I’m pretty sure it’s the hot and muggy weather that’s gotten to my cook gene, but I’ve been in a slump when it comes to meals. I mean, really, for the love of Pete, do you people have to eat every day, multiple times each day?! In my kitchen, we don’t have the dog days of summer; we’ve got the crab days. So, it was quite an unexpected gift – a Christmas in July, if you will – when I got on a food bender. I had been thinking a lot lately about how time flies – we’re already getting things together for the boys to go back to school – which sent me on the nostalgia engine to when I was a girl getting ready to go back to school. I will spare you the brain train that got me from that all the way to remembering things I loved most about summer dinners with the family … Dad would be grilling kebabs or pork chops or burgers and yelling at us to stop doing whatever we happened to be doing in the pool. Mr. Long would be next door swaying in his hammock smoking one of his stinky cigars, occasionally yelling a hello or random commentary on George’s grill skills over the fence. Bill would be across the street mowing his grass for the umpteen time staring daggers at us if we even thought about riding our bicycle near his property. And Mom would be inside whipping up the rest of dinner, probably grateful for the quiet.
If I were given the opportunity to pick my last meal on earth, I would choose, without hesitation, spaghetti ala olio. Or as we’ve called it since childhood, spaghetti ollie oley. Though some dishes have more significant memories attached or elegant ingredients, none make my taste buds happier.
Noodles in oil tossed.
Golden garlic shaves atop.
Grated cheese completes.
There are few things that universally say “Christmas!” to our extended family like Nonnie’s biscotti. Not to be confused with our Nonnie (queen of the pasta fazool), this nonna is my mother and her siblings’ grandmother. Lucy Vitiello Polvinale aka Old Nonnie (or Nonnie from Florida if she was within earshot) was a pistol of a lady. Though vertically challenged to the tune of 4 foot nothing – give or take – she could whip up a feast for the hordes while telling fabulous stories in her wizened old Italian-accented voice, barking orders at Cizzie (the Florida Cizzie, not to be confused with present day Aunt Dot Cizzie) and encouraging the feeble attempts of any protegee, young or old, who thought it wise to belly up to her counter to roll gnocchi or simply bask in her wonderful presence.
This dish is the reason that I started this blog. If I think of Nonnie in the kitchen, it generally involves her making pasta fazool and me being shooed away from the pot. “Elizabeth! Go. Out. Side!” To be sure, I know this is correctly referred to as pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) but we have never called it that and I see no reason to start now. Plus, I don’t think most of the family would know what I was talking about if it I called it Nonnie’s pasta e fagioli.