Amy Numrich is a librarian who creates cultural dishes for the community

Librarian Amy Numrich's "Sunday Sauce and Meatballs recipe puts a practical twist on a traditional Italian staple." CONTRIBUTED

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Librarian Amy Numrich's "Sunday Sauce and Meatballs recipe puts a practical twist on a traditional Italian staple." CONTRIBUTED

HAMILTON — Tucked away in a top drawer of a cabinet on the basement floor of the Hamilton’s Lane Library sits a collection of spices. Assistant Branch Manager Amy Numrich has dozens of international flavors organized alphabetically, as any librarian is supposed to do. It reminds you of the old card catalogs patrons used to find books to borrow before computers simplified the process.

But Numrich doesn’t lend out these spices from the library. She gives them away in specially-made packages for recipes such as falafel, Cuban ropa vieja, and other popular dishes from around the world.

“I pull them all in the amount needed, along with the list of ingredients to pick up at the store, and even a little history about the country where the recipe comes from,” Numrich explained as she checked her spice supply. “You don’t want to go out and spend all this money on a recipe you might not like. I can introduce people to these spices with them spending a fortune and then they can pick up more if they like them.”

Numrich’s passion for cooking started as a teenager while watching her stepfather, Greg Franchini, worked his magic in the family kitchen.

“One of the things I learned and still love about it is the feeling of warmth when you’re feeding people,” she shared from the basement floor of The Lane Library in Hamilton’s German Village, where she serves as Assistant Branch Manager. “The kitchen is the heart of the home.”

“He’d turn on the ‘Rat Pack’ and make all of these wonderful foods,” Numrich recalled. “He made it fun and all the family was around and we were all together. It felt like a movie. I wanted to know how to cook well and wanted to learn the proper technique.”

As life often does, though, Numrich’s career path traveled in a different direction. After attending Miami University and Kent State University, she began working at The Lane Library at age 23 and then moved on to Miami University’s library system.

In 2008, a series of cutbacks in library positions across Butler County eliminated Numrich’s job. What many would see as a frightening setback, the college librarian saw as an opportunity to start a new chapter in her life. This provided her the chance to go back to school to study her first love: cooking.

“I remember thinking ‘Now is a good time to go to culinary school and I enrolled in the Midwest Culinary Institute in Cincinnati,” Numrich shared. “I had a lot of fun, learned a lot, and got a few jobs with restaurants and in catering.”

In another unexpected twist in Numrich’s story, she discovered she preferred to cook for friends and family rather than made it her livelihood. And, a former love kept whispering in her ear to return.

“I missed libraries,” she said with a smile. “I did what I wanted with culinary school; I wanted to learn how to cook well and I accomplished that.”

‘Soup’s On’

Now, after 11 years at the Lane Library and counting, Numrich is branching out with her culinary skills and finding other ways to connect with others through her cooking. She launched a cooking series program called “Soup’s On” which usually runs in the fall and winter months, but can be seen year-round thanks to The Lane Library’s official YouTube Channel.

Her Sunday Sauce and Meatballs recipe puts a practical twist on a traditional Italian staple. The creative cook uses a slow cooker to make this delicious sauce instead of cooking it on the stovetop.

“I love using the crockpot,” Numrich said, her eyes lighting up. “You just can let it go and go and not worry about it. Then it’s ready whenever you are later in the day.”

When using a slow cooker, don’t be afraid to use spices to make sure get the most out of the meal.

“People are afraid of salt, pepper, and other seasonings,” explained Numrich. “I use a lot of black pepper and it doesn’t taste spicy — it gets more zing. You do need an appropriate amount of salt. Your food should never taste salty. It’s meant to enhance the flavor of the ingredients. No one wants to eat something that’s not flavorful.”


‘SUNDAY SAUCE’ RECIPE

INGREDIENTS

20 whole cloves of garlic

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Tbsp. dried red pepper flakes

4 cans (28 oz.) whole San Marzano tomatoes - do not skimp on the tomatoes for this recipe, only use Cento San Marzano tomatoes, not anything that is labeled ‘San Marzano Style’ - trust me, there is a difference

1 small bunch of Basil leaves

2 tsp. sea salt (base level, add more to taste)

1 Parmesan rind

DIRECTIONS

Pour olive oil into a large skillet on the stovetop. Over medium heat, add whole cloves of garlic and cook for 6-8 minutes, stirring constantly. Add red pepper flakes and cook for a minute, also stirring constantly. Transfer oil, garlic and pepper flakes into a slow cooker.

Add the San Marzanos (juice and all) into the slow cooker, using a potato masher to crush them. Add the sea salt and stir. Add the basil in whole, with the leaves still connected to their stems. Tuck Parmesan rind into the crockpot, covering completely. Turn the cooker to low and let the sauce cook for at least four hours. At this point you can add sausage or meatballs, allowing the meat to cook in the sauce, or you can stop and have a simple yet delicious red sauce. Remove basil leaves and Parmesan rind from the sauce and it’s ready to serve.

Meatballs

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

½ cup total of panko and Italian breadcrumbs, mixed

¼ cup grated onion

2 cloves minced garlic

1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon dried oregano

Pinch red pepper flakes

1 ½ pound ground turkey, very cold

1 large egg, beaten

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed

In a large bowl, combine cheese, bread crumbs, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, and red pepper flakes and mix well. Add turkey and egg and blend with your hands until well mixed. Try to work quickly, as the balls are easiest to form when the meat is still cold. Form into 1 ¾ round meatballs. They should be a bit bigger than a golf ball. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When meatballs are rolled, place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake only until meatballs are cooked enough on the outside to hold together, maybe 10-12 minutes.

Remove from the oven and carefully place your meatballs in your crock pot of sauce. Allow the meatballs to cook through in the sauce. This method ensures that your meatballs will stay tender and more flavorful.

*A note on using ground turkey. I like ground turkey, I think when cooked in the Sunday Sauce you don’t miss the flavor of beef or pork because the sauce really flavors the meat. It is also less expensive than ground beef, pork, or veal. You can use any combination of ground meats as long as it’s 1 ½ pounds and that you chill it very well before making your meatballs. You may want to spray your hands with olive oil before forming your meatballs. Ground turkey is low in fat and will stick to your hands more than beef or pork meatballs would.

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