Remember To Make Memories At The Table

Remember To Make Memories At The Table

Nonna used To Say...

Got Agita? It's Not What You Eat; It's What Eats You

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The "Tomato Sauce" Incident

Growing up I thought everyone ate and cooked Italian. I had Irish friends, Spanish friends, and lived in a neighborhood where Blacks and those of Polish descent all hung out together. But, I just thought that Italian food graced their tables most nights. Sure, it was fine to have a non-Italian meal. My mom, Eugenia, is a diverse cook. During the Jewish holidays she made potato latkes and brisket, on St. Patrick's there was always corned beef and cabbage, Chinese New Year..homemade wonton soup, stir fry and fried rice. She cooked International long before it was vogue. But come on, didn't everyone have pasta and "gravy" each Sunday... rich tomato sauce with braciole, meatballs, pork, sausage? Sundays the house smelled heavenly. Mom was up early as usual. The scent of garlic, onion and meat browning in olive oil filled the air. It was the day one of her seven kids got his/her hand slapped for dunking Italian bread in the gravy pot. That drove Mom crazy...pieces of bread floating in her sauce. We did know enough not to double dip so at least we kept it sanitary. Italian food made from scratch...was there anything else?
Not all pasta was mixed with tomato sauce. Nope. Pasta with peas and onions, with cauliflower, ceci beans, and one of my favorites--broccoli and pork. Whatever could be fried, sauteed, poached or baked could be combined with some type of pasta be it fusilli, shells, farfalle, penne and so on. Everything was great with pasta... well, except for that lunch in Cape Cod, Massachusetts when I was about 9 years old.
Mom and Dad took their seven children and Nonna on vacation every year. My parents wouldn't dream of a get-away alone. No two people deserved quiet time without their brood more than they...but we were family, their family. So off to Lake George, NY, the New Jersey Shore or Cape Cod we would go. Dad would rent a large house somewhere near a lake or the ocean where his kids could run wild, swim or explore. Poor Mom still had to cook as it was too expensive to take 10 out to a restaurant. At the Cape, Nonna carrying a bucket would take us to the sea and we'd all gather fresh mussels. Back at home, Mom would make a pot of marinara sauce and in would go those mussels....cook up linguine and the feast would begin.
One lazy summer day, my sister Judey and I made friends with two girls renting the house next door to our rental. Graciously, their mom invited us to lunch with them. Knowing we were of Italian descent, she offered to serve spaghetti and tomato sauce. It sounded great and Mom agreed. She sent us over with a plate of cookies (you never went to someones house empty handed). It turned out to be a meal I'd never forget.
Four little girls giggling at a chipped formica table waited for their Italian lunch. Mrs. G filled a separate bowl with the spaghetti water, then scooped out a hearty serving of pasta into each kid's dish. She reached for a bottle of ketchup and proceeded to mix it with the pasta water she'd set aside. She whisked the ketchup and water together and poured it over our pasta. Judey and I were horrified! I looked over at my younger sister. Tears pooled in her eyes. Her lip quivered. I squeezed her knee under the table. We were taught that no matter what was ate it. It was bad manners to put your nose up at food. But this had to be an exception...ketchup over spaghetti? It was criminal, I tell you. We said "thank you" and we all bowed our heads to say grace. I prayed I wouldn't throw up. Judey prayed that her "big" sister would get her out of this mess. I couldn't. We ate half our lunch, said we were full and couldn't eat another bite. Judey and I quickly bid them goodbye and high-tailed it back to our rental. Mom couldn't image what had happened, the way we carried on! Ketchup in place of tomato sauce...oh, the inhumanity of it all! We had been traumatized. Mom understood, led us into the living room, snuggled us under a blanket on the couch and turned on the TV. We never spoke of the "ketchup" incident ever again.
That evening, Mom made pasta with broccoli and pork. Tomato sauce would have been a cruel reminder of what we'd been through that day.

Pasta, Broccoli & Pork

1 lb. box shells style pasta
1 large head of broccoli: remove end of stalks & cut into pieces with florets intact
1 small onion, sliced
2-3 boneless pork chops, diced *pork is not the main ingredient. This is a pasta dish. Pork is for flavor.
Seasoning & Browning sauce (i.e. Gravy Master-just for color)
olive oil
salt & garlic powder
*reserve a cup or so of pasta water

Heat olive oil in a large skillet, add diced pork and begin to brown it. Season to taste with salt and garlic powder. When almost browned, add onion and saute until pork and onion are cooked. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Put broccoli in pot and cook for 5 min. Add pasta in the same pot as broccoli. Cook until al dente. With a slotted spoon, remove broccoli and add to the skillet. Mix gently. When pasta is cooked, drain, add to skillet, too. Add a bit of Gravy Master to color the pasta. Mix gently so as not to break up the broccoli too much. Add a drizzle of olive oil to moisten. Add pasta water. Mix gently. Season with salt and garlic powder to your taste, if needed. Serves 4. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Serve with Italian bread.
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  1. One of my favorite dishes! Not only that- this is one meal I know how to cook!! and my boys think so, too!

  2. Kaz, You get the Star Cook Of The Week Award! N

  3. just found yoour blog, come over to mine and get in on the cool agave nectar giveaway, you need pictures your food sounds yummy

  4. Hello,

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  5. Hello, discovered your blog via foodie blogroll. Welcome!

  6. Welcome to the foodie blogroll. I really enjoyed your story and the pasta sounds great.

  7. Wow..I'm stunned to get so many comments. It touched my heart...thanks, Mimi, Donna, Vincent & My motorhome to yours. I will visit your blogs too. Thanks again. God Bless. N