No convenience food here, unless you count the fact that I had frozen purchased sausage from a supermarket (a mix of hot and sweet), and the tomatoes were canned, a mix of JerseyFresh crushed and BioNature organic crushed. I did use rigatoni for this, my favorite dried pasta, De Cecco. (Although I do like Barilla Plus for long pastas.) I got inspired to make this as I wrote an article for the October issue of PM Fine LIving. The article and one of the recipes are below, in case you missed it, as it is not online.
EATING IN – Favorite dishes remind us of the Comforts of home
PM Magazine, October 2012
My family loved to eat out when I was growing up, and we always joked that my mother’s favorite thing to make for dinner was reservations. But we all knew that the meals we cooked at home held special meaning.
My grandparents on both sides were so thankful to have come to America, leaving political turmoil and hopeless poverty behind in their old countries. They didn’t talk about it much, but their satisfied smiles at family gatherings, especially that of my father’s mother, said it all: We’re so lucky to be here, surrounded by our families, and with food on the table.
And eat we did! The Armenians held shish kebab cookouts up on Route 206 (bread was baked in an outdoor mud oven), followed by hours of backgammon on the porch, and a little circle dancing – by the men – in the yard. We served the meat with rice or bulgur pilaf, cooked with browned onions and chicken broth, and green beans stewed with tomatoes.
A picture I have from that era shows my father’s relatives crowded around the table, with my young Italian mother to the left of front center, looking a little stunned at all the noise and confusion. My grandfather and grandmother are just to the right, up front. A female relative in the left background hams it up with her food at her mouth, much as I did years later when my father brought huge lobsters home for special family dinners.
The Italians discretely ate inside, but only after my grandfather raided his tidy backyard garden on Pine Street for buckets of vegetables (I raided his delicious white grapes). I still make, as best I can, my grandmother’s Sunday sauce with pork chops and chicken pieces, although I never had her recipe. While I wish I’d paid more attention, I do have her original 1936 edition of “101 Ways to Prepare Macaroni,” published by V. La Rosa & Sons, the pasta makers. This little booklet was likely a free handout, but I think it is my most treasured cookbook, of hundreds I own, full of traditional recipes.
The other side of cooking at home are those private meals, the quick, comfortable thing you turn to when you don’t have much time, and maybe less spirit, at the end of a hard day. One of my favorite homey dinners, a holdover from New England college days, is breakfast links with baked beans and applesauce.
Perhaps no one has written more eloquently of such meals than the American food writer, M.F.K. Fisher, and I recently came across my clipping of a 1978 article she wrote for Bon Appétit Magazine, entitled “the Midnight Egg and Other Revivers.” Her favorite was milk toast (torn, buttered toast in a bowl, pour on heated whole milk, or maybe even cocoa), but she also gives votes for a baked potato or eggs.
I am firmly in the egg camp, myself. Baked (shirred), poached, coddled, fried, scrambled, however you prefer it, to me the egg is the ultimate easy comfort food. I love to use my English porcelain egg coddler with the metal screw top, but you can also simply bake eggs in ramekins in a hot water bath in the oven. The possibilities of this humble food are endless, just like the comfort of good food shared at home.
DeGiovanni Sunday Sauce
No recipe is available, so I’m giving guidelines here – remember to make enough for leftovers, maybe even enough to freeze for a snowy day.
Salt & pepper to taste
3 thin bone-in pork chops
2 bone in chicken breast halves, cut in half for 4 pieces (skin optional)
2 28-ounce cans of peeled whole tomatoes
8-10 fresh basil leaves
Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated
Cooked pasta, something sturdy, like rigatoni
Sauté onion and garlic until soft, then add salt and pepper to taste. Add meats to brown lightly, then add tomatoes, crushing them by hand as you add them. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, adding basil near the end, until meats are falling-off-the-bone tender.
Carefully transfer meats and some of the sauce to a platter. Mix some of the sauce with the cooked pasta, just enough to moisten the pasta, not drown it. Plate the pasta in the kitchen, and pass the platter of the meats and additional sauce at the table.