When a Meatball Isn't Just a Meatball

by Betsy Sokolow Sherman
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arizonasunset.jpgWhen you ask politicians to provide their favorite recipes, you can bet you’re going to get something laced, maybe dripping, with political undertones, because, well, because that’s what politicians do.   So when I asked two of Arizona’s most powerful pols, Senator John McCain and Governor Janet Napolitano, the former the current GOP frontrunner for president, the latter a trailblazer and potential candidate for vice president for the Democrats, I had to consider their selections a little bit more than just food.

mccain2.jpgJohn McCain believes in straight talk, the western way and that goes for food, too.  So just like the Senator probably won’t be heard talking French anytime soon, (whether they like us or not this week), the French you’ll find in his recipe will be restricted to mustard, and not the fancy Dijon type, with those funny seeds, but the American variety, introduced at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, the classic mustard that 69% of American families buy every year.

So with that in mind, John McCain offers us his recipe for baked beans, and not simply baked beans, but Arizona Baked Beans, the finest sort of delicious baked beans imaginable.  And in case anybody has any doubt what American food goes just fine with baked beans, the senator leaves no doubt with his own preference-barbeque-another thing you’re best leaving Washington DC if you want to get it right-and closes with a direct order.  To wit: Like It, Now, Damnit! Or something to that effect.

janetnapolitano.jpgJanet Napolitano takes a real hands-on, homey approach to food, at least according to her recipe, and that befits a governor, who doesn’t sit in some DC ivory tower, voting on – actually, not voting on anything.  Governors do things, they spend money, they build roads, they yell at school superintendents, they have breakfast at firehouses, and they twist the arms of ant-like legislators from rural communities.  And, evidently, they make spaghetti sauce with meatballs.  Robust fare, good for peasant, teacher and philosopher alike, nothing for hedge fund managers, corporate attorneys, and other despoilers of the soul and land.  Governors don’t sit on committees to debate the same points over and over in the hope of making it all the go quietly away, they dig in and get their hands dirty—the short order cook of the government kitchen.

Just like Senator McCain, Governor Napolitano is popular and forthright and very western, and her recipe is the same, a popular dish, forthright in taste and texture, and very western—hey never mind what those history books claim, spaghetti is as American as egg rolls, pizza and sushi, and both the senator and the governor would undoubtedly agree that if something is truly American, then it was probably born and bred out west.  

bakedbeans.jpg Senator John McCain’s Arizona Baked Beans

1 16oz. can red kidney beans
1 16oz. can B&M baked beans
1 cup ketchup
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion-chopped
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon yellow French’s mustard
4 strips fried bacon, cooled and crumbled

In a skillet sauté chopped onion with a tablespoon of butter.  In a large baking pot combine kidney beans, B&M baked beans, ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar, mustard, and crumbled bacon.  After combining and stirring enough to mix the ingredients, and the sautéed onions.  Mix well.  Bake in a covered dish at 350-375°F for 35 minutes or until piped hot

The dish is perfect with barbecued food.

prego.jpgGovernor Janet Napolitano’s “semi-homemade” Pasta Sauce
(a modern day version of what the Governor’s grandmother used to make)

1 1/2  jars traditional Prego Sauce
1/2 cup grated Romano Cheese
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil

To get the right flavor for the sauce you need to add the meats.

3 lbs short ribs, cut from the cone cube into 1 1/2 inch pieces – brown in electric skillet and add to sauce

Next brown in same skillet – do not drain grease!

5 links hot Italian sausage cut into 3rds and 5 links mild or sweet Italian sausage cut into 3rds. Add to sauce

Then make your meatballs, and brown in same skillet in same grease and add to sauce.

Simmer sauce 4-5 hours stirring as needed to keep from scorching on bottom of pan.  I use a heavy duty 18” stainless steel pan with a 1/4  inch bottom to diffuse the heat.


3 lbs ground beef  80/20%
1/4 cup reconstituted dried minced onion
1/2 cup grated Romano Cheese
2 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix together well with your hands.  Squish together golf ball size of mixture then roll into a ball.  I make all the meatballs, then brown them well in batches.


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