Chow Town

If it’s Sunday, it must be meatballs

It’s 9 p.m. on a Sunday in the Mirabile house and that usually means it’s time for a little pasta and meatballs.

For this chef, it’s all about tradition and my favorite late-night snack is leftover pasta — fried pasta, that is, with sliced meatballs.

Growing up in an Italian home, I can still see my Mama and Nana rolling meatballs on Saturday for Sunday’s dinner.

Now we’re not talking 12 or 18 meatballs, were talking close to 90 which means a total of 10 pounds of ground beef, pork and veal, breadcrumbs, eggs, garlic, parsley and Romano cheese. The meatballs would be put in the refrigerator over night and on Sunday morning, my brothers and I would awake to the smell of meatballs frying.

Can you imagine, laying in bed, dreaming of Sunday dinner and waking up to meatballs frying?

We would rush downstairs like it was Christmas morning, sit at the table and there was my Mama, standing over the stove, turning and smashing the meatballs.

We were allowed a few before she added them to her Sunday Sauce.

Talk about a marriage made in “Culinary Heaven.” Mama’s Sunday Sauce would simmer for hours with meatballs floating along with Sicilian fennel sausage, brachiole and pork ribs.

My father always added the fresh basil, fennel seed and red pepper, every hour or so, stirring the pot and tasting the sauce. Talk about a Sunday ritual.

We always ate at 5 p.m. so the afternoon would consist of watching football during the winter, Sunday drives in the country during the spring and fall and swimming parties during the summer. One thing was always constant, Sunday pasta.

Our family was not that large but with the four boys, mom and dad, grandparents, friends and usually a priest or two, the table sat 18 and would be always full.

Dad sat at the head and when dinner began, you would have thought you were at the zoo during feeding time. Plates being passed, bread being ripped apart, hollering and screaming, Vess soda bottles and wine flowing, it was The Big Night every Sunday at the Mirabile table.

Dad and the some of the family would then retire to the TV room and we would watch The Wonderful World Of Disney and The Ed Sullivan Show.

Some members of the family would fall asleep, some unbuttoning their slacks, some still at the table playing cards and finishing Nana’s cream puffs or cannoli.

Then 9 p.m. would roll around and as I recall, Dad always said, “Round two!”

We would go back in the kitchen and any leftover pasta sitting in the blue or green Tupperware containers on the counter would be put back in a large skillet and fried until just a little crisp edge on the pasta became apparent.

Sliced meatballs and sausage would be added and then we would sit around the table and enjoy a “second dinner.” I would sneak a little Romano on my pasta and listen to my father tell everyone, “This is the life. It doesn’t get better than this baby!”

He wasn’t kidding.

Today, big dinners like that are too few. The family is much larger now with our wives, grandchildren and their spouses, great-grandkids and extended family.

But one thing is for sure, when 9 p.m. rolls around, my daughter Alexandra and I are sharing a plate of fried pasta and meatballs, just the way Mom and Dad would prepare it.

I often look at my daughter and tell her what my Dad told me, “This is the life. It doesn’t get better than this baby!”

Oh the memories.

Jasper's Meatballs Makes 16 to 18 meatballs 2 pounds 80 percent lean ground beef 2 large eggs 1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (about 4 ounces) 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley 3 cloves garlic, minced 1/2 cup minced onion 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 2 cups bread crumbs 1 1/2 cups water 1 cup olive oil

In a large mixing bowl, combine the beef, eggs, cheese, parsley, garlic, onion, salt and pepper, and mix well. Blend the bread crumbs into the meat mixture. Slowly add the water until the mixture is moist. Shape the meat mixture into 2 1/2- to 3-inch balls. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium to high heat. Fry the meatballs in batches, being careful not to crowd the pan. When the bottoms of the meatballs are well browned and slightly crisp, after 5 to 6 minutes, turn and cook the other side for 5 minutes to brown and crisp them. Remove the meatballs from the heat and drain them on paper towels.

“Jasper's Kitchen Cookbook, Italian Recipes and Memories from Kansas City's Legendary Restaurant” by Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. Mirabile Family Sunday Sauce Makes 8 servings 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 2 medium onions, chopped 1 whole head garlic cloves, puréed 1 28-ounce can of tomato purée 4 cups water 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes 2 tablespoon fennel seeds 2 tablespoon sugar 10 to 12 fresh basil leaves

To prepare: Heat the olive oil in a 4-quart pot over medium heat. Add the onions, and sauté until translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and remove the pan from the stove. Add the tomato purée and water and mix thoroughly. Stir in the salt, red pepper flakes and fennel seeds and cook for about 2 hours, adding the sugar and basil after 1 1/2 hours. At that time you can also add sautéed sausage, meatballs or braciole.

Note: If you do not like canned purée, you can substitute whole tomatoes, omit the water and purée the tomatoes in a food processor or by hand. Make sure you continuously stir the sauce, and do not let the sugar burn or you will scorch the sauce.

Chef Jasper Mirabile of Jasper’s commands the helm of his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He hosts many famous chefs on his weekly radio show Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM and sells a line of dressings and sauces.