Carb Me Up Scotty!

I don’t know about you, but when I have a particularly stressful day (which, lately is everyday), I crave carbs. Potatoes, rice, bread, and my absolute favorite and most desired; pasta.

This week alone I ate pasta, potatoes and bread at least three days. On Wednesday, pasta and garlic bread were my best friends. I polished off 1/2 pound of penne with two slices of garlic bread, followed by a full glass of wine; yum!

It’s been said that our bodies crave what it needs most to survive; well I listened to my body and gave it what it wanted. So you can call me a survivor, because pasta kept me going this week!

Eating all of this pasta makes me think of Nana and how pasta played in her meal preparations. Nana made the most varied and delicious pasta recipes. Her repertoire included baked ziti, spaghetti, home-made manicotti and ravioli, amazing peasant dishes menestre, pasta e fagioli, (which we called pasta fa-zool), and my favorite; pasta e peselli (macaroni and peas).

By the time I was in my mid twenties pasta became my main food staple, eating it at least three times a week. I ate pasta in every combination I could think of. I mixed pasta with vegetables, chicken,  and eliminated red meat and pork from my diet completely. I became a “quasi-vegetarian” as Jeffrey used to call me.

My brother Jeffrey was a vegetarian. From the time he was a baby he shunned meat. He wouldn’t eat red meat, pork or chicken. The smell of meat made him gag. He didn’t eat Nana’s meatballs either, which I couldn’t understand! My brother did however eat fish; but his diet consisted mostly of vegetables, pasta and cheese.

I remember in 1999, Jeffrey had a nice studio apartment in the up-and-coming Chelsea area of Manhattan and was a few blocks away from the Javits Convention Center. One Sunday, Louis and I took the boys to the auto show at the Javits Center and went to Jeffrey’s apartment for dinner afterwards.

Jeffrey made rigatoni with mixed vegetables and fresh tomatoes and garlic bread. It was so yummy; everything Jeffrey made was out of this world. The thing is; this was something he just threw together. He didn’t pull it out of a recipe book; it came from his imagination.

Louis ate two huge helpings, and I wasn’t too far behind. Joseph and Andrew pushed the vegetables away and ate just the pasta and garlic bread. They didn’t know what was good for them. Ah, the folly of youth!

Since then, I’ve experimented with different pasta and vegetable recipes, but somehow it just doesn’t taste the way Jeffrey’s did. Maybe I’m romanticizing it because he’s gone, and as you know the good memories become more beautiful; but I doubt it. Jeffrey was a far better cook than I am, and my sweet memories testify to the truth.

I suspect my body is going to be craving this good stuff for the next three weeks, so here’s my version of Pasta with Vegetables. I plan on making it for Sunday dinner – I hope my version does Jeffrey proud and you enjoy it.

Pasta with Vegetables

INGREDIENTS:
6 garlic cloves – minced
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 can of tomato paste
1/2 cup fresh parsley – chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil – chopped
1 small onion – chopped
salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 cup of white wine
2 tablespoons Italian spices (I like Herbs du Provence)
2 small firm zucchini, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 cup peas (frozen)
1 cup string beans (frozen)
1 small firm eggplant – peeled and chopped in small cubes
5 or 6 ripe plum tomatoes, de-seeded and chopped
1 pound of pasta – spaghetti, rigatoni, shells; whatever you like
Grated Parmesan cheese

PREPARATION:
Bring a large 10 qt. pot of water to a boil.

On a medium flame, in a 10” skillet – sauté garlic in oil till just translucent.

Add vegetables (except tomatoes – I know; tomatoes are a fruit) and onions and simmer for about 10-15 minutes (don’t let vegetables get over-cooked and soggy).

Add tomato paste, tomatoes, parsley, salt, pepper, white wine, basil and Italian spices.

When water begins to boil, add pasta and cook 10 minutes until al dente – drain

In a large serving bowl, mix pasta and vegetables together.

Sprinkle top with more chopped basil and grated Parmesan cheese.

Serve with warm garlic bread.

Serves 4 – 6

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100 Years to Live

Today is January 14th; the month is almost over.

January used to be a month where we celebrated a lot of family birthdays. It started with my nephew Tim on January 9th, brother in-law Sonny on the 10th, followed by mother-in-law Helen and Uncle Johnny on the 11th and rounded-out by Uncle Tommy on the 15th. All, but Uncle Tommy and Tim are gone.

Years ago we marked each birthday with lots of laughter. We would get-together and have a big cannoli cake to celebrate. It seems to me that birthdays are now viewed as just another day reflecting more on what’s gone that what’s here.

This morning as I was on my computer paying bills and listening to my music on iTunes, the song “100 Years” by Five for Fighting came on. That song makes me think of Nana. It’s a bitter-sweet song that talks about the passage of time as we progress through 100 years of life. One of the lyrics goes like this, “There’s never a wish better than this, when you’ve only got 100 years to live”.

My beautiful Nana made it to 101, and it feels like it all happened in the blink of an eye; one minute she was here and the next she’s gone. All of the birthdays have blended into one massive 100 year movie.

I’m remembering one birthday in particular. It was in 1975 and Nana was turning 65 years old. I was going to college full-time and working part-time at Campbell’s bakery. I ordered a cannoli cake with whipped cream and lots of flowers on the top. It was inscribed “Happy 65th Birthday Nana”.  We all gathered at Nana’s house. We lit the candles and began to sing “Happy Birthday” to Nana and she joined in, as she always did. It was always so cute to hear Nana sing “Happy Birthday to me” with her Italian accent. Then she clapped her hands and blew out the candles. She loved cannoli cake!

Happy Birthday to my Uncle Tommy, who will be 77 years young tomorrow, January 15th.

My buddy Jerry makes delicious canolli’s. His recipe is authentic and it reminds me of the canolli’s I used to get in New York and New Jersey. My Aunt Liz also makes a wonderful canolli. Let’s face it, you’re not Italian if you don’t eat or make canolli!

There are three ways to make a canolli filling; with ricotta cheese, mascarpone or both.

And as we say in Italian, Cent’ Anni

Cannoli Filling – Ricotta
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
mini chocolate chips to your liking
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting the canolli shells
In a large mixing bowl, combine ricotta, sugar, and vanilla.
Beat until smooth.
Stir in chocolate chips

Fill canolli shells with mixture

Optional: Dip ends of shells in melted chocolate
Dust the top of the cannolis with confectioner’s sugar.

CANNOLI FILLING – Mascarpone
1 cup mascarpone cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Mini chocolate chips – to your liking

Canolli Filling – Mascarpone and Ricotta
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
Mini chocolate chips

MORE OPTIONAL ingredients to alter taste:
Add a tablespoon of amaretto to the mixture
Add dried fruits to the mixture