Sunday mornings in Philly the “gravy” pot simmered on the stove until dinner time. Hand-rolled gnocchi bubbled in boiling water. Scents roamed every corner of the house, latching on to each family member, drawing all to the table. But then things changed. Caroline acquired her dream job, which promised a life of “travel and adventure.” She flew off to California before she could realize just what she was leaving behind. That was many years ago, and Caroline has since found a way to reconcile having to spilt holidays between her family and her in-laws, remaining away from her childhood home for longer than she wishes. Of course, life has gotten busy as it does for successful career women, and her time is filled with daily duties and local friends. But through it all, she has retained one steady childhood companion: fresh Italian cooking. She’d spent years watching her mother and grandmother knead pizza dough and chop fresh herbs, so when she settled into her adult life cooking became therapeutic.
After a hectic day, she and her husband typically eat dinner as late as 9:00 p.m. Eating that late affords no time for fresh marinara or hand-rolled anything, but lack of time doesn’t stop Caroline. “Trader Joe’s to the rescue,” she says, as she recounts her transition from home-made everything to creating vegetarian renditions of her favorite traditional meals and relying on some pre-made ingredients. She’s replaced meatballs with sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes and olives; the simmering “gravy” pot with a jar of marinara and mushrooms. While Caroline doesn’t have the time to cook the way her mother and grandmother did, she needs to cook; “the chopping, dicing and stirring all have a zen effect on my energy and well being,” she explains.
Cooking is not only relaxing for Caroline, but it also helps her render the closeness of home; “it was and still is vital for me to recreate the traditional family meals for Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas.” True, she tweaks each dish to match her diet, but the act of creating and sharing her family’s meals means more than just feeding a few hungry friends; “in some special way, I know my ancestors are smiling form the Heavens knowing that love and traditions continue.”
Taking this idea “full-circle,” Caroline recently served her mother her own rendition of the family‘s cheesy bread. Caroline had stumbled upon salad dressing in lieu of marinara once when she rolled the dough and then discovered she had no sauce. Creativity kicked in and she dolloped some Italian dressing on the dough before tossing on the cheese. When she served this revised version to her mother, her mother immediately asked for the recipe, which was a huge compliment because Caroline had spent so many years learning to cook by watching her mother and grandmother in the kitchen. It’s true that Caroline cannot venture into that kitchen of her childhood as often as she’d like, but she can and does bring a bit from her childhood into every meal, even if she only has 30 minutes to make it.
PASTA ALLE BOSSI
Ingredients: 1 jar of sun-dried tomatoes (8.5 oz) - I like the Trader Joe's brand but any brand will do; one that is preferably marinated in olive oil/spices & julienned is easiest & best. If you are using dehydrated sun-dried tomatoes be sure to rehydrate them, julienne them & let them marinate in some olive oil, garlic & Italian herbs for flavor. 1 can of artichoke hearts in water (8.5 oz) 1 jar of Kalamata olives (6.5 oz) 1-2 cups of tomato/pasta sauce (whatever your favorite kind is - jarred or homemade) 1 handful of fresh Basil Leaves Pinch of Oregano Salt & Pepper to taste 1 lb. of pasta (Penne, Rigatoni, Farfalle…whatever your favorite is)
Method: Put on a pot of water to boil; the great thing about this recipe is that you can make your sauce in the time it takes to cook the pasta! In a large sauté pan pour the marinated julienned sun-dried tomatoes. Drain & dice up the artichoke hearts (into quarters or eighths) then drain & chop the Kalamata olives (I like to do these one by one because even though the jar says "pitted" there's often a stray pit & you don't want your dinner guests chomping into a pit). Add chopped artichokes & olives to the sun-dried tomatoes in the sauté pan and put on a low heat. The oil in the jar of sun-dried tomatoes is usually sufficient but if you're using the dehydrated sun dried tomatoes (which you'll re-hydrate of course), you'll want about 3 tablespoons of olive oil in your pan. Your water should be boiling by now, so once it's come to a boil add a generous tablespoon of salt to the water (this seasons the pasta whiles it's cooking and absorbing the salted water). Add your pasta and cook for the time indicated on the package. Once your tomato, artichoke & olive mixture starts simmering, add the tomato sauce and continue the low simmer. Add oregano & salt/pepper to taste. Chiffonade the basil and add at the end to ensure it retains its beautiful green color. When the pasta is perfectly al dente, drain in a colander then pour into a bowl…pour your delicious sauce over top, mix to coat the pasta and serve with cheesy bread & salad. If you are cooking for non-vegetarians, you can grill some chicken or salmon or sautéed shrimp and serve in the pasta…play around with it & have fun! Buon Appetito!
Preheat your oven to 375 ***Note: If you are making this with the pasta dish above, make this first as it only takes a few minutes to actually make it & 25 minutes to bake it. While it's baking you can be making the pasta & sauce and literally your meal is done in about a half an hour!
Ingredients: 1 lb. of pizza dough (Trader Joe's, Bridgeford or if you're feeling adventurous, make it from scratch) 1/2 cup of balsamic & olive oil salad dressing (store bought or homemade is fine) 8 - 16 oz. shredded cheese - Quattro Formaggio from Trader Joe's is great as it has a complex flavor (vegetarians be aware that this does contain animal rennet) or just regular Mozzarella is great too (check the label but most regular Mozzarella cheeses don't contain animal rennet) 1 large vine ripened tomato, sliced Handful of basil leaves
Method: Grease your pizza pan, then spread your dough across the pan as you like…some prefer a perfectly round pizza & some like a more rustic shape…however you like is fine! Pour your salad dressing over the dough, you don't want it sopping wet, just enough to nicely coat the dough. Add tomato slices & basil leaves (I like to sprinkle a few more drops of dressing on each tomato). Cover with cheese but allow some of the tomato & basil to peek out. Bake in the 375 degree oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown & bubbly! Serve with the pasta & salad and your guests will be so happy :) Buon Appetito!