Part 2 Cooking for my Childhood Friends
“As I dropped the pasta in the pot of boiling water I called out to my friends, “How do you want the pasta cooked?” I was wincing waiting for the answer. They all matter-of-factly answered together, “al dente!” My heart leaped for joy as I realized they have come a long way from when I first met them 50 years ago!
Growing up in Hyde Park so many years ago, I was always taken aback whenever pasta was served. I am not talking the way it was served in the school cafeteria. They did have a lot of children to serve! But I could never bring myself to eat the school cafeteria pasta. Depending on whom the lunch lady was, the spaghetti varied between, large worm- like spaghetti swirling on my plate with runny sauce or it was scooped out with an ice cream scoop.
Even the neighborhood deli always had cooked pasta with sauce in their display case. I often rode my bike to the corner store with my friends to get candy. I would find myself looking on with curiosity when the deli man scooped up cold pasta mixed with sauce into containers. Watching him squish down the pasta to make room for more, I shuddered as the soft pasta flattened into a pudding like consistency. I just couldn’t understand why someone would want to eat that mush!
One day I had an opportunity to watch neighbor-hood mom cook pasta and I began to understand this phenomenon. When we made pasta at home it was always well attended to. Meaning when you dropped the pasta in the boiling water my mom stood by stirring and checking when the pasta was done. Just when my mom thought it was ready she would take it out blow on it and would hand it to me. I had the privilege to tell her when it was “al dente”. “Al dente” was when it was just short of being fully cooked through, firm but not soft. The pasta was then immediately drained and plated into individual plates which was served right away. We actually had an assembly line to the table to speed up the process.
When my neighbor cooked pasta, it was left in the pot boiling while she attended to other cooking. The pasta boiled and boiled. After the water was good and starchy she drained the soft limp pasta. But that wasn’t enough! She then washed the gooey pasta to make sure all the goop was rinsed away. It was then put in a large bowl with sauce. It sat while everyone slowly came to the table. Maybe that’s why cooked pasta was offered at the deli. This mush pasta took all day to make!
Years ago American pasta was not made from durum wheat. It was made from the same flour they used for soft bread. So technically it was hard to make pasta “al dente”. Besides needing a quick technique to serve pasta one also needed imported pasta from Italy made from durum wheat. Italian pasta was so much more expensive back then and not accessible to everyone.
America has come a long way. We have so many more options now and most pasta is made from durum wheat. I have to believe that my Italian family had a large part in the way pasta is served today. Well at least in Hyde Park! “
1 cup of chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 ½ cup chopped fresh basil
½ cup grated cheese ( parmagiana is best)
½ extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup toasted walnut or
¼ cup of toasted pignoli nuts
1 clove garlic
¼ tsp salt
½ boiled potato (1/4 mashed) yellow potato is creamiest to use
and coarsely chop
Toast the pignoli in a small skillet for a few minutes until lighty browned
Add grated parmagiana cheese, garlic, olive oil and salt
Blend together either in blender, food processor or an immersion blender. Then add boiled yellow potato
and continue blending
It is ready to serve. Pesto is served mixed in with pasta. Of course pasta “al dente”
I made my friends a pasta that was served in the restaurant. It was pasta that was layered with a ladle of hot marinara, a scoop of pesto, and topped with spoon of ricotta cheese. We called it:
- 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 2 Tablespoons Butter
- 1 whole Medium Onion, Finely Diced
- 2 jars of 825 MAIN Pizza Margherita Sauce
- Salt to taste
- 1 cup Heavy Cream
- Fresh Basil, Chopped
- 1-1/2 fresh pasta
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.
Heat butter and oil over medium heat. Add onions and saute for a minute or so. Pour in 825 MAIN Pizza Margherita Sauce and add salt to taste. Stir and cook over low heat for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat and stir in cream. Check seasonings. Stir in pasta and chopped basil and serve immediately.
Basil growing at Frank L Sorebello Farm in Highland, NY
- Making tomato sauce is easy enough but finding the perfect ingredients is what makes it special. This week my husband and I went searching for basil to put in our next 825 MAIN tomato Sauce batch. We want to support Hudson Valley farms. Our search this past week was for basil. Our first stop was to Frank Sorbello’s Farm in Highland, NY. We found acres and acres of crops and acres and acres of greenhouses. Frank Sorbello showed us around. I was surprised to find that Frank doesn’t grow his basil in the greenhouses. He said basil doesn’t do well in greenhouses. It needs full sun and does not like the cold. So it is a very short season. He didn’t have a good crop this year with all the heavy rain. He didn’t have any basil to harvest for us. Frank lost 2 crops from the heavy rains in June and the heavy rain in July. The basil leaves had turned yellow and that is a big turn off to the produce buyers. He said as long as the weather keeps up he will have basil to harvest in September. Frank was proud to tell us that he grows his basil in black soil brought in from a river bank. The growing season for basil in the Hudson Valley is June to September. Gosh! Who knew! I grow basil in my garden and I did notice the yellow leaves but I still continue to use it. I didn’t realize that it has to be perfect to sell at stores. Frank had lots of other crops. But I had to wonder how much this farmer economically suffred when 2 crops of acres of basil were lost this summer due to the weather. All that work and money lost to the weather! Basil is so temperamental!
Our next stop was to Continental Organics. Continental Organics is a sustainable agriculture company located on a former dairy farm in the Hudson Valley town of New Windsor, New York. They produce natural and organic food in a closed-loop micro environment comprised of indoor high tech RAS aquaponics equipment and restored traditional organic fields. They grow the basil using hydroponic methods. I had no idea what Jim and I were in for. Whenever I think of hydroponic all I think of is bland perfectly sized tomatoes. We were pleasantly surprised. The tomato plants were thriving . The basil was beautiful. As I looked on in the climate controlled greenhouses with the beautiful greens I thought of Frank Sorbello. This poor farmer worked so hard and lost 2 crops to his short lived season for basil. Continental Organics greenhouses were thriving. They used all the space including the rooftop of their building. It was amazing!
Contimental Organics hydropone basil ready to be harvested
I have to make a decision. I do want to support Frank and his traditional farming methods. There is a certain feel to traditional farming of our land as I remembered Frank’s well weathered face. I want to support the traditional farmer. But then there is Keith, a disabled veteran, who wants to sustain the economic viability of farm operations and enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole. Continental Organics is a disabled veteran company, which warms my heart as well. I think I would like to use both, Frank in the short months of summer and Keith the rest of the year.