Italy in food and literature and Italian bowtie pasta with peas and pesto, presto
By Christina Stock
When I think about one of my favorite pasta dishes, I smile. We all have those favorite memories connected with food. The scent of pasta, the sound of boiling salt water brings me right back to my childhood in Germany. Wait, what? What does Germany have to do with Italian pasta you may ask? Well, for me and my family, it would start in Germany, where I grew up.
Being stuck inside today, working mostly from home due to the pandemic — and thinking about what would be fun for you, the reader, to enjoy cooking as much as I do — my memory drifts back to my childhood. Especially the many summers when my family would pack our two cars, a lemon of a 1970ish Renault and a sturdy reliable 1960s Opel Record. My family was not poor, but not rich either, (way) lower middle class I would call it today, which lasted several years until my aunt became a flight attendant and my mom found a better job after her divorce from my dad.
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After World War II, my grandfather had decided not to own any land or homes again, instead, the family would only invest in beautiful memories and travel every summer. Flying at the time was only for the rich, so we would drive every year in July on the serpentine roads of the Swiss Alps — pushing and pulling the dang Renault more than it drove — until we would reach the ocean and the Ligurian coast of Italy, known as the Italian Riviera. A fancy name for an impoverished region. The rich would be found an hour to the west in Monaco and the French Riviera.
We would stay in a little family-owned hotel in the town of Diano Marina. From our hotel, if you would climb on the chair on the tiny balcony and stand on your tippy-toes, you actually could get a glimpse of the ocean.
Every morning, we would buy some fruit and walk down to the beach — which took an hour — where we would spend the entire day. I would be diving and swimming, building sandcastles; my grandparents would sit in the shade watching me, and my aunt and mom would be working on their tan. It was paradise.
I learned from the local kids how to catch crabs without them pinching me, and how to find a safe way to climb on the rocks that were put there to keep the tide from removing the sand from the beach. I stepped into more sea urchins than I can count, got burned by jelly fish — until I learned to avoid them — got grounded by the swim guard for catching a protected sea slug, learned how to fish for sardines and fell in love with the simple cuisine of Liguria.
Years later, I found one of the recipes I loved as a kid and I am sharing it with you today. I changed the pasta into bowtie pasta because I like how the sauce clings to it and I added some leftover porkchops. In Diano Marina, they only had three types of pasta: penne, spaghetti and homemade ravioli with cheese.
Pasta a farfalla con piselli e pesto
Bowtie pasta with peas and pesto
2 Tbsp cold-pressed olive oil
1 Tbsp butter, unsalted
2 leftover smoked pork chops, deboned and diced
1 sweet onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup pesto, store-bought or homemade
2 cups frozen peas
Fresh pepper, preferably out of a mill
Cheese of your choice as topping, if you like
In a large pot, add water with a lot of salt — it should taste like ocean water. Bring to a boil and add the pasta, cook about 15 minutes until it is al dente, which means it is not too soft and no longer hard in the middle, just perfect and still firm to bite.
Keep half a cup of the starchy water and drain the rest. Return the pasta to the pot and cover before setting it aside.
In a large pan, heat the olive oil and add the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until they are tender. Add the pork chop cubes, frozen peas and the pasta. Stirfry for 5 minutes. Add the reserved water and the pesto sauce and stir.
Serve right away with freshly grated pepper and top with the cheese of your choice. I prefer freshly grated parmesan cheese. You can also add some basil as a topping.
Books for comfort:
Today, I like to take you deeper into the heart of “Bella Italia” — beautiful Italy and share with you some of my favorite books that have Italy at heart.
“Summer at the Lake” was written by Erica James. The story centers around friendships, an accident and an unrequited love with Lake Cuomo at its center. It connects generations, countries and adversity and second chances. The book is beautiful written, but not easy literature. You need some time to thoroughly dive into it, not half an hour here or there.
“The Monster of Florence” by Douglas Preston is for those who love true crime stories. Serial killers are scary and no other serial killer was as brutal as the one who targeted young couples who parked their cars at night throughout Tuscany, surrounding the town of Florence. This serial killer was on the loose from the 1960s to ’80s and — he was never caught.
A classic is the book “A Room with a View” by E.M. Forster. The book was made into a movie with Helena Bonham-Carter in her first role on screen. I watched the movie first as a young girl in Germany, which I always recommend, because books usually are much better. This is the case as well. Though the book is written in 1908 its humor and romance story, together with its historical background is truly timeless. The hero, Lucy, comes from the British middle-class, a very rigid upbringing when she arrives in Florence with her uptight cousin Charlotte. Her life and beliefs will be completely thrown off balance when she meets the flamboyant and unconventional romantic novelist Eleanor Lavish, a curious Mr. Emerson, and, of course, his passionate son George.
For those who love Venice like I do — I was lucky to have visited Venice and Verona in 1987 — the book “The Glassblower of Murano” by Marina Fiorato will shine a fictional, romantic light on the year 1681, when glassblowing was a secret art and dangerous. Venice had been suffering many fires until they demanded that the glass blowers would work on their own island away from Venice on the island of Murano. Nora is the hero in the beautiful story who is involved in a mystery where she begins to unravel her past.
Another author is American Donna Leon. Her books are extremely popular in Germany since the early 1990s, but have been translated in many other languages. She wrote a series with an Italian police commissioner as center figure. The first book is “Death at La Fenice,” and plays at the famed La Fenice opera where a difficult and widely disliked German conductor is murdered. Native Venetian Guido Brunetti sets out to catch the killer.
All books mentioned are available as Ebook or paperback at online stores.
“Ciao e Arrivederci” — “bye and until we see each other again”as the Italians say. In the next edition of Comfort food we’ll talk about what to do with leftovers of today’s featured recipe.