Dashiell is over six weeks old now, but the week of his birth is still fresh in my mind. After days of false starts, I remember my exhaustion and the frustration that my baby wasn’t ready to enter the world. I recall how wonderfully supportive Andy was that week. But as a food person, I’ll never forget what I ate: what nourished me, what kept me going, what comforted me.
A few nights before Dash was born, Mom and Dad came into the city bearing food and drink, flowers and cookies. One night Mom made homemade chicken noodle soup, and the night before my water broke she prepared the spaghetti and wheatballs pictured here. The morning I went into labor, she served up fried eggs on Life Changing Bread and throughout that day she brought in mugs of steamy homemade broth to fortify me. Late that afternoon labor let up for awhile, and we took a moment to enjoy a plate of Baby Biscotti with mugs of hot tea. Just hours after Dash was born, Mom ladled up another round of comforting chicken noodle soup. The next night we celebrated Dash’s birth with a rich lamb stew, and Andy tracked down my favorite California Cab.
The food was my fuel, but it was the love that went into the food that gave me the energy to get through. Here’s Mom’s spaghetti and wheatball recipe, a memorable dish on that mid-January night, which will forever remind me of her love.
- 8 garlic cloves, 3 left whole, 5 minced
- 1 pound ground seitan (we used West Soy brand), drained
- ½ cup dry breadcrumbs
- ½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for topping
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
- Salt and ground black pepper
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup dry red wine
- 2 cans (28 ounces each) crushed tomatoes
- 1 pound spaghetti
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add the 3 whole garlic cloves; toast until spotty brown, about 5 minutes. Remove garlic from skillet and add to the workbowl of a food processor, along with seitan, breadcrumbs, cheese, egg, tomato paste, oregano and salt and pepper to taste; process until smooth. Use a heaping 1-tablespoon measure to form mixture into about 18 balls, placing them on a 13- by 9-inch rimmed cookie sheet.
- Heat oil over low heat in a large pot; a couple of minutes before frying, increase heat to medium-high. Add wheat balls to hot oil, cooking in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding and turning only once, until well browned about 5 minutes total. Return to cookie sheet and bake until firm 15 to 20 minutes.
- Return pot to medium-high heat and add remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 5 minced garlic cloves; sauté until golden. Add red wine; simmer to reduce by half, about a minute. Add tomatoes and enough water for a sauce that is neither gloppy nor watery; cook to blend flavors, 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil. Add spaghetti and cook until just tender, drain and return to pot. Add about half the sauce to the pasta; toss to coat. Toss wheat balls with a little sauce to coat. Serve up a portion of spaghetti to each plate; ladle on a little sauce; top with meatballs, sprinkling each portion with extra Parmesan cheese and serve.