I met Tommy T on our first day of high school 56 years ago. We were assigned seats in alphabetical order, and as luck would have it, I sat next to him. We were from different neighborhoods, I from Inwood in Northern Manhattan and he from Highbridge in the Bronx.
Both neighborhoods, and in particular the parishes within them, Good Shepherd in my case and Sacred Heart in his, were populated predominantly by first and second generation Americans of Irish extraction. We were both second generation Americans of Italian extraction. Besides that commonality, we shared an interest in books and movies and appreciated a well-told story, particularly if it contained a humorous proclivity. One of the major pastimes in both of our neighborhoods was the imbibing of alcoholic beverages, another mutual interest of ours.
As we progressed through high school and college, Tom into an early marriage with Pat and the raising of three sons and I into military service to be followed a few years later with marriage to Betty and the raising of two daughters, our friendship grew and matured; expanding into good food, fine wine and the enjoyment of a Single Malt Scotch accompanied by a pleasant cigar.
We frequently got together for dinner, either alone, with our classmates, or with our wives and we attended our children’s weddings and welcomed his and Pat’s grandchildren into the world. This idyllic friendship lasted until Tom’s untimely death five years ago on May 10, 2007, so he never had the chance to meet our grandchildren.
In the intervening years, Betty and I became friends with Tom’s older brother Bill and his wife Kathy, who were frequent guests of Tom & Pat. This was a natural, as Bill, or Uncle Bill as he was often referred to, shared the same interest in books, movies, jokes, food, wine, single malts and cigars as did Tommy T and I, and the 3 wives all got along as well.
Recently Betty and I visited Bill and Kathy, and Bill prepared an excellent Penne a la Vodka as a first course for dinner. Having had this pasta dish on only one or two other occasions, I was curious to see how it was done, particularly the pink part. I watched Bill masterly prepare it and he was kind enough to write down his recipe.
This past weekend with our daughter and her family visiting, we invited my cousin Virginia and Peter to dinner to share in my adaptation of Uncle Bill’s Penne a la Vodka. Bill’s recipe calls for parsley, but having a beautiful bunch of basil on hand, I decided to substitute it for the parsley. Everyone raved about it and the next day, I asked my four–year old granddaughter if she would like to try some of Grandpa’s ‘Macaroni & Cheese’ for lunch. She did and devoured it saying ‘Grandpa, you are a good cook!’ It turns out that Uncle Bill’s Penne a la Vodka is also the perfect Mac & Cheese. Tommy T would have loved that!