When the Moon Hits Your Eye or Spaghetti in the Sky
Spaghetti al sugo di carne
I often find myself wondering what my grandfather, Gaetano Crocetti, thought as he sailed to America in 1913. As he voyaged across the Atlantic Ocean from Naples to New York he must have looked up from the deck of the Hamburg and gazed at the Moon. I bet he never dreamed he would have two sons, and of those two Italian-Americans, one would help send men to the Moon and the other would become world famous singing about the Moon.
This week is the anniversary of the flight of Apollo 11, man’s first walk on the Moon. Liftoff was July 16, 1969 at 13:32:00 UTC. The astronauts boldly went where no man had gone before, to paraphrase one of my fave TV shows.
We sat in our living rooms on July 20, 1969 and bore witness as Neil Armstrong took those first steps. No longer would humankind tilt up its collective head and wonder if the Moon were made of green cheese.
Throughout human history man has mused about the Moon; in print, oral history, myth, religion and song, the moon figures high. Uncle Dean, my grandfather’s second son, made the Moon and pizza famous with the song That’s Amore. Although I never discussed it with him, the irony of his song and my dad’s profession was surely not lost on him. If anybody had a sense of irony, it was Dean Martin.
My father, William Crocetti, Bill to his friends and colleagues, was an engineer at North American Rockwell – Rocketdyne back then – and he worked on the engines for the Saturn V rockets (Heavy Lift vehicles), the very ones that powered men to the moon. During the War he was in the Air Force – I guess he always had his eye on the sky.
They called it “The Hill,” and the tests he and his colleagues conducted at the Santa Susana Field Lab in the mountains just north of Los Angeles lit up the night sky. The neighbors heard the roar of the rocket engines and felt the earth shake. There were lots of successes, and some damnable failures, explosions that took the lives of brave men, and our nation’s first meltdowns of a nuclear reactor.
My father and his colleagues were Cold Warriors, to a man. They understood the need to be first, and they did everything they could to ensure the primacy of the United States of America. When I was ten years old my dad said to me “Adri, men are going to walk on the moon before you are twenty.” I remember exactly what I said. I looked him right in the eye as we sat at our dining room table and a cynic even then, I replied “Oh no, Daddy. That will never happen.” He smiled his wry smile. And seven years later, just nine months after my father’s death, Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon.
Click here to see Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the lunar surface.
The twentieth century was the century of air travel and space exploration. Countless inventions came out of the space race. Advances in microprocessors were fueled during the sixties in an effort to reduce weight. The planners knew that a long lasting compact source of fuel to run the spacecraft and its onboard systems was needed, and nuclear power seemed ideal.
Unfortunately in 1959, a meltdown of the Santa Susana Sodium Reactor occurred, and again in 1964. The reactor was shut down, but the race to the moon continued.
Many innovations are much more mundane than microprocessors and nuclear fuel. Consider cordless power tools, heat resistant ceramics, memory foam and satellite television. These technologies are but a few of the innovations that once seemed so remarkable but are now part of our quotidienne existence.
Businesses of every stripe were involved in space technology. Do you remember the Fisher Space pen? Its pressurized cartridge with special ink is but one example of the offshoots of the race to the Moon. I still use one today.
My site is about food, so let’s get to it. Have you wondered what those astronauts ate? For one thing, the Apollo 11 astronauts did not drink Tang. During a pre-flight tasting, an orange-grapefruit mix got the thumbs up. Tang was grounded. Another urban myth debunked.
Their food was pretty “space age,” if I may use the term. NASA figured that each astronaut needed about 2,800 calories per day. Zippered plastic bags with attached spoons contained food whose moisture made it cling to that self same spoon, even in a zero gravity environment. These ingenious bags with their specially designed rehydrating apparatus allowed the men to prepare and eat directly from the self-contained feeding units (my term, not NASA’s.) Included on the in-flight menu were chicken stew, scalloped potatoes, mixed citrus drinks, brownies, pineapple cake, bacon cubes coated with gelatin (to prevent crumb spillage) and coffee, along with Neil Armstrong’s favorite – spaghetti with meat sauce served on Day 2 of the flight. Talk about the influence of the immigrant experience on American history. Spaghetti with meat sauce on a voyage to the Moon! Another thing my grandfather would not have foreseen. I can hear my dad and his brother now “Ain’t that a kick in the head?”
An interesting note about the song That’s Amore. It was written by another Italian-American, Harry Warren. He was born Salvatore Guaragna to immigrant Calabrian parents in Brooklyn, and known as Mousie due to his small stature. Warren rose to fame on Tin Pan Alley writing such classics as Jeepers Creepers and then in Hollywood where he wrote the scores to over 250 film musicals with songs like Chattanooga Choo Choo, On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe and That’s Amore. And Harry Warren’s musical idol? I quote, “Puccini’s my God. That’s my idea of music.” Another Italian. Gotta love it.
I salute Gaetano Crocetti and his sons William and Dean who lived the American dream to the hilt and made America better for their time on earth. I include in my salute President John F. Kennedy who had the vision, and all the men and women at NASA and its contractors who believed in that vision and yes, even the Soviets who stoked the exquisitely powerful fuel of the Cold War.
The Astronauts left this gold olive branch on the surface of the Moon. With it they left a plaque inscribed “Here Men from the Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon the Moon. July 1969, A. D. We Came in Peace for All Mankind.”
