Everyone has a comfort food–that go-to cuisine that fills your heart while it fills your tummy. Chicken noodle soup…mashed potatoes…grilled cheese sandwiches with the crusts cut off accompanied by tomato soup with itty-bitty croutons swimming on the top.
I can’t say any of those are my personal feel-good meals. When I’m blue or feeling kind of blah, I turn to Snyder’s of Berlin BBQ potato chips (imported via the world wide web from my home state of PA to the bluegrass state of KY) and ramen noodle soup. Both of which I am convinced are a result of a Crohn’s Disease-induced sodium deficiency. Some days you can just hand me a salt shaker, and I’ll perk right up!
Unlike me, most people have comfort foods that grew their roots in childhood when Momma heated a can of Chicken and Stars to ward off the chill from a head cold or mashed those taters to the point where they had just the right ratio of fluffy to lumpy. She also knew that the best way to get her pickiest child to eat all the wholesome goodness she could was to saw off the brown parts of the bread and disguise them as little boats in soup! (Mommas are talented and sneaky like that.)
As a momma, I know a little something about cooking comfort, but sometimes, I think the comfort may not come so much from the eating as it does from the preparing.
Take my house-favorite pasta dish as an example.
Canatini–a lusciously savory concoction handed down from my momma to me when I was a newlywed testing my skills in the kitchen. I’m not really sure “canatini” is a real Italian word, but in western PA, it is a pot-luck staple usually made with three different shaped pastas, mountains of cheese, several pounds of ground beef and the always crowd pleasing deli wonder that is pepperoni. Cover it all in Ragu, and you have a family recipe for the generations.
When the Older One declared as a sophomore in high school that his goal was to play Division I football, I nodded my head and said, “Okay. Your dad can help you with that.” When he mentioned later that one of the best ways to start toward that goal was to get as big as he possibly could while still being able to move, I shouted, “Yes! I can help you with that!”
Gone were the frozen dinners. Gone were processed products and convenience foods. If my son wanted to gain weight, I vowed, he wasn’t going to do it by eating junk. He would do it by eating homemade meals made with fresh ingredients. Let me just say, this was a very ambitious goal for a working momma who previously believed taking a sack of chicken nuggets out of the grocery bag and placing it in the freezer was part of dinner’s mise en place.
Realistically, I knew cooking a full course meal after working a full day in corporate America just wasn’t going to happen. Most evenings, I can barely summon the energy to turn on the Food Network let alone cook a full meal. So, Sunday became cook-until-you-drop day. The Young One and I started the day with a quick run to the grocery store, while the Older One worked on the other part of Operation Football Player in the gym with his dad. Once back home, I spent the remainder of the day cooking and prepping enough lovingly prepared entrees to sustain a family of four for an entire week.
On heavy rotation during those days was my momma’s Canatini. It is one of those dishes that is better on day two, three and four, so a batch of the stuff was good for at least two dinners, a lunch and an afternoon snack. It was working mom gold.
Now that the Older One has achieved his goal and is playing football for the Army Black Knights, we don’t enjoy Canatini as often as we used to. I no longer have a 270-pound offensive lineman to feed, and our dinner fare leans more toward entree salad than full-size casserole, but every so often, the Hubs will say, “You know what we haven’t had for a while?”, and I’ll bust out the rotini and pepperoni.
As I put the water on to boil, I think about all the Fourth of July celebrations where my mother would make not only a casserole dish of Canatini, but a giant roaster pan of yumminess!
With each slice of pepperoni, I feel the joy I felt when preparing this meal for my oldest child and my role in helping him achieve his goal.
I layer the sauce with a smile on my face. I am comforted by the familiar task and the memories that pour from my mind of the many meals shared with family and friends.
I’d like to share my Canatini with you too. Maybe it will bring you or someone you love some comfort.
1 pound lean ground beef
1 pound short pasta (I use rotini.)
48 oz. spaghetti sauce
12 oz. stick pepperoni
1 cup mozzarella
- Prepare the pasta according to directions on package.
- Brown the ground beef.
- Cut pepperoni stick in half length-wise, and slice pepperoni into thick half-moons.
- Combine pasta, beef, pepperoni, cheese, and sauce, and spread in a 13 x 9 baking dish.
- Cover with foil.
- Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.
Can be prepared and refrigerated or frozen prior to baking.
Do you have a favorite food you love to cook? Please share it here. We could all use a little more comfort in our lives!