15 February, 2007

The North Side
Actually, it is the North-west corner of Denver where Italian immigrants settled back in the early years of the last century. They found the floodplains of Clear Creek to be ideal land for truck farms. Once settled and worked, the land produced legendary crops. Long summer days, not too hot and mostly without rain provided ideal weather conditions for growing vegetables. The soil was deep, not too heavy with clay and rich from thousands of years of snowmelt washing soil and minerals off the Front Range mountains to the west.
The original immigrants were farmers, craftsmen...simple folk who wanted nothing more than the opportunity to make a better life. However, as the community grew in wealth and stature, it also drew notice from other Italian/Sicilian communities in Chicago and further east. The "Family" moved in and by the mid 1920's they were fully invested in local, ummmm, "politics". Railroad, commerce, ranching, mining and their attendant industries turned Denver into a wide open, if small, western city repleat with all of the attendant underworld activities: gambling, booze and prostitution.
Many of these enterprises were housed in the upstairs rooms or back offices of restaurants. Tradition!...It was the way things had always been done. These family run restaurants served up a wonderful mix of Italian food style food that was influenced by the local environment. Spanish and Mexican, German and Polish immigrants all added to the mix, along with the still plentiful wild game.
The following is one of those regional interpretation of a traditional dish that will serve 4 to6 hungry people...Enjoy:
North Side Spaghetti
- 1 to 1 1/2 lbs of Belfiore’s fresh ground, bulk, hot Italian sausage
- 1 link of “ColumbusSalame Secchi, sliced thin
- 1 medium white or yellow onion, chopped fine
- 4 to 6 cloves of fresh garlic, crushed and diced fine
- 2 stalks of local Paschal celery, chopped fine
- 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped fine
- 4 to 6 medium button mushrooms, stems removed and sliced fine
- 1lb can of local tomato sauce
- 1lb 12oz can of local diced tomatoes
- 1/4 cup of Kalamata olives, pitted and diced
- 1 to 2 tblsp of dried, sweet basil
- 1to 2 tblsp of dried, Mexican oregano
- 2lbs Barilla, fresh or dried spaghetti or linguine pasta
- A good sized wedge of Parmesano Regiano cheese
- 1/4 cup of fresh Extra Virgin Olive oil
- A jug of decent red wine, a spicy Chianti or Cabernet Savignon
- One loaf of fresh, heavily crusted, Ecchi Panis, or similar local Italian bread
Brown the Italian sausage in a well seasoned dutch oven over high heat, crumbling it as it browns. Add the onions and garlic and continue stirring until the onions begin to brown and caramelize. Add a cup or so of the red wine. Have a glass for yourself, if desired. Once the mixture comes to a boil, turn the heat down to medium high and allow the wine to reduce in water content, about half, stirring frequently.
Add the cans of diced tomatoes and tomato sauce, celery, bell pepper and olives. Crush the oregano and basil to a coarse powder in the palms of your hands and stir into the sauce. Allow it to come to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes or so.
Meanwhile, fill a medium stock pot with cold water, add about 1/4 cup of the olive oil and put the pot on over high heat. Take a fresh baked loaf of crusty, local Italian bread, sliced not quite completely through, slathered the slices with garlic butter, wrap in foil and tuck into a low (200-250 degree) oven... more wine for the cook?
Stir the sliced mushrooms and Salame Secchi into the sauce and turn down to medium low, allow the mixture to continue to simmer uncovered.
When the water comes to a rolling boil, add the pasta and stir until the pot comes back to a full boil. Continue to stir the sauce. It will thicken into quite a savory and colorful sauce.
Test the pasta after about 10 minutes. I like mine a bit "al dente". Remove it from the heat and drain off the water and cover.
Pull the bread from the oven. The garlic butter should be melting into the body. I like a bit of grated Parmesan added at this time.
We serve this dinner buffet style, allowing each individual to come to the kitchen and plate their own portion of pasta, sauce, bread and grated parmesan.
The rest of the wine jug is on the table covered with a red checked tablecloth and a couple of candles, just for atmosphere. A little blessing, a little toast and a hearty meal, spiced with good conversation and laughter is sure to follow.

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