Comfort Foods with a History
Three recipes define my development as a cook. None is expensive, all are Italian, all relatively easy to make. The Italian influence comes from my Aunt Maylee, who is my aunt by endearment, not by blood.
It was in her kitchen in the late 1960s that I became enchanted by the the smell of her Tuscan grandmother, Nana’s, pasta sauce. My first taste of it left an impression that has scarcely ever been duplicated by any other dish. Granted I was quite young, with little knowledge of of different cuisines, so the impact was an astonishment of firsts: smoky incense, beguiling flavors, along with deep satisfaction. I had never tasted “mystery” before. A secret ingredient was hiding in the recipe that Nana never shared, even with her daughters. Luckily, one of them snuck into the kitchen and caught Nana adding a good shot of allspice to the sauce. This touch was then handed down through the generations as part of Nana’s legacy. I often think about all the family meals that sent love around the table in Nana’s sauce.
After mastering Nana’s sauce came making pasta from scratch. The idea thatI could make pasta rather than buy it dried had never occurred to me until I watched a cooking show featuring Marcella Hazan in the early 1980s. She used nothing but technique to turn eggs and flour into supple, starchy noodles. So, I bought a hand-crank pasta machine and Hazan’s Classic Italian Cook Book and taught myself to make linguini. That was a revelation in the pleasure of learning to cook something on my own.
Lastly, focaccia came from the years spent teaching myself to bake bread. That stage is attributable to my desire to make my husband happy at the table. In the early part of 2000 he said, “This bread from the grocery store is pretty awful.” So, I’ve spent the years since making bread every week. Eventually it became as easy as making pasta. Together, Nana’s sauce, pasta and focaccia have become a signature dinner at my table – served with a history stretching back to Italy and a nod tp the women and their recipes that ended up in my own kitchen.
And watch Patty's video on Making Focaccia