The Literate Chef

Pasta Memories

In General Articles on April 9, 2011 at 3:00 PM

My earliest Pasta Memory, one filled with nostalgia for the simpler times in life, is Spaghetti with Del Monte Sauce. This was a ritual many Friday nights in our 3½ room apartment in the Inwood neighborhood of northern Manhattan, when I was growing up in the 1940s and 50s. First came the savory aroma of sliced garlic sautéed in hot olive oil, then the pungency of dried oregano added to the pan, finally the sizzling sound of canned Del Monte tomato sauce as it hit the hot oil and the fragrant aroma of tomato was released into the apartment. With the water for the spaghetti already at a boil, dinner was less than 15 minutes away.

My father, Big Mike, the designated Friday night cook, (he learned to cook from his mother, but I suspect that he perfected this meal while serving with the CCC out West) would sample the macaroni (he never called it ‘pasta’) after about 9 minutes of boiling and announce that it was al dente; that was the signal that we should take our seats at the table. After draining the spaghetti in a colander, (a ‘skoola pasta‘, in the Sicilian dialect he learned from his immigrant mother) he would return it to the pot, mix in the sauce, stir it well and scoop it into bowls. The spaghetti was always accompanied by freshly grated Locatelli Romano cheese, which was to be sprinkled liberally over it, by all. All that is, except my mother, Dorothea, who disdained cheese on her macaroni, as she claimed it detracted from the flavor of the sauce. Instead, she would heap one or two teaspoonfuls of her homemade Hot Pepper Sauce onto her bowl, as if that did not detract from the flavor of the sauce! She then proceeded to cut the spaghetti with a knife and fork and eat it with a spoon, so as to ‘get the spaghetti together with the sauce in one mouthful’.

Big Mike working for the CCC (circa 1934)

After my wife and I married, Spaghetti with Del Monte Sauce became a regular meal in our household, though not every Friday night, as it was quick, easy, inexpensive and delicious. Big Mike had another pasta dish that he enjoyed cooking and eating, and Another of Big Mike’s Favorites was also a regular Friday night dinner.

  1. Food should always have deep down memory associated with it. Or rather, memory is the mark of a real meal, one that connects people. Very enjoyable read. Thanks.

  2. I have no photos of Big Ed, as you have of Big Mike above, but I remember the stories he told of the time he spent in Wyoming with the CCC, and of riding out there from NYC on the rails. He was particularly fond of telling how he clung to some freight car’s ladder all during one cold night. In 1934 he would have been 21. I wonder now if the two guys ever met one another out there. In their honor…and because it sounds real good…I will make us a mess of your Dad’s special Friday night dish this Friday night, and toast both “Bigs” with some deep, strong red wine.

    • Peadar Ban, what a coincidence. Two guys the same age (Big Mike was 21 in ’34 as well) both from NYC and in the CCC and then the PO. Small world indeed. Enjoy the macaroni and try some of Dorothea’s hot sauce. I whipped up a batch today and had some with my linguine tonight. Tomorrow morning will be interesting.

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