Nourish Traditions

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nton-small-iconI have such vivid memories of visiting my grandparents when I was little. The smooth whir of pavement turning to the rumble of cobblestones a block away from their house. The sweet scent of sycamore as we turned up the drive.  And, of course, the pot of Nan’s barbecue–my grandma’s version of a sloppy Joe–which in some unspoken agreement between she and I had become the de facto welcome dish for our visits.

Yesterday, as we made the cross-country trek for a visit with my daughter’s grandma (yes, that would be my Mom), I wondered what sensations about going to see Grandma and Grandpa would stick for Noemi. And, more to the point, what dish would establish itself between my mother and my daughter as the one that says, “I am so glad you’re here” in the universal love-language of food.

We Americans, so independent and progressive in our ways, can give the impression that we’re just not interested in the traditions born in the kitchen and passed down from generation to generation. But we are. Memories of food, unique in the way they engage all our senses, nestle themselves deep within us and shape us in significant ways. Just think of what your grandma used to have simmering on the stove or baking in the oven when you walked through the door and you’ll see how powerful they are. But the torch (or the pot, or the corn cob, or the ice cream maker) has been passed to us. Now we have the opportunity to carry on–or create entirely new–food traditions with the little ones in our lives so that they have their own to cherish.

This week, as we roll into summer and a season full of family gatherings, ponder what traditions you’d like to pass on.

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Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage

This dish is the epitome of comfort for me (it’s also a great example of my “double-up/halvsies” guideline) and is a tradition for Christopher and me upon returning from the road. For us, any season of the year really, this bowl says “welcome home.”

1 spicy Italian sausage, removed from casings
Sea salt, to taste
3 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chicken stock
1/2 pound orecchiette pasta
2 bunches of broccoli rabe, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
Finishing salt (such as Maldon salt) OR grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Sauté sausage in a large pot over medium heat until browned, breaking up into pieces with the edge of a spatula. Set sausage aside to drain on paper towel and wipe out the pot. Fill the pot with water and bring to a boil with a generous pinch of salt.

While waiting for water to boil, mash the garlic to a paste in a mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt. Whisk in chile flakes, olive oil and chicken stock, and set aside.

When the water comes to a rapid boil, pour the pasta into the pot. Cook for 8 minutes and add broccoli rabe to pot. Cook another 3 minutes, until pasta is al dente. Drain pasta and broccoli rabe, return to the pot and toss with the garlic and olive oil over low heat. Add sausage and toss well.

Top with an extra dose of sea salt (Maldon is our favorite) or a sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Serves 4