It’s been awhile since my TV weather forecasting days but in those 20+ years at various stations around the country, I was fortunate to make many friends. Several I stay in touch with frequently including one of my besties, Bob Jeswald, the Chief Meteorologist at WRBL in Columbus, Georgia.
Bob has an impressive track record as a respected meteorologist spanning 30 years. He has worked at stations in Jackson, Mississippi, Las Vegas, Nevada, and Phoenix, Arizona before returning to Columbus.
Besides Bob’s on-camera talents, he has a servant’s heart of helping with dozens of charitable events including Feeding the Valley, American Red Cross, and Run Ranger Run in tribute to those who sacrifice their service for our country. He is sort of the go-to guy around town when you need a “face” with a big heart for a worthy cause.
After leaving television, I worked for many years in Development for the Red Cross Chapter in Columbus. I came up with a fundraiser called Celebrity Spaghetti Cook-off. I called Bob and of course he said he would be happy to help.
We sold tickets to the event and guests were treated to spaghetti dishes cooked up by local radio, television, and newspaper “stars.” It was successful, loads of fun, and an incredibly delicious event!
Bob was crowned champion of our inaugural cook-off. That was ten years ago but I’ve never forgotten his award winning spaghetti. He was kind enough to share his recipe with all of us.
Ingredients (posted exactly the way Bob sent it to me. I refuse to mess with his particular brand of Italian perfection by listing out the ingredients in our traditional format)
Start with a bulb of fresh fennel or fennel seed. Dice up the fennel separately or use fennel seed in boil in at least 1 to 2 cups of water just enough to cover what you’re boiling. Let it boil down until the fennel softens and the water turns to broth.
Next sauté 1 pkg (5 links) chicken sausage. I avoid using any pork because it makes the sauce too greasy and hard to digest.
Slice the sausage in even strips and set to the side. Sauté half an onion and cut up carrots at least one cup. Add the carrots to the onions until their gently sautéed.
Take at least two cups of mushrooms and gently wash and let them drain and air dry.
Tomatoes: Purchase a mixture of tomatoes. One lb. to make enough sauce to freeze later. I prefer vine ripened tomatoes and Roma. Two 16 oz cans of organic pureed tomatoes. Heat the oven to 450degrees. Boil the tomatoes until the skin appears to wrinkle. Pour the water out and allow the tomatoes to cool. Cut tomatoes in half over a sink or pot. Use your thumb and push out all the pulp and seeds to dispose. Gently pinch the skin until it comes off the tomatoes. This is the most cumbersome part during preparation.
Spread out all the tomatoes on a cookie sheet and add thinly sliced garlic (1-2 cloves) fresh basil, thyme, and rosemary. Bake for 15 minutes and then drizzle a little olive oil over the tomatoes. Return and bake but be careful not to burn.
Once complete add all the tomatoes, puréed canned tomatoes and chicken sausage in the sauce kettle. Keep your flame or electrical stove top simmer to just over medium heat, so you don’t burn the sauce.
The rest is all about tasting as you add all the rest of the herbs. My Siciliano grandfather and my mom were big on this, albeit I changed the recipe to make it less fatty and thick. If there are any thyme or rosemary stems or needles throw out. In the kettle use a combination now of dry spices and herbs ground-up. I like to start with a thumb nail of thyme, basil, garlic salt, savory, Italian oregano, rosemary, (pinch) of red pepper, and smoked paprika.
Be careful not to overdo this. We still want to taste the tomatoes. Subtlety is key. Of course, you need to do this until it seems just right. All the while you are stirring the sauce.
The organic chicken sausage has seasoning already, including fennel, which adds this unique taste. The sautéed onion and carrots need to be blended for texture and then poured into the sauce. Any bitterness and orange complexion of the sauce is alright because after an hour it’ll sweeten and become red.
Do not cover the kettle during this process because we want the water to evaporate and allow the tomatoes to cook even more with all the seasoning.
If it’s not thick enough or still bitter add a shot glass of chianti or burgundy and another half can of organic peeled and not seasoned canned tomatoes.
Finally, what made my sauce the winner was this final addition to the sauce. The mushrooms must be dry and place them in last minute. They will cook into the sauce and add a little moisture back into it.
Boil at least a half dozen eggs. After they’re peeled drop them into the sauce, so they absorb the sauce and when they turn brown in color from the red sauce it’ll be time to serve over your favorite pasta.
Any grated cheese will top it off. The sausage and eggs are your protein and will replace the meatball.
Now I’m wondering if you are thinking, what is up with the eggs?
Simple, my grandfather’s parents came to our country before the Great Depression and there was no meat to spare. Their chickens became food and of course their eggs too.
The eggs were added in place of the meatballs and it has been a tradition for nearly 85 years now in my family.
Perhaps Bob had an unfair advantage in the competition. After all, while his TV name is Bob Jeswald, his real surname is Gesualdi. Yep, that Italian heritage served him well in the kitchen that evening.
Thank you Bob for your friendship, for sharing your recipe, for your weather expertise, and for your selfless dedication in helping others.
Buon Cibo! Happy eating!