It’s Thanksgiving week…you’re probably busy as I am preparing favorite dishes for this wonderful All-American holiday.

I have so very much to be thankful for…not the least of which is you, my readers! You’ve opened up a new world to me–and I love sharing with you from my kitchen every week!

I had thought of posting my homemade marshmallow recipe–since I had to make them for my sweet potatoes this week–but I’ll save that for another occasion. I think this week you need some comfort food, right? Something calm…and warm…and satisfying. And that’s exactly what Pasta and Potatoes are. This was a childhood favorite for my husband–as well as for my children. They absolutely loved discovering chunks of Parmesan rind in their bowl! In fact, I think I remember a few arguments over it such as “She got more pieces of cheese than I did!” or “His pieces are way bigger!” But those days are gone as the kids are grown and gone. This dish, however, is still a family favorite and when we’re together, I’m still asked, “Mom, can you make us some Pasta and Potatoes?”

It’s another example of how the Italians use simple, everyday ingredients to create something so delicious! However, though it’s easy to make, and uses the simplest of ingredients, you need to simmer it at least two hours to really get the flavors “right”. Three hours is even better. It’s not that it needs to be watched closely…but you need it to simmer so that the potatoes develop the right consistency and the flavors blend. As long as you know that, you can just start it early in the day…let it simmer while you’re preparing some dishes for Thursday and then just sit down and enjoy it!

I begin by sauteing a medium onion, diced in a little olive oil, until translucent and tender…

I add some diced celery and fresh tomatoes…

If it’s the dead of winter and the tomatoes have zero flavor, use a few drained spoonfuls from a can of diced tomatoes instead. They’ve usually been canned when tomatoes were at their peak and the flavor is superior. I saute everything for a couple of minutes and then add 5 large potatoes–about 4 C. diced–and some fresh parsley.

If you haven’t got fresh parsley, you can use some dried. Fresh parsley’s very cheap here…and keeps a long time in a plastic bag in my produce drawer, so I usually keep some on hand. I think Italians use parsley almost more than garlic in their recipes! If you live in a warm climate, consider planting some…it’s easy to grow and most types are perennial (come back every year).

I cover the potatoes completely with water–but just barely, not too much–and put in a few teaspoons of salt. Potatoes take more salt than you would think…can’t tell you exactly how much but I can say that potatoes always take more salt than I think. However, I try not to add too much at the beginning since you can always add more but can’t take it out.

I stir everything around, bring it to a boil, and cover the pot. Then I  leave it to simmer over a very low flame for 2-3 hours, just stirring every once in a while. The flavors will begin to drift into the room, reminding you to stir it. As the time goes on, I sort of mash up some of the potatoes, with my wooden spoon. Not really “mashing” them but just stirring them against the side of the pan so that some of the potatoes mash up and help to thicken the soup. You’ll want to taste it occasionally to see if it needs more salt. If it lacks flavor or taste’s too “watery”, I sometimes remove the cover for a few minutes, allowing some of the liquid to evaporate. Sometimes I’ve added too  much water and it just needs to get a little more dense.

As the fragrance fills the kitchen…and the clock ticks toward suppertime, I put a small pot of water on to boil. You CAN add some small pasta right into the broth but I prefer to cook it separately. Why dirty another pot? The main reason I prefer to cook the pasta separately is because if there’s any leftovers, those pieces of pasta remaining in the soup will just keep soaking up the broth until they look like pasta for giants…soggy and huge. Once the pasta’s cooked, I drain it and put some in each person’s bowl…along with some chunks of cheese.

 

These chunks of cheese are what my kids were arguing over…

In my cooking, I generally grate my own cheese, so I end up with the rind left over at the end. I keep these ends in a bag in the freezer, way at the back, since I don’t need them too often. Then whenever I make Pasta and Potatoes, I get out that bag of rinds and cut them into bite-sized chunks.

So once the pasta and chunks of cheese are in each bowl, I ladle the soup on top…

…and we sit down to a bowl of wonderful, comfort food…Pasta and Potatoes.

You may have noticed that my piece of rind say “Grana Padano” on it, instead of Parmigiano Reggiano. Grana Padano is sometimes referred to as “Poor Man’s Parmesan” and is a good substitute for Parmesan. A little less crumbly but a reasonable substitute in most recipes. So if you haven’t tried Grana Padano, give it a try.

If you don’t have any rinds of cheese to put in your soup, try another type. Ideally you’d want a hard cheese, but even a softer cheese like cheddar would just soften up and probably be delicious. If you like cheese, of course. And if your cholesterol isn’t too high. And if you aren’t counting your calories. Oh goodness, just have a little. This is another thing I’ve learned from the Italians. They rarely pile their food up on their plates as an American might…but just enjoy savoring and sampling a little something that tastes wonderful.

So Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you’ll take a few minutes to sit down and count your blessings….with a bowl of Pasta and Potatoes.

Ciao!

Debbie

Pasta & Potatoes

Yield: Serves 4-6

Pasta & Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 large fresh tomato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 2-3 T. fresh parsley or 1 T. dried parsley
  • 5 large potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 C. small pasta shapes (or more if desired)
  • Small chunks of Parmesan, preferably some pieces of rind (optional but oh, so good!)

Instructions

  1. In a large saucepan, saute the onion in olive oil until tender.
  2. Add the tomato and celery. Cook 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add parsley and potatoes and cover with water. Simmer at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally. You'll be disappointed if you shortcut the cooking time!
  4. Add the pasta and cook 10-15 minutes more. Alternately, you can cook the pasta separately and place some in each person's bowl before spooning the soup over it.
  5. You can also either add some small chunks of Parmesan to the pot during the last 2-3 minutes of cooking, or else place some in each person's bowl before spooning the soup over them.
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