Friday, April 22, 2011

Pasta with Peppers and Goat Cheese - a new tradition

"We don't worry so much about saving traditions. Traditions change all the time. We want to save the culture of food here." Giovanni Rebora in Laura Schenone's The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken.

That quote returns to me again and again during holiday cooking.

Am I keeping the "home fires burning" with traditions? Or saving the culture of memory for my family? Pizza du Grane or Neopolitan Wheat Pie or Easter Grain Pie - it's been made in most Italian families for generations. The wheat symbolizes spring - new birth and new life. Around the country, my cousins are making these. We stir the pastiera together.


Pastiera: soaked and cooked wheat berries later cooked in cream, milk and sugar. There is no shortcut - no microwave recipe. I stir the pastiera as my mother does and as my grandmother did.

I am told my great-grandmother was working in a field when my great-grandfather came by on horseback. Stunned by her beauty, he spoke with her, courted her and married her. She was a coarse peasant (my grandmother's assertion) and his family was not pleased. For great-grandfather was a landowner. It was the 1800's and a caste system was still firmly in place. And that is all I know of her.

As a young child I saw fields from Italy - re-imagined in my own mind as the fields on outer Long Island and New Jersey that I visited. I see her hunched over and then suddenly looking up - the sun momentarily blinding her and finally seeing my great-grandfather. Hard-work and innocence in her eyes. Did she see "love at first sight?" Or escape? And I continue to picture her beauty. It's part fairy tale with a "happily ever after" that would take generations to be true. In the meantime, much bread was broken and years of meals were shared.

With so little knowledge of her, the pastiera binds us. Surely Philomena stirred the pastiera as I did tonight. For Tess - Mary Theresa - my grandmother must have learned the recipe from her. Which was passed down to my mother and aunts without ever writing a word. The baking of the Pizza du Grane has become more than tradition - it's been the cornerstone of my Easters and one of the things that gave my Midwestern children a slice and a surety of their Italian heritage. I think "Pizza du Grane" might have been their first Italian words (spoken in dialect of course). If you want to explore spring, find the recipe here. It's sweet, creamy, a bit chewy and filled with promise.

Good Friday always meant shellfish pasta. Part culture of course - fasting and no meat on Good Friday. Part tradition.



My mother bought no less than 8 pounds of shellfish for dinner for six. And one of those six does not touch fish! Culture or tradition? She feeds a village when she cooks. This is hardly fasting.


Under the shellfish you will find 3 pounds of pasta. For 6 people! There are no protestations when you see the table groaning from excess - for it is not the amount of food that my mother was thinking of - it was the amount of nurturing she wanted to give.

With the shellfish pasta dinner held earlier this month, Good Friday's tradition changed. The busyness of our lives begged for simplicity.

Penne with Peppers and Goat Cheese (adapted from Tastes of Italia) - serves 6



1 pound penne pasta (I used whole wheat)

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 red pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips

1 yellow pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips

1 green pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
(I used a medley of peppers and more than the 3)

2 garlic cloves, sliced thin

4 ounces goat cheese - crumbled

salt and pepper to taste

fresh Italian Parsley - for scattering


Cook penne pasta according to package directions. In a medium-large skillet, heat the oil. When hot but not sizzling add the sliced peppers and garlic. Reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer for 15 minutes. Add drained pasta and stir well - coating all well with peppers and the oil. Add the goat cheese and mix well. Salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to serving bowl. Scatter parsley and serve.

I will do this again and again. Until it jumps from tradition into the land of "culture." In the heat of the summer when the peppers beg for a new use, I will greedily pick them and steam them in oil. I will endeavor to mix them with pasta and share my bounty. Or maybe I will just slather them on crusty bread and keep them as a guilty secret with just a few scattered crumbs telling of my crime. Maybe they'll be mixed with Fontina or fresh mozzarella or - oh dear my cheese obsession is showing. I'll stop.

A tradition that my daughter keeps alive is the dyeing of the Easter eggs. The egg decorations reveal what has been important to her during the past year. (e.g. we had years of lots and lots of cat-decorated eggs. The Easter cat trumped the Easter bunny every year.)


As you can see, she's moved on from cats. Really. That's a tiger.


And her sweetie is as enamored with decorating eggs as she is. (Although I will say his Humpty Dumpty egg resembled a zombie.)

Tomorrow the colored eggs get baked into Easter breads. And the Biscotti Regina will be baked. (Recipe is here for these sesame delectables: easy recipe, you do not have to stir with my ancestors to get it right.)


Buona Pasqua, Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Spring. I wish you new traditions and old. May spring whisper new promises that bring joy.

47 comments:

My Little Space said...

Happy Easter Day to you & your family. Looks like you're having so much fun with them. Everything sounds as amazing. Thanks for sharing. Enjoy & have fun!
Blessings, Kristy

Mister Meatball said...

