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PhenomeNOMS: Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan

by Erin Parr

Welcome to the first edition of PhenomeNOMS, a look at famous geeks and the food that has either inspired them, or is inspired by them.

Carl Sagan, born in 1934, was a brilliant astrophysicist and cosmologist, most widely known for his public television series called Cosmos,  the highest-rated television series at its time. Cosmos covered a range of scientific subjects featuring the scientist explaining many mysteries of the Universe in what I consider to be the most adorably geeky way imaginable. Aside from his famous television show, Sagan was an author of hundreds of papers, over a dozen books, and was one of the most famous supporters of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI. He was very vocal about his opinions on climate change and religion, and remained a beloved skeptic that helped change the world’s view about the outer space, the universe, and intelligent life.

Of course, there’s always a shadow when it comes to learning about our heroes. Despite his brilliance, Carl was also known as childlike and arrogant. He was once asked by Apple Computers if they could use his name as a code-name for one of the lines of computers they had yet to release. When Sagan threw a fit and angrily refused, Apple then started internal memos about the line, calling it BHA – short for “butt-head astronomer”. Still, his childlike wonder about the universe and his brilliance, playfulness, and charisma still makes him one of the most beloved geeks of our time.

A rumor started recently indicated that Sagan’s beloved show about the universe and its infinite mysteries has a chance of new life with another geeky host (who will most certainly become a future subject of PhenomeNOMS) Neil deGrasse Tyson.

An article about  Carl Sagan and his life growing up reveals his mother was a brilliant cook and could make amazing spicy spaghetti and meatballs. While not made of star stuff, and certainly no apple pie from scratch, this recipe still tantalizes the taste buds with hearty meatballs and a tangy, spicy red sauce that I certainly believe Sagan would approve of. But don’t take my word for it! As Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” – So make a batch of spicy spaghetti and meatballs for you and your friends, and enjoy its deliciousness during a Cosmos marathon. See the videos below for some inspiring “cooking music” featuring our geeky subject. Enjoy!

Carl Sagan’s Spicy Spaghetti and Meatballs

Generously serves 6


Pasta –

1 package (approximately 1lb) dry spaghetti
A generous dash of salt

Spicy Meatballs –

1lb lean ground beef
1lb ground pork or sweet or spicy italian sausage
1 egg
½ cup panko or plain breadcrumbs
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream or half-n-half
2 cloves of garlic, minced
¼ cup (or about half of a small) onion grated
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
1 tablespoon of onion powder
1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1  teaspoon of black pepper
1 teaspoon of italian seasoning
½ teaspoon dry rubbed sage
1 tablespoon worchestershire sauce
1 teaspoon of salt
Olive oil for drizzling
Optional: fresh basil or oregano, finely chopped

Spicy Red Sauce –

2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 onion, grated or finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 cans of roasted diced or crushed tomatoes
2 small cans of tomato paste
3/4  cup good red wine, plus more to thin
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar, optional
Several dashes of your favorite hot sauce, to taste

Garlic bread, chopped parsley, grated Parmesan, or shredded mozzarella to serve, if desired.


Preheat oven to 375F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.

Generously salt a large pot of water and set to boil. As someone once told me, “make your pasta water salty as the ocean!”

Mix all spicy meatball ingredients in a large bowl with your hands until just combined – do not over-mix. Roll balls approximately 1.5-2 inches in diameter and evenly space on the lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven for 30-45 minutes, or until a meatball, when cut, is just barely pink inside.

Add olive oil to a large pot or pan. On medium heat, sautee onion and garlic until fragrant and translucent, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and stir to combine. Add the seasonings, wine, vinegar and hot sauce and set on low, stirring occasionally. If needed, add additional wine to thin the sauce. Let simmer until meatballs are done baking.

Once the meatballs are done, transfer the meatballs to the sauce. Use a large spoon to cover the meatballs with sauce and simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes, until meatballs are no longer pink inside.

Meanwhile, add the pasta to the salted, rapidly boiling water and cook per the package instructions. When finished, drain well.

Serve meatballs and sauce over spaghetti noodles. Now that’s an interstellar spicy meatball! Enjoy! And remember, “if we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars.” I’d also like to mention that if we do not destroy ourselves, we get to continue to enjoy delicious food. Until next time!


Cooking Music:

A Glorious Dawn:
We Are All Connected:

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