Spicy Spaghetti

There's a stereotype in Europe that Americans are weirdly quick to point out their heritage to anyone who will listen. We've all heard someone explaining 'I'm 1/16th Irish, and ¼th English, and 1/8th German...,' and, inevitably, it turns out that the person explaining all of this was born to American parents who were born to American parents.

Over here in Scotland, everyone makes fun of Americans who do this. But when Scots ask me where I am 'originally' from and I answer with 'Florida,' they give me the side-eye and then every single time they ask 'but where are you really from?' because they want to know where my European roots lie. It's a no-win conversation, really.*

I always claim to be American as far back as the Revolutionary War, because my grandfather has traced one side of my family history back that far. But that's not a completely fair statement because Eleanor was born in 1920 in Brooklyn to parents newly-emigrated from Poland. Whenever anyone in my family talks about this (which isn't often), it's always phrased as 'they fled Poland,' or 'they escaped from Poland.' Recently I realised I know almost nothing about 20th century Poland before World War II, so I did some research and learned that 'escape' was definitely the right word for what Eleanor's family did: Poland had so many wars that overlapped so significantly in between 1900 and 1920 that I can't really figure out exactly what was going on except to say that life was probably better outside it than in it during those years.

Here's what I know about their move: my great-grandparents brought with them their oldest child Mary (the only one to be born outside of the US) and their sterling silver tea set, minus the tray that went with it because, according to family lore, it wouldn't fit in the single bag that they were taking with them. Somewhere along the trip, the handle broke off of the creamer so it just sits loose inside the creamer, and I'm always looking for a cool silver tray to replace the one left behind a century ago.

I don't know much else about the way they arrived here, but I'm fascinated by the details I imagine went into the trip-- deciding what to take, booking passage on a ship, knowing that they would arrive in New York without a plan or a penny to their names. Eleanor's parents must have spoken English because Eleanor didn't speak Polish, but even that fact just brings up even more questions: how did they learn it? Why didn't they teach their children to speak Polish? Did her parents miss it? Did they have family here, or were they always on their own? Also, I've always wondered if they came through Ellis Island-- because wouldn't it be cool if they did? However they arrived, one thing is for certain: her parents may not have changed their names on arrival, but they did give their children new names. On Eleanor's birth certificate, her last name is spelled differently from her parents'.

These are the stories that have become stereotypical in the US: ancestors coming through immigration with only the clothes on their backs, changing their names and learning English as they went along. But it's rare you find someone in your family tree who did just that, which is why I'm glad I know at least the miniscule details about Eleanor's life that I do.

If you noticed that the onion powder and the red pepper are from Target, you're right. I stock up every time we're back in the US because I can't find them here.

If you noticed that the onion powder and the red pepper are from Target, you're right. I stock up every time we're back in the US because I can't find them here.

In Scotland there is a huge Polish population-- or at least, huge in comparison to anywhere I've ever lived. The neighbourhood where Judson and I first lived after moving here was full of Polish delis (best pickles ever!), bakeries (that bread!), and hair salons (…?), and I've loved trying out new Polish foods I'd never otherwise have tasted. Incidentally, my grocery store has, evidently, stopped carrying tomato paste except for the Polish kind, so that's what I made this recipe with. This spaghetti is good, but I can't help but wonder if tomato paste back in the 1960's was thinner than it is today, because although this was delicious, the sauce was definitely more of a paste than a liquid. Because it was supposed to be made with 'the spice packet that comes in the box,' I had to wing it. Made as below, it's a thick, spicy bolognese sauce, but if you're missing some of the spices listed, feel free to leave any of them out or add in your own. Basil would be perfect here, but mine, as previously noted, seems to have turned into oregano and frustratingly refuses to turn back.

*This isn't the first time I've had this conversation with people. When I lived in France, my host mom patiently explained to me one day that 'no one is actually from America. You're all from here, so where is your family originally from?' Knowing that she wasn't a huge fan of the Germans (my heritage on my dad's side), I told her my background is Polish (which it is, technically, through my mom) and she shook her head, patted me on the shoulder, and gave me her condolences for what Poland had gone through during the war.

The verdict:

3 spoons out of five. This is a great spaghetti bolognese recipe that's super easy but still delicious, and doesn't make you slave over the stove for hours. But it's also a spaghetti recipe, and I'm pretty much on the fence when it comes to spaghetti. If you're looking for an easy, back-pocket recipe that likely doesn't require you to go to the store except for ground beef, you've got it with this one. Enjoy!

The recipe:

Spicy Spaghetti

the directions:

Boil spaghetti as directed.
Brown ground beef and drain.
Add green pepper and garlic, stirring to let them wilt.
Add tomato paste and olive oil, stirring and allowing to simmer.
If sauce is too dry, add a spoonful or two of the pasta water.
Season to taste.
Serve over spaghetti, topped with grated parmesan.

the ingredients:

4 servings spaghetti
16 oz ground beef
1 green pepper, finely chopped
6 oz tomato paste
1 glug olive oil
Parmesan cheese, grated

Optional seasonings:

2 cloves garlic, sliced
4 anchovies
1 spoonful of any of the following:
Onion powder
Garlic powder
Chili powder
Red pepper