Mother dispatched me to college with a black-leather bound notebook filled with her hand-written recipes that were my favorites over the years. She really tried to take into account the inadequacy of my culinary skills, even though I spent many years assisting her in the kitchen. I just was not a willing participant, and I pretty much blocked any information trying to gain access to my brain that was obsessed by many worthy causes, and none of them connected with food preparation.
In the beginning I did not delve much into the precious notebook as I lived with my relatives and ate dinner that my Aunt Pašana prepared every night. My cousins were even less skilled in the kitchen duties, and we often played a game or two of Yahtzee! to determine who would make coffee or do the dishes.
Once I moved into my own apartment, I opened the notebook and started cooking. To my dismay, very few of the dishes that emerged from my kitchen resembled the comfort food I received at Mother’s, and I was rightly disillusioned. But my fear of failing retreated before the realization that I enjoyed good food and the only way to experience good eating away from home and on the student’s budget was to buckle down and learn.
While my room-mates were delegated to less appealing chores like cleaning or doing dishes, I ardently cooked almost every single day. Yes, there were many Sandra Lee concoctions in the beginning because I sometimes had classes for twelve hours straight; and there were many meatless pasta dinners that came together in less then thirty minutes; but from time to time I would proudly stand by the table hosting a particularly successful meal, my hands resting on my hips, my favorite orange apron still on, and a silly grin adorning my face.
In time, I realized that I felt really good about feeding the people I loved. And feeding people great food I prepared was not something to be embarrassed about. Sure, it would not bring me closer to a job for UNICEF, nor would it eradicate world hunger, nor prevent human beings from senselessly hurting each other, but it elicited so many smiles on regular basis that I felt I was surely resolving at least a few of the global conflicts.
My life took me along some very curvy roads, but the unpredictability of my tomorrows only motivated me more and more to offer comfort and love to all who stumbled into my kitchen. Good food does not have to be expensive and it does not have to dazzle. Most of the times a bowl full of pasta simply dressed with good olive oil, garlic, coarse salt, and freshly ground pepper is enough to make you forget the ugliest facets of the world. A roast chicken can pull you in and send you back to your mother’s lap for the warmest hug. A plate of creamy mashed potatoes is able to to conjure up the sweetest dreams that would leave you rested and invigorated.
As a good digital age student wannabe, I transferred all the recipes from Mother’s hand-written leather-bound day timer into a Word document that houses thousands of recipes I have collected over the years. But the actual notebook is still with me and I leaf through it occasionally, caressing the pages inscribed in that beautiful, yet unusual artsy handwriting of an Art major. I know now that my beloved Mother sent me off into the world with a treasure map, convinced that I would eventually experience all the riches her gift bestowed upon me.
SUMMER BOUNTY PASTA SALAD
This is not my mother’s recipe, but when it gets hot, nothing feels better than a refreshing serving of this pasta salad with tangy dressing and crunchy vegetables. And for me, that’s comfort at its best.
- 1 lb (500gr) pasta of your choice (penne, ziti, farfalle, corkscrews â€“ just avoid long-shaped pasta)
- 1 medium red onion, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 8oz (250gr) button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 2 cups broccoli florets
- 2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
- 1 cup olives, pitted (optional)
- Fresh parsley, chopped
- Grated parmigiano Reggiano
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar (you can use white wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, even aromatic vinegars)
- ½ good quality olive oil
- 1 tsp dry Italian seasoning
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ½ tsp coarse salt
- ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
Put all the ingredients for Italian dressing in a small jar, cover tightly with a lid and shake vigorously until it blends.
Boil pasta according to the package. Drain.
Mix in all the vegetables while pasta is still warm and stir. Add the dressing and mix thoroughly.
(The salad is better if it rests for several hours in the refrigerator.)
Garnish with parsley and parmigiano Reggiano and serve with crusty country bread or your favorite bruschetta, and a glass of crisp, chilled pinot grigio.