I enjoy the website, Atlas Obscura. It offers articles about little-known and quirky locations and phenomena around the world. You should sign up for their weekly newsletter. Recently they had an article about Barbecue Spaghetti. On the wildest of hunches, I googled “barbecue spaghetti” and, mirabile dictu, confirmed that it was an Elvis favorite and, like most Elvis favorites, remains a thing in Memphis. The spaghetti itself isn’t barbecued, of course. There are many misconceptions about spaghetti. For barbecue spaghetti a la Elvis, the spaghetti sauce is made with barbecue, tomato sauce, and Memphis-style barbecue sauce.
My first reaction was negative. Much a I love the King, that’s often the case with Elvis’ favorite dishes. Why, after all, would you smother some perfectly good barbecue in all of that tomato sauce? On further reflection, however, I recalled that all barbecue is not perfectly good. Think of the lean end of the brisket. It certainly could use some help, some sauce to revive it. And how about leftover barbecue that’s been sitting in the refrigerator for a while? What you have is a very good starting point for a bolognese sauce. Using barbecue will add a richness and smoky flavor you just can’t get from ground beef (or pork or veal).
A note of caution: you must use un-sauced barbecue. If you have leftover barbecue from, say, one of the great places in Eastern North Carolina, well, shame on you. You should re-heat it and put it one a bun with a little chopped raw cabbage. If you were to use it in a bolognese sauce, the vinegar that is an essential element of Eastern North Carolina barbecue would take you in an entirely wrong direction.
Step one is to forget about adding Memphis-style barbecue sauce. Memphis sauces typically contain, among other things, sugar and molasses, as well as other sugar sources, like ketchup, A1 Sauce, and Lea and Perrins or some lesser Worcestershire sauce. That’s a lot of sugar, and there’s already quite enough natural sugar in the tomatoes alone for a bolognese sauce. You can, however, add some of the non-sugar flavor sources, such as garlic, onion, and anchovies. Here’s what you do:
First, finely chop three or four flat tinned anchovy filets — not the white ones. Now, don’t get excited. There is no reason to be afraid of a few anchovy filets. You won’t taste them any more than you do in that Caesar salad dressing you use or when you add Lea and Perrins to a dish. The anchovies add to Italian sauces a level of richness that will be missing from your life forever if you leave them out. Trust me on this. Chop them up and put them in a heated pan with some olive oil. Let the anchovies cook for a bit, mushing them around occasionally, and they will start to dissolve and disappear into the oil.
Lower the temperature a bit, add some more olive oil, and add one good-sized onion, chopped roughly (pieces maybe 1/2″); one or two celery ribs, chopped fine; and enough roughly chopped carrot to match the volume of onion. Actually, I would add the carrots first, then the onions and then the celery. Let it all cook for a few minutes until the vegetables start to soften and add at least two large cloves of garlic, minced. Add some crushed red pepper flakes and some of grindings of black pepper, and let it all cook together until the garlic is soft and translucent.
Add one pound of leftover barbecue, chopped pretty fine. If you don’t have a pound, eke it out with ground beef, veal, or pork. If you have a little more than a pound, what the heck. Use it all.
Cook the mixture for 10 minutes or so to marry the flavors, at least until the ground meat is thoroughly broken up and cooked through. Then add one large can of whole cooked tomatoes and their liquid, each tomato having been thoroughly smushed by hand.
Add 5-10 good-sized basil leaves, torn in pieces, and a similar amount of chopped parsley. Cook over a low simmer for 20 or 30 minutes, until it thickens. It’s ready to go, if you’re in a hurry.
To make it even better, dump it all into a slow cooker, cover it, and let it cook for a few more hours. Refrigerate it overnight, and reheat it the next day. It will taste much better. Add some more crushed red pepper flakes, and a few more grindings of black pepper, and serve it over the pasta of your choice (spaghetti is traditional, but if you’re wearing a collared shirt, you might go with penne or rigatoni) with some parmesan or pecorino romano. Serve it with a fresh salad and maybe some broccoli rabe and a nice crusty Italian bread, since you can never get enough carbs. Suggested wine pairings could include a 2009 Elio Altar “Ceretta Vigna Bricco” Barolo, or any cheap red you have in the house.
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