the manager came up to complain my Aunt Angie insisted it couldn’t be her boys! Like a true Italian mom Aunt Angie!

The boys about six years later in 1964. Left to Right, my cousin Johnny, Ralph and brother Richard.

So back to the Bensonhurst 500. On this one trip down the driveway my cousin Johnny gave the cars too much umph, or didn’t bother to stop pushing until they got within inches of the wooden fence. With that amount of force and giving the fence had many years of service, both cars and their passengers went crashing through. As my cousin likes to describe it, ” pieces of the fence flew everywhere”. My cousin Ralph and brother Richard were shocked and mortified as they flew through the fence. First thing out of my brothers mouth was, “my mother is going to kill us!” But this didn’t faze Johnny, his devious mind had a plan. They pulled the cars back and gingerly put the fence pieces back together so it looked like nothing had happened. But it didn’t stop there.

They brought the cars back to the top of the driveway where Junior and I were playing and offered to allow us to race down the driveway like the big guys. Holy smoke! I would always do anything to be included with my brother and cousins. Junior and I gleefully accepted and got into the cars. I’m not sure who pushed us but we had an engine for each car. We flew down that drive way so fast that our feet couldn’t keep up with the pedals circling under us and had to lift our feet up to save our soles. About halfway down the driveway they stopped pushing and at that point we were scraping our feet to the driveway trying to stop the cars. All I remember is the cars barely tapped the fence and they went flying off their hinges. Immediately my cousin Johnny summoned my mother out of the house and found me and Junior under the carnage. Yes, Junior and I got blamed for wrecking the fence. WE HAD NO CLUE! We thought we did it. Well, such is the price you pay for playing with the “big guys”.

The fence was never repaired after that. My father just took everything down, nothing was salvageable. Not even my cousins conscience.

This traditional Sicilian dish is an old standby for a hearty meal. It has all the major food groups and is easy to prepare. I bought a good fusilli imported from Italy that made this meal even better. This is enough to serve 4-6 people with a side salad and some bread. For this meal I had some chopped beef from grass fed cows which adds to the nutritional aspect of the meat. I like to use plumb tomatoes because I like the sauce chunky. I prefer Redpack brand but you can use whatever you desire. There is nothing fancy about this dish, I only ask you never to use dried basil. Fresh basil really makes the difference. After all, this is America and you can get fresh basil year round. Nothing is worse than dried herbs in a tomato sauce, in my opinion. Go the extra step and always use fresh. The peas add a little snap and texture and a bit of freshness. Sicilians love to add peas to a dish, especially pasta. I think it comes second to eggplant.

  • 1 Pound chopped beef
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • 1 cup any red table wine
  • 1 28 ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, mashed by hand or with a potato masher
  • 6 basil leaves torn
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A touch of sugar if desired
  • 1 pound fusilli

In a pan large enough to cook the sauce, brown the chopped meat. Remove the meat from the pan and drain all the fat. Over medium heat add the olive oil to the pan and cook the chopped onions until soft. Add the garlic and cook a few minutes more. Add the chopped meat back to the pan and stir to combine everything. Add the red wine and cook down for about 5 minutes. Put the crushed tomatoes in along with 3 torn basil leaves, salt and pepper and a little sugar. Cook uncovered about a half hour stirring occasionally. Just before the pasta is cooked add the peas and cook for 5 minutes. Add the remaining basil once the pan is off the stove.

In the meantime, cook the pasta till desired doneness in salted water. Reserve a cup of the pasta water. Drain the cooked pasta and add the meat sauce to the bottom of the pasta pot. Add back the pasta and pour the remaining sauce over the pasta. Do this over low heat, stirring the pasta till everything is covered with the meat sauce. Add a little pasta water if too dry. I like to add the pasta water to the leftovers before putting them away.

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About Peter Bocchieri

Peter was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY and is a second generation Italian-American. He has a degree in Journalism from Long Island University and is an avid photographer, gardener and pet owner. Now that Peter is retired, he is relaxing at his home in North East Pennsylvania and cooking for his sons, Michael and Joseph, family and friends. Peter's passion for food was inspired by his Mother's and Grandmother's cooking, but at the age of 10 Peter felt he could do it better himself, so he did.
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2 Responses to Fusilli with Meat Sauce and Peas

  1. Salvatore Cardile says:

    Across the street from where u lived on 77 th was there a schoolyard?
    Thx
    Sal

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