Saturday, July 30, 2011

Pasta For One (Or More)

I seem to have been blessed with a non-addictive personality, though I have not always considered it a blessing. When I was an undergraduate at Tulane, I repeatedly tried to start smoking cigarettes, but kept forgetting to buy them. At one point, I remember thinking that my inability to keep on with smoking, a conscious decision, was the indication of a serious personality flaw. I was afraid I would never be able to persevere at anything.

I suppose this same trait has also kept me from becoming dependent on alcohol or drugs, and had my parents been more aware of it, it would have saved them a lot of worry. My mother’s older brother, Will, was a charming alcoholic and probably because I looked so much like him when he was a child – in our baby pictures we are indistinguishable – they were always afraid I would follow in his often staggering footsteps. One of my father’s sisters told me this after my parents both were gone and it explained why they carefully kept him away from me when I was growing up, though he lived not that far away in Texas City, Texas.

I remember seeing my Uncle Will only once when I was young; it was at a cousin’s wedding where he was tipsy and smiling and patted me gently on the head. I was a teenager when he died and left me a complete set of Balzac in translation and to my mother enough money to enable her to buy a new Buick. (Heretofore we had always had Plymouths.)

 He was an interesting and sympathetic character and I have always regretted that I did not get to know him.

Uncle Will  played the trumpet and had run away to join a circus band when he was a  teenager growing up in Ruston, Louisiana, the oldest child of my grandmother, the widow of a Presbyterian minister who was also raising four young girls. One of them, my Aunt Maud, never spoke to Will again, and the others all looked down on him. He later read for the law, married, and set up a practice in Texas City, but in my parents’ eyes, he didn’t amount to much. I never met his wife who painted landscapes and wrote one novel, the manuscript of which she lost before she had a chance to show it to anyone.   My mother inherited one of her undistinguished paintings. An eight by twelve inch oil on canvas, framed in a cheap gold frame, it was of a crooked, skinny tree growing amid some brush. Mother hung it in the parlor to which the artist had never been invited.

I believe that the closest thing I have had to an addiction is my devotion to pasta which crept up on me during the time I lived in Italy. I vaguely remember at some point during my Italian years growing tired of it and avoiding it for a while, then slowly I began to really enjoy it again and soon a meal without it seemed incomplete.

My partner, John, does not share my passion for pasta. He has, in fact, developed a mild aversion to it because I used to make it for us so often.  These days I usually have pasta only on those rare occasions when John and I do not have lunch together and I get to fix a bowl of it for myself.

This is my favorite recipe for “pasta for one.” It is tasty, simple, and fast. And the recipe can easily be expanded to serve many more.

Six to eight ounces of pasta, whatever one has on hand. “Penne rigate” are good because the ridges in the pasta hold the sauce well. The last time I used “racchette” pasta in the form of little tennis rackets, which also worked very well. The only brand of pasta I use, however, is de Cecco.  It is always of high quality and the brand most of my Italian friends swear by.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and cook the pasta in it for however long the package says one should.

While the pasta is cooking, put three or four tablespoons of good olive oil in a large skillet and over a moderate heat gently sauté the following ingredients:

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced

1 miniature sweet red or yellow pepper (a really tiny one), seeded and minced

About two inches of anchovy paste from a tube or three or four smashed anchovies

2 tablespoons of chopped green onions

¼ cup of chopped parsley

About a dozen turns of freshly ground black pepper

Salt to taste

Let the above simmer for a few minutes until everything is softened, being careful not to let it burn.

Set aside for garnish another ¼ cup of chopped parsley and 6 or 8 shredded sweet basil leaves.

When pasta is done, drain it and then toss it in the skillet until it is well covered with the mixture.

Turn into a bowl and stir in about half a cup of freshly grated Parmigiano and the rest of the chopped parsley and basil leaves. Serve at once.

One glass of red dry wine goes perfectly with this, especially if you are able to take an afternoon nap.

Following the example of my lucky French friends, I will be taking off the entire month of August. I hope you will come back to my blog in September for more stories and more recipes. Bonnes vacances! 

                                                       Pasta for one


  1. This looks delicious! Have a happy and restful vacation. sp

  2. mmm! quel dommage que je n'ai pas ton talent; j'aimerais ce soir déguster un "solo" de pasta comme celle-ci. Bonnes vacances , on attend septembre avec impatience!