Clemenza had finally come back from his day's work and was bustling around the kitchen cooking up a huge pot of tomato sauce. Michael nodded to him and went to the corner office where he found Hagen and Sonny waiting for him impatiently. "Is Clemenza out there?" Sonny asked.
Michael grinned. "He's cooking up spaghetti for the troops, just like the army."
The Godfather, Mario Puzo
I vividly remember meeting my stepfather for the first time. We were in my mum's office in the City, and I shook his hand and invited him to join us for dinner. We got Geoff around the same time that we got the cat, so I think I must have been about nine. Although my mum had had a couple of boyfriends (one even had a Playstation - we really mourned the loss of him), we had been a team of girls for so long in those early formative years. The addition of two males into the house - one a skittish stray kitten, the other a man who played Dean Martin every morning - took some adjustment.
He and my mum eloped when I was 11. They woke us up early, laid out our best dresses and drove us up to Noosa. They married by the beach, with only a handful of close friends and family present, my mum beautiful in black and yellow, Geoff with a smile on his face I've never forgotten. The four of us spent most of the next day watching Star Wars in bed, eating fish and chips and buckets of gelato, before Luce and I returned to Brisbane, leaving them to the rest of their honeymoon.
Along with his Star Wars VHS boxset, Geoff brought many things with him into our house. There are places where his taste overlaps with my mum's: Sunday afternoon screenings of High Society, parties on our back deck, a love of Italy. But he also added his beloved WWII documentaries, chardonnay, spaghetti Brevilles and Engelbert Humperdinck to our crime shows, whiskey, rom coms and poached egg salads. Most importantly, in addition to his immediate family, Geoff brought his friends. He is the most extraordinary host, and loving friend, I know - the first to step behind the bar to mix a drink, generous beyond belief and always with an eye on everyone at the party, ensuring they're happy and fed and feeling at home. On Saturday mornings he would disappear into our pantry with the long-corded phone and his address book, calling his old school friends and catching up about their lives and wives and children. These friends became part of our lives too - an extended family that stretched along the east coast of Queensland and beyond.
With four parents, we were never at a loose end for people to see over Christmas. In addition to the five or six separate family events, we'd also spend a long afternoon with Geoff's friends Mish and Viv at Viv's mum Mrs G's house. We'd swim and eat too much and sneak bottled alcopops out of the esky to drink under the deck; it was the perfect post-Christmas event.
Mrs G is the kind of woman I would like to grow up to be - warm and welcoming, someone who makes a batch of crostoli just in case anyone drops by. This is her meatball recipe below, in honour of Geoff, and all that he brought into our lives - The Godfather (which I didn't read until long after he first showed us the film), his Vito Corleone impersonation (which I could live without, to be fair) and our incredible extended family.
Mrs G's Spaghetti and Meatballs
500g beef mince
2tbsp soft breadcrumbs
Leaves from 4 stalks of flat leaf parsley
1 clove garlic
Generous grinding of salt and pepper
125ml white or red wine (I used a dry white, as it was open, which worked a treat)
One 400g tin chopped tomatoes (or equivalent in fresh tomatoes, if it is summer where you are and the tomatoes are delicious)
2tbsp tomato paste
Pinch sea salt
300g dried spaghetti
Fresh basil leaves
1. Finely chop the parsley and garlic clove. Put the beef mince, garlic, parsley, egg, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and wine into the mixing bowl. Mix by hand until combined. The mixture should be sticky but not wet - add more breadcrumbs if it is too wet, or wine if it is too dry. Cover the bowl and leave in the fridge for an hour.
2. Pour the flour into the roasting tray. Shape the mince into dessertspoon sized balls and toss in the flour to coat. The mixture should make 20-24 meatballs.
3. Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in the frying pan. Add the meatballs, frying for a minute and a half on each side. Check one to ensure it is cooked all the way through, then turn the heat off. Set the meatballs aside.
4. To make the sauce, clean out the frying pan and then add a tablespoon of oil. Place it over a medium heat and, once hot, add the tin of tomatoes. Stir until bubbling, then add the tomato paste and salt. Turn the heat down and stir occasionally until thick. Add the meatballs, stir to coat them and leave on a very low heat while you cook the pasta.
5. Fill your largest saucepan with water and bring it to the boil. Add a generous pinch of salt (the water you cook pasta in should be as salty as the sea) and cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve a mug of the cooking water and drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the sauce and stir through, adding some of the pasta water to lubricate the spaghetti. Serve immediately with Parmesan and basil, if you like.
A note: The meatballs won't be dry or dense inside, so they may be a little delicate. Stir carefully or, if you'd like to ensure they stay whole, pull them out of the pan before combining the pasta and the sauce, and add them in again afterwards.