Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Papou's Orrechiette Pasta with Onions and Toasted Walnuts

Today marks the third anniversary of my father's death. I don't usually get too personal on here because it is, after all, supposed to be a food blog. But in this case I'll make an exception, because to think of my father (seen above in his US Army Air Corps uniform; wasn't he cute?) is to think of food and cooking.

My father was a professional chef who turned out thousands of meals over the course of his long working life, but he was also a great home cook. When I was small, my mom - who also knew her way around the kitchen - made dinner most nights, but I remember some of the best meals being the ones my father would put together when she was out, and it was just us. For a long time such occasions were relatively infrequent, but as my older siblings grew up, up, and away there were more evenings when my dad would make something just because I liked it. (I was a notoriously finicky eater; years later, he was just as happy to drop everything and whip up a batch of mashed potatoes for my own picky kid.)

My favorite uncle often made a third on these occasions, and eventually we instituted a standing Wednesday night date to have dinner together and watch Little House on the Prairie. This entailed a lot of inveighing against that bitch Nellie Olsen and her horrible, social-climbing, shop-keeping mother, while waiting for Laura Ingalls to reach her limit and shove Nellie in the mud and/or smack her upside the head, thereby disarranging her blonde ringlets and soiling her gratuitously ruffled, prairie-inappropriate frock. (I believe that
 whisky may have played a role in these festivities for the grown-ups in attendance.) Good times.

But I digress. A few weeks ago, I dreamed that my father came for a "visit," and we were cooking pasta in my childhood kitchen: orecchiette pasta, to be specific (which I'd never used, and have no recollection of him making). Anyway, we were sauteeing some onions and garlic when he said, "Now here's when I might add a little ham, but we're not going to do that, are we? I think we should toast some walnuts instead." Which is exactly what we did, and it was delicious; I ate a big dish of it, just before waking up. 

I opened my eyes and lay there processing things for awhile, as you do after a particularly vivid dream, then told my partner about it, because I wanted to make that pasta before I forgot the "recipe." We procured all the necessary ingredients and whipped up a batch, and I'm happy to report that it turned out just as well in the real world as in the realm of the subconscious. From now on, I'm going to count this as a dish I learned from my dad because in our family, if someone communicates from beyond the grave, it's probably going to be about food!

Orrechiette Pasta with Onions and Toasted Walnuts
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 2 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 1 cup chopped walnuts
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 1 tbsp. dried basil
~ Pinch of nutmeg
~ A few generous grinds of black pepper
~ 1 cup chopped, fresh parsley
~ 1 lb. orecchiette pasta, cooked and drained

~ In a large, deep skillet or wok, heat the oil and margarine over medium heat. Add the onions and saute about 3-4 minutes, until softened.
~ Add the garlic, walnuts and spices and combine thoroughly and cook another 7-10 minutes, until the walnuts are toasted, stirring frequently to make sure they don't burn.
~ Mix in the chopped parsley and cook another minute or two, then add the drained pasta.
~ Stir everything all together, raise the heat to high, and cook another 5-7 minutes, until the pasta is all coated in the sauce, and is getting just ever-so-slightly crispy; again, keep stirring!
~ Remove from heat and serve, adding a little extra black pepper (or red pepper flakes) if you like. Delicious!


  1. This was delicious comfort food, and I believe that Gus (the dad in question) would have been proud.

  2. what a lovely dream! And a very tasty-sounding recipe.