It’s interesting how one thought or memory will lead to another. Yesterday, I posted a recipe for Fried Ravioli – a recreation of a dish served at a Brewery we once frequented. The brewery got me to thinking about beer. Beer got me to thinking about a friend from eons ago – Nancy. Sadly we have lost touch over the years, but I still remember her fondly.
Nancy (and her family) were starkly different from anyone I had known before. I grew up in a typical middle-class family of the fifties and sixties. Dad worked, Mom stayed home. It was the same in every home in our neighborhood. Moms were Moms – that was their job. They raised the children, were active members of the PTA and planned the social events with fellow moms over coffee. Social events were backyard barbecues, picnics in the park or school related functions. Everything was simple. Life had no drama or complication. Dads went off to work, Moms packed the lunches and set us off to school. She was there waiting when we came home and made sure we had homework done before the family sat down at the end of the day for our evening meal.
The only exception was my friend, Susie. While she lived in the same sprawling neighborhood, she was an only child (a very rare thing back then). Susie’s mom worked outside the home – another rare family dynamic. While the rest of us were greeted by Mom and homemade cookies, she came home to an empty house. Her parents were alcoholics. At the end of the day, they drank their dinner while Susie opened a can of Spaghetti or made herself a TV dinner. (Looking back now, I think there were a lot more “functioning alcoholics” than we realized. Just take a look at popular television shows –Bewitched for example. Have a small problem, have a Martini. Have a bigger problem? Make it a double). What separated Susie from the other children of secret alcoholic parents in our neighborhood was that she took care of them rather than the other way around. Susie didn’t have many friends, and I was one of the few that had actually been inside her house. Having parents that passed out while watching Walter Cronkite wasn’t exactly socially acceptable. As Susie and I became better friends, she came to our house rather than go home. We did our homework together, and she enjoyed home-cooked meals for the first time in her life.
Along came Middle School (Junior High as we knew it). There was only one Middle School in our little neck of the woods. The school became the melting pot – kids of different social and economical backgrounds funneled in from all around. Suddenly we were exposed to kids that had childhoods vastly different from our own. I had never known families that didn’t have a Dad in the house, or people who didn’t live in a one-family home or those who didn’t live in a house at all. Some lived in apartments, others in trailer parks and even a few that lived in shacks – with none of the conveniences most of us take for granted, like indoor plumbing.
Nancy lived in a trailer with her mom and an uncle (although I got the feeling he really wasn’t an uncle). At any given time, there were other people living in this tiny single-wide trailer – drifters, those down on their luck, anyone needing a roof over their heads for whatever reason. Nancy’s mom took everyone in no questions asked – and I admired that quality in her. Their trailer wasn’t in a park – it was on a hunk of land. No grass, no yard to play in – just dirt and weeds and a corral for the horses. (In my book, horses bet out a backyard any day. It was at Nancy’s house that I learned how to saddle up and ride like a real cowboy). Although the family didn’t have much, they shared everything and asked for nothing in return. While they appeared to be little rough around the edges, these were good people.
I remember the first time I had dinner at Nancy’s house. Her “Uncle” made a big pot of spaghetti. To the pot of sauce he added beer. It was wonderful – the yeast and hops and malts brought a whole range of flavors to what would have otherwise been a simple red sauce with ground meat. Over the years, I’ve tweaked the recipe just a little while maintaining its original simple roots. The addition of chopped onions and bacon bits were not a part of that first meal. And my Parmesan Cheese doesn’t come in the little green can. It’s been a while since I’ve made Spaghetti with Beer. Indulging in this simple yet delicious supper is long overdue!
Smokin’ Spaghetti with Beer
1 Small Onion, chopped
1 lb Ground Beef
2 Strips of Bacon
1 Jar Spaghetti Sauce
2 Teaspoons Garlic Powder
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1 Can Beer
1 lb Spaghetti Pasta
1/2 Cup Parsley, chopped
1/2 Cup Finely Grated Parmesan Cheese
Parsley Sprigs for Garnish
Peel and dice one small onion. Set aside until ready to use.
In a large skillet (cast iron works best) over medium-high heat brown ground beef, breaking it into pieces as it cooks. Drain well and set aside.
Fry up bacon in the now empty skillet. When crisp, remove the bacon and set aside, leaving the rendered fats in the skillet.
Dump diced onions into the skillet and cook in the bacon renderings. Stir often and continue to cook until onions become almost translucent.
Return beef to the pan, mixing well with the onions. Crumble bacon into the mixture and give it another stir.
Add spaghetti sauce, seasonings and beer. Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat, cover and let simmer for about 30 minutes.
While sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add Spaghetti Pasta and cook al dente.
While the pasta cooks, chop the parsley and set aside.
Drain pasta. Mound pasta onto individual plates. Ladle sauce over pasta.
Just before serving, sprinkle spaghetti with chopped parsley and top with a little Parmesan Cheese.
Garnish each plate with a sprig of parsley and serve.