"You may have the universe if I may have Italy." -- Verdi

Buona Pasqua!

Pegasuslegend said...

Oh how I miss having my mom! Your mom is gorgeous wow... of course it runs in the family (smile) I just love the roundup here.. you know the dessert are my favorite.. I love the Good Friday dinner.. we had a broccoli and rice combo.. nothing special like this one... Buono Pasqua to you and yours... may this be a blessed day with memories that last a lifetime! xo

Choices said...

Such a wonderful story of memories and family traditions. That is what holidays are all about.
Happy Holidays to you and your family.

Jeannie said...

It's good to keep the traditions alive, I have always tried to instill that into my boys too:) Happy Easter to you and your loved ones Claudia:)

The Mom Chef said...

What a wonderful, warm post! So much happiness in all those pictures. And I LOVE that pasta dish.

Happy Easter Claudia!

Amy said...

Happy Easter to you and your family! I love all of the photos! Your Grandma's Pastiera sounds like an interesting dish! It is wonderful that you have memnories of her delicious cooking! Your pasta sounds amazing! I love anything with goat cheese so you had me right there, and the peppers add beautiful color! Have a great weekend!

Miri Leigh said...

Enjoy the holiday with your family! And your pasta sounds wonderful-- anything with goat cheese is always a winner!

baking.serendipity said...

I love that food connects family so beautifully :) It looks like you are having a great weekend...Happy Easter!

Diethood.com said...

Beautiful post!!
I am a traditionalist, especially when it comes to food! I never want to change up that Easter or Christmas menu ... and with keeping these food traditions alive, I feel like I am paying respect to my country and most of all, to my ancestors.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Buona Psaqua to you and your family, Claudia!

I loved seeing your special holiday treats and your lovely family photos.

We are having more of a all American Easter this year at my daughter-in-law's home ...her traditions and tastes are different, but still good. I will manage to sneak in a paska cheese bread from my Ukrainian heritage and spinach ravioli with marinara sauce for my husband :)

I am dying Easter eggs with my older grandson this afternoon...good times!

Lizzy said...

Happy Easter to you! Loved reading about your family...it's the food memories that bind us. I always make my great grandmother's fruit salad for the holidays.

BTW, the seafood pasta looks fabulous!

Kim said...

Happy Easter to you and your family, Claudia. I loved the story of how your great grandmother and grandfather met. Isn't it something how we can connect with our ancestors in the kitchen, whether it's Pizza du Grane (which looks wonderful) or something else.

On another note, I'm so happy it's almost spring for you. I know you've been wishing for warmer days.

Enjoy!!

Marisa said...

Happy Easter Claudia! The story of your great grandmother and great grandfather is so romantic. Sounds like a movie scene.

Someone usually makes a grain pie for Easter in my family too. I have to admit, it is not my favorite, but it is traditional! There is no questioning how much I would love that pepper/goat cheese pasta though. Wow!

I also wanted to say thanks so much for all of the nice comments you always leave on my blog. I appreciate them so much!

Ciao Chow Linda said...

Buona Pasqua Claudia. I love that you maintain the old traditions and make new ones too. all that food looks delectable, but I can't believe your mom made so much seafood and pasta for six people! We are groaning from all the food (and tomorrow's feast still lies ahead) but Monday we go back to sane eating - or at east after all the coconut cream eggs, Colomba, chocolate cake, etc. are gone. Everyone has to leave with leftovers!

Victor said...

What a wonderful warmy post. I'm glad that it is nearly spring in your case. Here it is still cold and occasional snow.

Fresh Local and Best said...

8 pounds of seafood to 3 pounds of pasta! Wonderful wonderful tradition that is! I love hearing about love stories, and I am glad to know that the love between your great grandfather and great grandmother was so compelling that they dismissed the strong social pressures of those days.

Angie's Recipes said...

8 pounds of shellfish with 3 pounds of pasta for six and none of them touched shellfish? hehe...i hope your mom didn't feel bad with it. The pasta looks delicious!

girlichef said...

That is such a romantic story, Claudia =) Happy Easter!

tasteofbeirut said...

This post made me feel wistful Claudia! Now I am wondering what really happened to your grandmother and was she truly in love? Interesting story that can be turned into a book with lots of transatlantic voyages. I think that is what draws us to food and cooking, the feeling that we are keeping people in our paste alive. Lovely pasta and goodies, can't wait to try this famous torta! *we have a similar dessert in lebanon, not as sophisticated though!

michelangelo in the kitchen said...

I love the Italian culture more and more every time I read your story and eat your food! Buona Pasqua!!!

Angela said...

What a sweet post. I really enjoyed your stories.

Beth said...

Happy Easter to you too! A mix of old and new traditions is a fun way of including everyone. I loved reading about the Good Friday "fast"!

Mary said...

Your family memories are held in good hands. I loved to hear of your traditions and those who passed them on to you. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

Chris's Gourmet Fashion said...

