Monday, November 14, 2011

UnRecipe: They Call Me Pasta Feelgood

Well, it's official. Baby, it's cold outside. Not frozen, icy streets cold (yet), but nippy enough to where we can pull our favorite comfort food recipes out, and nestle into that favorite set of sweatpants and oversized sweater. If in space, no one can hear you scream, during winter, no one can see the muffin top from beneath all that polar fleece, right? But when the dour weather comes a-calling, sometimes the answer can be sitting in a plate of hot pasta.

Rigatoni-toni-toni has done it again - Photo by Wasabi Prime

I had a wicked craving for a heavy, rich Bolognese sauce over a plate full of rigatoni pasta. I love the shape and the way a hearty sauce just clings to it, nestling into the tube-y pasta. It was such a specific craving, too -- had to be this exact sauce with this exact pasta and I wouldn't take no for an answer. It's because it's the perfect bite of pasta and sauce, with minimal mess, since the pasta isn't long strands. It's a wonder how the idea of spaghetti pasta got saddled with marinara in the United States, since the sauce just falls off those slippery round noodles. I realize it was an issue of availability during the the early Melting Pot years of America, but many generations later, despite the fact we can get products from any part of the world, spaghetti and meatballs persist. I guess it's yet another testament to how once something gets into our food crave vocabulary, no matter how culinarily illogical it may be, we hang tough and don't let go. This specific desire for rigatoni and meat sauce felt like a mix of something old and something new.
Something borrowed from Mom's recipe favorites after a hard day - Photo by Wasabi Prime

I furthered my comfort pasta craving with another totally tubular pasta, penne, making a baked Chicken Florentine with some leftover cooked chicken, some wilted spinach and a cream sauce. This is probably more in the vein of spaghetti and meatballs, an ad hoc Americanized version of something more legitimately Italian. This was a dish my mom would make for me when I was younger, and it felt like such a treat. It was simple and I went through an odd phase where I preferred cream sauces over red sauces with my pasta. Maybe I had an early Death Wish, who knows. But bless her heart, she would make this dish for her finicky daughter in the winter months, a wonderful baked pasta treat, and every bite felt like all was right with the world.

This is how I self-medicate - Photos by Wasabi Prime

I never really felt that macaroni and cheese was a comfort food, more like something fast and cheap, since I had it from a blue box the first time I ate it. It wasn't until years later, having it from scratch, that you realize what a powerful drug it can be. For reals, it's like crack. And while I can make the food that evoke memories of home, family and safety during times of need, when I make macaroni and cheese at home, it's totally Me Time, and the world can take a hike. Good old mac n' cheese is the one dish that can be made at a moment's notice, since the ingredients are basic and likely in the pantry and fridge. I should just start calling it Mac n' Cheese n' Prozac, since that's basically what it ends up being. You stop, slow down to make something simple, and sit somewhere quiet to enjoy it. Maybe that's why cooking can be theraputic; you have to focus on it and not what's distracting you, and the immediate reward is, of course, eating. The world seems a little more manageable if you can stop for a little while and make something that tastes good.
I'm certainly not advocating being a full-on emotional eater, lest my wardrobe become nothing but Forever Lazy onesies. But I have to admit food holds emotional triggers for a lot of people, and there's a reason why pasta in general is considered a "comfort" food.  By giving in to indulgent meals once in a while, when the craving is so specific and clear, or after a particularly rough day, I can honestly say the food is truly savored and enjoyed. And somewhere in the afterglow of pasta-belly and stretchypants, I do feel a little happier.


  1. That looks so delicious, I bet it won't last long.

    I like the cream sauces too, I don't make them often but my daughter always looks forward to them, when I do.

    Her favorite pasta dish is macaroni and cheese. It's definitely not the box variety, I make myself -- which is how I prepare most of our meals. I add broccoli (daughters favorite vegetable), sometimes a bit of garlic, and some other vegetables too. So it's not just 'mac & cheese'.

    You know something? I still can't beat my aunt’s macaroni and cheese. I'm not really trying either. This Thanksgiving (like most of them) we'll be going to visit family in South Carolina. My daughter will happily be able to stuff herself with her great aunt's mac and cheese.

  2. I actually looked at this post the other day and it got stuck in my mind...both pasta look fantastic, comforting, perfect for cool weather (and hungry me).

  3. This looks really good. I'm gonna try making this for sure.

  4. Thanks for checking out the pasta goodness -- everyone has favorite pasta dishes, just a photo can inspire a craving, no?


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