Spaghetti and peas was a pasta we had on Fridays – meatless in those days if you were Catholic. I know that Irish families boiled extra cabbage and threw in some ammoniac old cod somewhere; and Polish and Czech families just took the meat out of their pierogies and galumpkis. When you took the ground meat out of cabbage-stuffed things you were left with a sodden, tasteless mess; but the pierogies were OK, because they were steamed pasta dumplings and when you filled them with cheese (like raviolis) they were delicious. The Ukrainian version of pierogi are verenyki, delicious; but the king of all steamed Eastern European dumplings are Georgian khingali. The trick is to put them in your mouth whole, then pop them, and let the fragrant, spicy, truly yummy pork and spice liquids run out.
The Ronzoni frozen ravioli that were just about as disgusting as Swanson Pot Pies and TV Dinners, staple fare for kids when parents went out to dinner. The late 50s was not the era when foodie parents left fresh tortellini with lightly-nutmegged spinach filling and a cream and parmesan sauce. A tasteless frozen meal would actually have been good thing because most of them were gummy, had residual cardboard and plastic overtones, were mega-dosed with sodium to give at least an illusion of taste, and had extraneous, sulfuric vegetables with Yellow 5 and Red 50 petroleum-based dye thrown in to give some color; and, in the case of the TV dinners, always picked up some aluminum or metallic taste because of the trays.
I looked forward to Friday dinners because my mother either prepared spaghetti with anchovies (although in principle reserved for Christmas Eve) or spaghetti with peas; or we ordered out from the only seafood market around. Cla-Ray’s fried clams were delicious. On rare occasions we ordered “A-pizz”, what Neapolitan Italian-Americans called pizza. I recently saw a pizza parlor (which is what they were called in the 50s) near my house on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington which advertised itself as “Real New Haven Apizz”. I am not sure what the allure is – perhaps to create a new market niche within the hundreds of other chain pizza places in the area – but it is no different: thick crust, sweet, salty tomato sauce, and boot-sole layers of cheap mozzarella (to be New Haven authentic they should spell it the way we pronounced it – “Moozarell”.
There were some authentic Italian food stores near New Britain, where I grew up; but they were in New Haven. My mother wanted to expunge any and all traces of guineahood from her kitchen, so my father and I got no commissions to fill when we went to New Haven to visit my grandmother, aunts, and uncles. At best (and I lobbied for this long and hard), a stop at Lucibello’s, and Italian pastry shop which was there in my grandmother’s time and which served four generations of Parlatos (I took my kids there for canolis on a trip north). Like “apizz”, the crispy, almond-flavored sfogliatelle were called “sfooyadell”; and the lemon and chocolate custard bocca notta were “bugnuts”. Only the creamy ricotta canoli were just plain canoli.
So, the famous and original spaghetti with peas which I still cook:
Spaghetti with Peas
* 1 can peas (unsalted if possible)
* 4-5 Tbsp. olive oil
* 3-4 lg. cloves garlic, chopped
* 2-3 tsps. dried oregano
* 2-3 Tbsp. sherry
* 3-4 shakes hot pepper flakes
* 4-5 Tbsp. freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Sautee the garlic in the olive oil and oregano
- Add the sherry, liquid from the peas, and hot pepper flakes; sautee for about 5 minutes or until the alcohol and half of the pea liquid has evaporated
- Add the peas, and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes
- Serve over spaghetti, garnish with parmesan cheese, ground black pepper, salt to taste.
Variation I – Dried Mushrooms
A nice variation to this recipe is to add dried mushrooms. If you do so, rehydrate the mushrooms for about 1 hr., squeeze them of excess liquid, and add to the olive oil, garlic, etc., as above. The resulting taste is more earthy, and the combination of peas and mushrooms is a classic.
Variation II – Tuna
Another variation is to add tuna. Tuna is one of those ingredients that any chef cooking Italian food must have. It is a perfect addition to many dishes. For example, to the Pasta with Basil that I have presented before (crushed garlic, olive oil, and fresh basil leaves in a bowl, heated over heating tray; add freshly grated parmesan), you can add half a can of tuna. For this pea recipe, add a half-can of tuna to the sauce about a minute before finishing, it should not cook.
Squid Ink Tagliatelle with Mushrooms
Here we go a bit beyond what Grandma Parlato used to make. Squid Ink Tagliatelle is available in specialty stores, and is worth the trip, because it gives just enough fish/seafood taste to complement the other ingredients.
* 1/2 lb. squid ink tagliatelle
* 2 pkgs. baby bella mushrooms or other dark, fragrant, woody mushrooms, cut in quarters
* 2 cups fingerling carrots. The kind I use are only available at farmers’ markets – they are gnarled, twisted, organic carrots with the most intense carrot taste. You can substitute for any organic carrots, using only the narrow, thin end parts. Cut into small 1/2” pieces
* 5 springs fresh sage (or 1 Tbsp. dry rubbed sage). Be careful not to add more, because sage is a very potent spice. You can taste during cooking and add more
* 3 lg. cloves garlic, chopped
* 3/4 cup sherry
* 4 Tbsp. olive oil
* 3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
- Sautee mushroom in oil, garlic for about 5 minutes
- Add sherry and sage; cook until mushrooms are moist, but not watery
- Boil carrots, drain reserve; add to the mushroom, sherry, sage sauce, mix well
- Serve over the tagliatelle, garnish with parmesan and a few springs of fresh sage; salt and ground pepper, drizzle with olive oil and serve
Squid Ink Tagliatelle with Asparagus
* 1/2 lb. black ink tagliatelle
* 4 Tbsp. olive oil
* 2 cloves garlic, smashed
* 1 lb. fresh asparagus, cut into 1” pieces
* 3-4 Tbsp. freshly grated parmesan
- Blacken asparagus – that is, place the asparagus in a very hot cast iron skillet and blacken, turning frequently. The pieces should be blackened, but not burned or completely black
- Put olive oil and crushed garlic in a bowl on a warming tray and warm to serving temperature
- Into olive oil/garlic mixture, put blackened asparagus, tagliatelle, grated parmesan, salt and freshly ground pepper; and serve.