Claudia I hope you had a great Easter too. After reading this post in fact I am sure you have. What a beautiful story. Sometimes you really wish you could travel back in time just to take a peek a how life was. But back to the food; your pasta with goat cheese and bell peppers looks so good and that touch of parsley makes you want to eat it out of the screen ... the only reason I didn't try that is that I just ate dinner :)

SKIP TO MALOU said...

What a beautiful post. Family stories warm my heart like no other. The love of your great grandparents moved me... ahh the magic of love!

Happy Easter Claudia! I'm so glad to have known you!

xo,
Malou

natalia said...

Cara Claudia, tantissimi auguri ! I loved your story and it made a bit envious as we do not have any tradition keeping in my family ! We had pastiera and my mother in law brought lamb anyway....
Do I remember well that you plan coming to rome ? please let me know !
Baci for now

Proud Italian Cook said...

I told you you should write a book, you have the best stories steeped in tradition, they always draw me in. Your mom is a girl after my own heart, what's wrong with 6lbs.??? That's normal right?
I must make those regina cookies sometime this year, they look fantastic, your ricotta cookies I just made a month ago, love those.
Looks like you had a wonderful time with the famiglia Claudia!

Megan @ Pip & Ebby said...

Awwww, what a nice post! Happy Easter!

That Girl said...

I love that story about your history. Very fairytale indeed!

fromBAtoParis said...

As I always tell you, I adore your stories...you have such a talent writing..I'm just back from an Italy trip..I saw the word pastiera everywhere! I love traditions AND your pasta ;D
Thanks!

Rebecca from Chow and Chatter said...

great recipes and wow love your mums cooking :-)

5 Star Foodie said...

Such wonderful memories, thanks for sharing with us and hope you had a wonderful Easter celebration! The pasta sounds terrific with goat cheese.

Reeni said...

I love hearing of your traditions and memories that are so much like my own - sometimes you remind me of things I've forgotten. It makes me feel all nostalgic and wonder where time has gone. Everything looks delicious as always and the tiger egg is adorable!

Juliana said...

It sure seems that you all had a wonderful Easter...I love tradition and like your family, we all get together around the table to decorate the eggs...such a fun time...love the pictures Claudia...thank you so much for sharing such special moments. Hope you are having a great week :-)

ann @ Apples and Twinkies said...

Happy Spring, Claudia! What a beautiful post! My Italian aunts all made the Easter Pie too. next year I'll do it.

sweetlife said...

I love the story of your great grandmother, how romantic!! 8pounds of shellfish, oh what a delight..table groaning only means there was a fab feast!! hayy week

sweetlife

Comfy Cook said...

My daughter just brought me a seasoned goat cheese that I want to use with a pasta. She kept asking me to eat it and I told her, "No, I was waiting for the right pasta recipe." You gave it to me. I hope to get to it, this week.

I made your ricotta mousse and we love it. Thanks for helping feed my family.

Jill@MadAboutMacarons said...

Claudia, I so enjoyed your post and what a gorgeous love story behind the pastiera. Nothing like traditions and you keeping it alive! Lovely to see that you all had a wonderful family Easter, even if with the odd zombie egg...

Emily Malloy said...

That is a beautiful post! And a beautiful dish, too!

Magic of Spice said...

I hope you and your family had a wonderful Easter...and from the looks of this post you did :) That is a lot of food for 6 people, but then again my boys would have no problem :)

Lynda said...

What a wonderful post Claudia. I'm so glad you had such a nice Easter- and all that food is amazing! The Pasta with Peppers and Goat Cheese is a keeper. I plan on having quite a few peppers in my garden this year.
My family didn't have many traditions that were passed on for generations, so I love hearing your stories.

Kristen said...

Thank you so much for sharing so much of your wonderful family history with us. Reading about your great grandmother and the food traditions of your family was such a pleasure.

FOODESSA said...

After having read your post, I soon came to realize that even though we come from an Italian background...our foods may have the same names, however the ingredients differ somewhat. Our pastiera is made with egg noodles, ham and Parmigianno etc.

I loved to see how much you and your family get together for such a great celebration.

Goat cheese with pasta...mummm...such a nice Spring pasta dish.

Ciao for now and have a great weekend,
Claudia

natalia said...

ciao Claudia, I sent you an email I hope to the right address ! Baci

Barbara GF said...

Lovely post, Claudia! I was stirring the pastiera, too, and stirring up memories as well. I love Easter and all the traditions that go with it. And I love that pasta dish of yours. Sounds like you had a stellar feast.

Anna C said...

Claudia, it's so wonderful how you keep old family traditions alive. After being away for Easter,I really appreciated your post. You are an inspiration. It brought back memories of my mom 's traditional baked goodies and of course the lamb dinner. Thanks for sharing some of your treasured moments. Belated holiday greetings!