Cat Heads and a road less traveled

Cat Heads and a road less traveled

“Cat Heads & Gravy / 5 Miles”
The sign read.

I used to travel a lot on my off days. Occasionally, when you could do such a thing and the airlines were more concerned with filling every seat, I would throw together a light packed bag and park myself in the airport – waiting for that thrilling last minute cheap seat to … where ever. It didn’t matter where, it was just away. I flew to Corpus Christi for $15 once; San Fran for $25; I even got to Bangor for $5… and a promise to bring back a lobster to the ticket agent.

But as time passed the workload increased and the airlines became less amused with my patented
” I’ve got 25 bucks … where can I go”?
… getting away for 3 to 4 days became more of a myth than a reality.
I came to the decision one night that even though I would miss the mystery grab bag plane ride,  just getting away  for 2 days on a drive was enough to restart my mojo. So that next night  before my sporadic time off,  I made a note of the general direction I wanted to go (zigzag across Tennessee), packed some traveling snacks , and set the alarm for 4 am.

I have to tell you, car trips for me are rejuvenating. But, Car Trips with absolutely no idea where you’re going are exhilarating. Staying off the highways, picking my way along state routes, stopping whenever I want, it’s a modern-day treasure hunt… and every small town and community is the pot of gold.

And that’s where I saw it.
Cat Heads & Gravy
Of course, being a Southerner, I know what a cat head is. But as I passed the sign it hit me that someone from “other parts” might find that a little odd. And then I got tickled…. I wanted to be in that “other” car when they saw the sign.

Oh.. A cat head? It’s a biscuit.
Granted, it’s a very big biscuit, but nothing to really be scared of…. unless it was really big… and made with lard… and really heavy. Cat heads are called that because of the size and shape.They are either hand balled or dropped so they are round and fluffy – and they are a little smaller than a soft ball.  Get it?  Cat Head.

After that trip I saw cat heads everywhere. A diner in Dublin had Cat Head Dumplings; a fried fish place outside Mobile was offering up Cat Fish and Cat Head Hushpuppies. A thousand Cat Head rolls and sandwiches; Cat Head meat balls and stuffed peppers. Cat heads had transcended the lowly biscuit and become a unit of measure all on their own.

Looking at the pound of veal in the freezer, the only thing that came to mind on a weeknight was meatball…. and I really didn’t feel like rolling 2 dozen little balls, so I opted for 8 really, really big ones…
Cat Heads…

Cat Head Meatballs
Serves 4
1 Pound Ground Veal
1/2 Cup Bulk Pork Sausage (Veal is uber lean. You’ll need the little amount of fat to keep things from getting too dry)
1/4 Cup Bread Crumbs
1/2 Cup Chopped Onion
1/4 Cup Chopped Celery
1/4 Cup Chopped Pepper
2 Teaspoons Thyme / Divided
2 Teaspoons Rosemary – Minced / Divided
1 Clove Garlic – Minced
1 Egg
1 Can Diced Tomatoes
1 Medium Onion – Sliced
3 Roasted Red Peppers
1 Cup Red Wine (If you aren’t the wine kind of person – Substitute 1 cup of unsweetened apple juice or 1 cup unsweetened white grape juice)
1 Tablespoon Oil
2 Teaspoons Salt
Black Pepper / Red Pepper Flakes to Taste
1 Clove Garlic – Minced
Parmesan Cheese
Medium Roasting Pan
Tin Foil
Stick Blender or Food Processor
Medium Saute Pan
Medium Skillet
Large Mixing Bowl
Small bowl of water

Preheat the oven to 350
Saute the onions, celery, peppers in the oil until soft; add to the mixing bowl
Add the pork, veal, egg, 1/2 thyme and rosemary, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and  whatever pepper you want
Mix well
Place the skillet back on medium heat
Wet your hands in the small bowl of water and ball up about a 3″ ball of the veal – using your hands to compress and shape it. (Remember to wet your hands after each meatball to keep the mix from sticking to your hands)Place them into the skillet and brown lightly

Line the roasting pan with enough tin foil to wrap over the meat and seal closed
Place the seared balls in the pan and top with the tomatoes, onions, roasted peppers, remaining thyme and rosemary, garlic, wine (or juice)
Pull the foil up loosely and crimp closed
Bake at 350 for 40 minutes
Set the meatballs aside and pour the vegetables and liquid into a sauce pan
Process until chunky with either the stick blender or a processor

Place the meatballs back in the roasting pan , top with grated parmesan and the pureed liquid – Place in a warm oven (200 degrees) while the pasta cooks

Stripper Pasta
 “stripper” pasta… okay, it’s just spaghetti with matchstick vegetables in it – but it would make some swingin’ tassels…
Serves 4
1″ Bundle of Spaghetti
6 to 8 Asparagus Spears
1 Zucchini or Yellow Straight Squash
1 Yellow Pepper
Pot of Salted Water
1 Tablespoon Butter
Cracked Black Pepper

Strip down the asparagus and squash into matchstick widths

Seed the pepper and strip down into 1/8″ strips

Add the pasta to boiling salted water and cook until almost done (still chewy in the center)
Add the vegetables to the boiling pasta water for the last 3 minutes of  cooking
Add a tablespoon of butter to the pot along with the black pepper; heat just until the butter is melted
Remove from the heat and toss the pasta / veg in the butter – Serve Hot

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