It’s funny to see how my hunt for family recipes has changed as my life evolves. When I started this blog almost three years ago, I was mostly drawn to elaborate dishes and projects: jarring tomato sauce, hand-made pasta, cannoli. Sure, I went for quick little things like peaches and wine, but nothing beat a Saturday morning in the kitchen, pulling recipes out of my mom while ironing dough.
These days, with a toddler in tow, commuting to a full-time job, and trying to keep our house from looking like it’s in a constant post-tornado state, the search is vastly different. As my time and brain space are continually crunched, I panic under the pressure. How can I grill my parents for recipes and stories when I barely have time to eat cereal for dinner? I wonder. And yet, the fact that life is so crazy is exactly why it’s so important to stop and document this stuff. If we allow ourselves to get lost in the grind, we’ll literally lose ourselves.
So when I do step back to honor what got me here, I often try to remember my mom as a young mother. I wonder how she managed to put a home-cooked meal on the table every night when my brothers and I were little. It’s true that I work out of the house most days, while she stayed home with us. But I consider it a victory when we just shower, dress, and go outside on a given day that I’m home with my son. Add to that two more kids, an absolutely spotless house, and a daily home-cooked dinner, and we’ll still only scratch the surface of my mom’s superpowers.
I rarely remember seeing my mom “slave over a stove,” but something was almost always on the stove or in the oven. Then I started thinking about what we ate, exactly, and some trends emerged: giant pots simmering, baking pans bubbling, sauces and pastas intertwined with meats and vegetables. The more I search for her secret to domestic sanity, the more I realize she simply (yet skillfully) threw everything into one dish and moved on with her life.
These are the dishes I search for now. The ones that get me back to my family quickly, but that still let me nurture them with good food. This pasta is a favorite example. It’s as simple as noodles and sauce, but the extra touch of olives, capers, and celery personalize it completely. My parents and grandparents sneak those three ingredients into many of their sauces, so the smell always transports me back to hot, crowded kitchens with my family. Now, if I can just hold it together enough to make this every few weeks, maybe my son will start associating those smells with his own home kitchen, and my parents’ kitchen. If that happens, he’ll really be thinking of his great-grandparents’ kitchen, without even realizing it. Then, well, that brings me one step closer to making this whole revival thing work. Right?
Penne with Olives, Capers, and Celery
As usual, ingredient quantities are a suggestion. Use more or less of whatever you want!
1 small white onion, chopped
¼ cup chopped celery
3 garlic cloves, chopped
¼ cup pitted and chopped green olives
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
1 can chopped tomatoes, or 2 large fresh tomatoes, chopped
Basil, fresh or dry
Ground black pepper
1 box penne, or other pasta
Coat the bottom of a medium sauce pan with two or three tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté the onion and celery over medium heat until they start to soften. Add the garlic and continue to sauté for a minute or so.
Add the olives and capers and keep sautéing until they start to soften. Then add the tomatoes and basil, stir until everything is incorporated, cover, and let simmer over medium heat.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta to a firm al dente (I’ll spare you the instructions. If you need them, read the box!)
Drain the pasta and mix it in with your sauce. Continue to simmer for a few minutes. Add black pepper to taste. You likely won’t need salt since the olives and capers are already salty, but it’s your call. It’s ready whenever the pasta reaches the consistency you like.