TUPELO • When Rachel Beech Morgan was growing up, comfort food wasn’t fried chicken. It was Italian meatballs and homemade red sauce.
“My grandfather moved to New York from Italy when he was very young,” said Morgan, 28. “He always cooked the best Italian meals for his family and my mother picked up on that.”
Morgan was born on Long Island, New York, but grew up in Flowood. She moved to Tupelo in February 2016.
“Mom always let us in the kitchen,” she said. “She’d let us slice the vegetables and onions and garlic for Sunday lunch. It’s a process. It takes all day. On Saturday, we’d do the shopping and the prep work and the next day we’d cook the meatballs and the sauce.”
Morgan likes to cook those same meals she grew up with for her husband, Adam, and their girls, Rosi and Julia Jane.
“For me, food really is love, even though that sounds cheesy,” she said. “It’s a great way to bring people together. When I first moved to Tupelo, I told Adam the best way for me to meet his friends was to cook for them. I think it’s cool to share my family recipes with people here.”
Morgan, a drug rep for Horizon Therapeutics, said she used to cook every night, but now she gets in the kitchen only about three times a week.
“I do most of my cooking on the weekends,” she said. “I’ll make meatballs and sauce and that will last us two or three days. I try to keep my family fed. If their bellies are full, they’re happy.”
She might make sausage and peppers on hoagie rolls with a side of broccolini, or grilled fillets with sauteed or stuffed mushrooms, green bean bundles and creamed potatoes.
“Adam and I like to play around with different sandwiches,” Morgan said. “Recently we did one with Italian bread, skirt steak, fresh spinach, herbed mayo, heirloom tomatoes and melted cheese. Or if we have a date night at home after we’ve put the girls to bed, we’ll bust out the pasta maker or make homemade pizzas.”
Adam Morgan has Blue Canoe restaurant in Tupelo and will be opening Pizza vs. Tacos later this year.
“People associate Adam with food but little do they know I do more of the cooking at home,” Morgan said. “The beautiful thing about food is it’s passed down from generation to generation. All my mom’s cooking she learned from her dad, and I learned from her. Now I want to pass on Italian traditions to my sweet little Southern belles.”
MAMA MORGAN’S GRILLED BRUSCHETTA
1 stick good butter
1 bundle fresh basil
1 bundle fresh rosemary
1 loaf ciabatta bread
1 (8-ounce) container BelGioioso burrata cheese
4 Roma tomatoes, chopped
Chopped fresh basil, for garnish
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Place butter, basil and rosemary in a food processor and blend to make a compound butter.
Slice ciabatta loaf in 1/2-inch-thick slices. Spread compound butter on each bread slice. Grill bread slices until there’s a nice, crisp char or toast in the oven at 375 degrees for 15 minutes.
Break up burrata balls into fourths. Spread 1/4 of a burrata ball on each slice of bread. Sprinkle with chopped Roma tomatoes, fresh basil and Parmesan cheese. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Serve as an appetizer.
GRANDPA LOU DIESA’S ITALIAN MEATBALLS
1 pound ground breakfast sausage
1 pound ground round
Half of a large white onion
1 large egg
Dash of whole milk
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
Dash of sea salt
Dash of garlic powder
Dash of cracked pepper
Homemade or store-bought pasta sauce
Hot cooked spaghetti
Combine sausage, beef, onion, egg, milk, breadcrumbs, salt, garlic powder and cracked pepper in a large bowl. Form into medium-sized meatballs that are not too tight or they’ll be dense. Fry meatballs over medium heat in a thin coat of olive oil until crisp on the outside.
Place meatballs in simmering red sauce of your choice for about 20 minutes. Serve over cooked spaghetti. Good served with a side of sautéed broccoli raab.
LISA DIESA’S CARBONARA
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/3 cup Pecorino-Romano cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces spaghetti
1 tablespoon olive oil
7 to 8 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
4 ounces of guanciale or bacon, sliced in bite-size pieces
Place large pot of lightly salted water over high heat and bring to a rolling boil.
Whisk eggs, yolks and cheeses in a large mixing bowl. Add garlic and season with a dash of salt and fresh cracked black pepper.
Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat, add the pork, and sauté until the fat gets slightly crisp. Remove from heat and set aside.
Add spaghetti noodles to boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving a little pasta water.
Stir cheese mixture and drained pasta into the skillet with the pork, turning to coat pasta with rendered fat. Add some reserved pasta water to loosen mixture if necessary. Serve immediately and top with more cheese if desired. Serve with a fresh Caesar salad.
MICHAEL TOTH’S SAUSAGE AND PEPPERS
2 red bell peppers
2 yellow bell peppers
1 poblano chile pepper
2 medium white onions
6 garlic cloves
10 Italian deli rolls
2 pounds sweet Italian sausage links
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Fresh cracked black pepper
3 tablespoons tomato paste
Dash of red wine
Dash of vinegar
Cut bell peppers and chile pepper in half lengthwise, remove and discard seeds, and cut into strips. Peel onions and cut in wedges. Peel 6 garlic cloves and slice thinly. Slice sub rolls lengthwise but don’t cut all the way through.
Place sausages in a cast iron skillet and cover with cold water. Heat over medium-high and cook, uncovered, until water reaches a gentle boil, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer sausages to a plate; set aside. Pour water out of skillet.
While sausages are cooking, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large Dutch oven on medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring often, just until onions are beginning to soften. Add bell peppers, chile, and 1 tablespoon oil to pot; season generously with salt and pepper. Stir to combine, then increase heat to medium-high. Cover and cook, uncovering to stir occasionally, until peppers are tender, then add tomato paste and stir for about 3 minutes. Add red wine and vinegar to the peppers and onions. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until peppers and onions are very tender.
Slice sausages in half lengthwise. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in skillet over medium-high. Brown the sausages until crisp on outside. Sprinkle onions and pepper mixture over the rolls, then add sausages.
TRUDY’S AND JANIE’S RICOTTA GNOCCHI
1 pound full-fat ricotta cheese
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
Homemade or store-bought pasta sauce
Place ricotta in a bowl. Add Parmesan and egg and stir with a fork until blended. Add 1 cup of flour and continue to mix until blended.
Pour mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gently work until you have a soft ball; add a little flour as you go so the ball is not sticky. Break off pieces of the dough in tennis ball-sized balls and roll into a tube/snake shape about 1/2-inch to 1-inch thick. Cut dough into 1 inch pieces. Gently toss the cut gnocchi with a little flour to prevent sticking and place on a lightly floured baking sheet.
To cook the gnocchi, bring a large pot filled with sea salt water to a boil. Once boiling, gently drop the gnocchi into the pot. Once the gnocchi rises to the top, it is done (it shouldn’t cook more than 5 minutes). Drain gnocchi and toss with sauce of your choice. Serve with a side of sautéed spinach or mushrooms.
Note: If desired, use a fork to lightly make little grooves in the gnocchi slices for extra beauty and texture before cooking.