When I was a kid there were a lot of “feeds” – crab feed, spaghetti feed, pancake feed – the important word here being “feed”. “Feeds” were used to raise money for the fire department, the 4-H club, the Grange, the various churches, and let’s not forget the Odd Fellow’s Lodge.
I guess crab feeds were the favorite, always filled up a hall with a line around the building. It was hard work cracking out enough crab to feed yourself – I always looked forward to the big pots of rigatoni or penne rigati in marinara sauce. These we were allowed to eat as much as we wanted, and as soon as the pot approached being empty somebody’s mom would appear with a new pot, steaming full. It was a simple, cheap staple – dry pasta and canned tomatoes – but it kept us coming back for more.
I still have tomatoes coming in from the garden, so I’m always looking for something to do with them. I picked up some big bags of dry pasta at Safeway the other day, 99 cents for a 2 pound bag. I came home and filled the bottom of my kitchen sink with fresh tomatoes, then poured over a brimming pot of boiling water to loosen the skins. After a few minutes they just slip right off, I quarter the fruit and throw it in my big enamel pot. I just boil this for about half hour, forty minutes, and then I season it with basil and oregano, salt, pepper, garlic. Then I get out my potato masher and mash the tomatoes into a thick sauce.
I learned something new from Lidia Bastianich the other day – add vodka, butter, and whole cream to your tomato sauce! Whoa! I didn’t have any vodka, I’ll have to get one of those airline bottles at the liquor store. But, the butter – about two table spoons – and about a quarter cup of whole cream turned this tangy watery sauce into a creamy, smooth, deep sauce, almost like chunky soup. It was amazing. I’ll have to do that more often.
I always cook my pasta in water until it’s almost done, then I add it to the sauce and simmer it a little longer – maybe five minutes – to finish off. Then I turn off the heat and put the lid on, let it sit. In just a few minutes, it soaks up the sauce and gets all rubbery and yummy. We had on hand – as usual – leftover chicken breast, grilled the the previous night. We cut that into strips and laid it on the plate and piled the pasta on top. This warms the meat up just enough for me, makes it moist again.
We had cooked an enormous pot of sauce and noodles, so we had lots leftover. That sure saves time the next evening. sometimes our kid needs to be somewhere, or I have a meeting. I put the leftover noodles and sauce into a glass baking pan and nuzzled in some spoonsful of cottage cheese, along with tiny cubes of mozzarella here and there. Then I covered it with grated mozzarella and baked it for about 20 minutes at 400. I usually broil it for about three minutes at the end to give it a nice brown top.
When friends ask me what I’ve got planned, the first thing that pops into my head is dinner. I wake up thinking, what will we have for dinner? Viva la casserole!