Spaghetti con Sugo di Carne – Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
I do not have the original NASA recipe, but here is my family’s favorite. Have it for dinner, open a bottle of red wine from Abruzzo, and listen to That’s Amore as you gaze at the Moon.
makes about 7 cups
2 medium onions, cut in fine dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon oregano, crushed between your fingers
2 cans, 35 ounces each, whole tomatoes
1 pound spaghetti
Pass tomatoes with their juices through a food mill fitted with the medium disk. Set aside.
Pour olive oil into a large Dutch oven. Over medium heat add onions and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Saute until soft and translucent, being careful not to brown onions, adjusting heat down, if necessary, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 1/2 minutes. Do not brown garlic or the sauce will have a bitter edge.
Add ground meat and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Saute over medium high heat until all juices have evaporated and meat has browned, about 10 minutes.
Add white wine and cook until evaporated
Add bay leaves and oregano. Cook briefly, about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomato paste, and toast 1 minute to enhance flavor.
Add tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, stirring occasionally. Cook about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until sauce has darkened and you are pleased with the flavor. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching. Remove and discard bay leaves. Sauce is now ready to use. It will keep, well covered, in the refrigerator 4 days or frozen, 3 months.
How to Grind Your Own Meat
I strongly urge you to grind your own meat and poultry. First, you know exactly what cut of protein you are getting. That can not always be said for what you pick up at the supermarket. Further, it is as fresh as it can possibly be. Once ground, meat and poultry present a much greater surface area to the air, and will deteriorate quickly. Grinding your own is a particularly good idea if someone in your home is immune compromised. We are all familiar with meat recalls due to the presence of bacteria such as Listeria and E. coli. But contaminants are not limited to bacteria, and recalls are often due to misbranding and the presence of allergens. Further, much of the product subject to recall is never recovered, having already passed from the supplier into the consumer’s refrigerator. If you really want to know what is in your ground meat, grind it yourself.
I have been grinding my own meat and poultry for well over thirty years. I started when I purchased my first Cuisinart. The food processor actually chops rather than grinds the meat. I now use the grinding attachment for my KitchenAid mixer. I prefer the texture produced by grinding. For optimum texture grind twice – once with the large grinding plate and then with the small one.
The technique is simple, and once you do it a couple of times, you will become a convert. Everything must be scrupulously clean and as cold, without being frozen, as you can get it. Place all parts of the grinder (or food processor) in the freezer 1 hour before starting.
Chop the meat in 1 inch chunks for the KitchenAid, 2 inch chunks for the food processor. Spread meat on a sheet pan and place in freezer 15 minutes.
All this talk of cold may sound odd, but a great deal of friction and heat are created when you grind meat, and that contributes to spoilage. Commercial meat grinding concerns add dry ice to the meat as it is being ground to keep the meat cold, thus reducing spoilage.
To use the KitchenAid, assemble and attach grinding unit to the mixer as directed. Drop chilled meat in the hopper and use the plunger to press meat through. Grind first using the large plate and then a second time using the smaller one. The entire process will go rather quickly, and you will have ground meat that is safe and better tasting.
You can use a food processor to create everything from a coarse chop to a puree. Place chunks of chilled meat in workbowl fitted with steel blade, and pulse 3 or 4 times. If it is not chopped finely enough, process continuously for a few seconds. Check, and continue to process until desired consistency is reached. You may process up to 5 cups of meat at a time, depending on workbowl size.
With both techniques, if you are not going to cook the meat straightaway, wrap it well and place it in the coldest part of the refrigerator until use.
The KitchenAid grinder attachment is available at Amazon.
How to cook spaghetti
For one pound of spaghetti, or other long pasta fill a stockpot, pasta pentola or other large cooking vessel with at least 6 quarts of water, and bring to a rapid boil. Once the water has come to the boil, add a generous dose of sea salt, about 1 teaspoon per quart of water. As the saying goes “The water should taste like the Mediterranean sea.” When the salt is added, the water will bubble up, so do exercise caution. The water will come off the boil, but will shortly return. Once the water has returned to the boil, add your pasta to the pot. Do not break it. As it softens, use a wooden spoon or other utensil to push it down into the pot. Again, the water will have come off the boil. Cover the pot until it returns to the boil. Once it has begun to boil again, uncover the pot, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Remember, the manufacturer’s cooking guidelines are only suggestions; taste the pasta occasionally, being sure it is no longer white in the center and is the consistency you desire.
Premium pastas such as Latini and Rustichella di Abruzzo are set apart by their use of high quality wheat, in some cases heirloom strains. A unique feature of these products is their long low drying times which helps retain the distinct flavor and aroma of the wheat. The use of bronze dies in the extruding machines imparts a rough texture to the pasta’s exterior making the pasta a particularly good carrier of the sauce, and therefore flavor. These are artisanal products and can cost upwards of $6.00 for one pound of spaghetti. For a more affordable and very good product I turn to Del Verde, De Cecco and Barilla.
There is a lot here. I invite you to take your time with this article. Below are some links for further exploration. For those of you old enough to remember, these links will provide you with a nostalgia filled walk down memory lane. And for those of you too young to have lived the Space Race, take a look. I think you are going to like what you see. Watch and remember all the brave people, both living and dead who put man on the Moon. We came in peace.
Click here to see a 2:18 min Apollo 11 overview clip from NASA.
Click here to see Buzz Aldrin speak with the History Channel about landing on the Moon.
Click here to see a moonwalk montage from The History Channel.
Click here to visit We Choose the Moon, an interactive tour of the Apollo 11 flight
Click here to read the Eat Me Daily article and its many links for detailed information on the Apollo food technology program and the specifics of the Apollo 11 menus.
Note: You can click on any picture to see a slide show with even more pictures!
I have no affiliation with any product, manufacturer, or site mentioned in this article.