Sunday, February 17, 2008

Warm Pasta Meal (Italy)

Zola: We named our dog, Deano, after Dean Martin - he loves the ladies, tends to indulge, and, in his youth, really was the party pug. Sometimes when we tell people his name they ask, "Is he Italian?"

Jim: This is perhaps my most culturally powerful, favorite, nostalgic, happy, funny, and strange (as in I don't think any other county does this and this is not a recipe for humans) food memory from Italy. Intrigued?

We often house sat for some dear friends in the south of Italy - Calabria, Greco-Roman to the core, a place far off the tourist trail where life is still simple in all the best senses of the word. These friends had several dogs and a cat who preferred to live in a tree. Every evening after we had eaten, I would get out a huge old pot and begin to cook pasta for the critters. Yes - the animals get a warm pasta meal, too. In Italy, in the animal section of the grocery store, there is the usual canned dog and cat food variety but there are also 25 and 50 pound sacks of large macaroni, tube pasta (made with lower grade flours - this is not our pasta) like our dry dog food. So, I would boil up a big pot of pasta each evening to which I would add old leftovers, vegetables a bit past their prime, meats, and or a very large can of gravy type dog food for flavor and nutrition. I sometimes added broths (from the dried cubes) for flavor, too.

The dogs would smell their pasta cooking and begin to get excited, standing at the door, smiling and wagging and turning in circles. When it was ready, I would haul it outside and with a large ladle begin filling their large bowls - a nice, warm dinner for all. You will have to borrow a pack of four legged critters - dogs and cats, too (although American cats may be too spoiled by rich canned foods, on the other hand this is a warm meal and that might be the enticer) to test this one. Also, a heavier wheat or organic pasta of some sort might be the closest thing here to Italian animal pasta (canine teeth al dente is what you are aiming for). That is the only basic ingredient, after that you are free to add whatever delights you have on hand or wish to add that you think will please (meat scraps from the market is always good - you will have to make an arrangement with your favorite butcher to save you some doggie goodies), cooked in whatever manner you choose (boiled in the pot with the pasta or cooked separately and added to the pasta after draining). Your culinary efforts will be amply rewarded by this audience (and remembered the next time they see you I expect - of course that could just be the "I remember they feed me" response).

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