My relationship with pasta started with my dad. There are old pictures of me with cheeks covered in sauce, feeding myself noodles with my fingers. My mom doesn’t like spaghetti, so it was always something my dad made when she worked at night. I developed a strict 5-year-old preference for leftover pasta and so, after my parents separated, my dad would make ziti on Tuesday nights. The sauce would be crusted onto the ziti and stuck in its stripes when I had dinner with him on the next night. Though he’d had me flipping meatballs on the stove at a young age, we didn’t do a lot of cooking right after the separation. Instead we road bikes along the backroad that paralleled the highway, stopping where the swamp widened to skip rocks. I wasn’t a good skipper, but I loved counting his skips as we stood listening to the hum of cars off to our right. Or we played catch in the parking lot of the apartment building, set up with my back to the cars instead of him. I’ve always had a bit of a wild arm. When the sun started to set, we’d eat the leftover pasta then he’d drop me off at my mom’s house.
Eventually, Sundays became cooking days again. We would spend the morning in the kitchen, kneading and flattening the dough over and over on the yellow formica island. The ground hamburg and sausage in a sweet tomato sauce was my favorite filling, both for my belly and the cannelloni. I’d eat it by the spoonful. It was 1993 and though I don’t know what the Patriots record was back then, we always cleaned up the kitchen in time for kickoff. I’ve never been a football fan, but I did love Sundays with dad.
Life has a way of repeating itself. Sundays are now spent at home with my husband – time in the kitchen; football on after 1pm. And, recently, making pasta.
My food choices are different now, but the motions of making pasta felt the same. I used my Kitchen Aid mixer to put together the dough, then finished by kneading it by hand. The man by my side this time was my husband, who enjoyed each moment and also raced the clock to kickoff. I inherited a love of food from my dad, but I choose my food more carefully. No GMOs, if possible. No heavy creams, which led to dad’s clogged arteries, or any dairy for that matter. I chose to swap whole wheat flour for half the white flour the recipe called for. In the future, I would try all wheat or even almond flour. After running the portions of dough through the pasta maker, five times on setting 1 and once each on settings 2 through 5, we laid it to rest on dish towels. I pictured the wooden spaghetti dryer, like a mini clothesline, sitting on my dad’s yellow island and wondered if I was drying it wrong.
I wanted to stuff our raviolis with some vegetables, but also have them be a delicious treat. So I recreated a mixture I used in an appetizer, which was a hit at Friendsgiving. Chopped bacon, scallions, mushrooms and spinach, combined with vegan cream cheese. I ate it by the spoonful as we attempted to space out portions for the ravioli cutter. I was a rookie again without my dad to lead me through the process like he did years ago. There were throw away scraps, but each ravioli looked better than the last. The bacon may not fit well into my healthier-because-of-dad-lifestyle, but the spinach, mushrooms and onions are fillings I would have made an adorable gag face at years ago.
Instead of canned spaghetti sauce, I cooked down fresh tomatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper. I added in some leftover spinach and mushrooms…and maybe a touch of butter. The man spooned it over cooked ravioli and, though different from the meat-filled canoloni of my childhood, each bite made me smile. Maybe even tear up a bit. Making pasta with the man was about so much more than our dinner. The process brought back memories and made me feel closer to my dad.