One of the best things of having siblings is the shared memories. Having inhabited the same household for 15 years or so gives you a window seat to the family dynamics, day in and day out, and the memories are remarkably consistent.
Stuck in traffic – my sister lives in Rome but LA traffic can be even more mind-boggling – we start an inventory of our family meals. Lunch and dinner were rather sacred in our house, served at 1:15 pm and 8:00 pm respectively, every single day. They both included a pasta dish or a soup, followed by a meat dish with a side. No dessert unless it was Sunday. Looking back, I can’t believe we were as skinny as the photographs of the time remind us. I looked positively undernourished and yet I ingested bread and pasta in copious amounts.
While my mother’s cooking can be remembered as the stuff of legends, there were dishes we both loathed and time hasn’t changed our perception of them: boiled tongue; liver; ossobuco – those were for our dad, my mom didn’t even try with us. Our most dreaded was “spezzatino”, a meat stew with potatoes, tomatoes and peas. It sounds innocuous enough but the mere memory of the fatty bits on the meat pieces is enough to make us gag. I would push the meat aside and concentrate on peas and potatoes while my sister devised the messy strategy of spitting it into her napkin, which she would then empty into the toilet when we were finally allowed to leave the table. That is one recipe that will not enter our repertoire any time soon.
A favorite stand-by, on the other hand, that I always make when I have some leftover ricotta, is a simple pasta dish I have seldom seen: all it needs is tomato puree, ricotta and a lot of parsley. The end sauce is more green than red, as if the tomato were an afterthought, and the creamy ricotta binds everything together. Our mother used to hand-make bow ties for it but I mostly use the boxed ones.
400 g pasta
1 C tomato puree
1/2 C Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
3 or 4 T ricotta
salt and pepper to taste
- Heat two or three tablespoons of olive oil in a sauce pan on medium heat and add the garlic. Sautee for a minute and add the parsley. Let cook for three or four minutes.
- Add the tomato puree, salt and pepper to taste, lower the heat and let cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the sauce is thick. It’s supposed to be more green than red.
- In the meantime, cook the pasta in salted water. Drain.
- Mix the sauce with the pasta and add the ricotta. Mix thoroughly and serve immediately, with Parmesan cheese if desired.