Those of you who are friends and family know that my 93-year old mother, Ida Olah, died six weeks ago. My posts have been sporadic (at best) the past six months, since my mom was extremely ill and under Hospice care in her home.
Since I did all the cooking for my mom during the last dozen years of her life after she became legally blind, I’m having to completely re-calibrate my portions and adjust my ingredients since I’m no longer preparing meals to try and please the palate of a feisty mother who would have opted for a steady diet of salami sandwiches on Italian bread, chicken wings, and baby back ribs. She often complained about the amount of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, legumes, plant-based protein, salads, and especially the dark leafy greens I included to help her macular degeneration from worsening. She hated the fact that I was careful with salt (because of her blood pressure), and sugar (because of her diabetes), and fat (because of her cholesterol). She frequently lamented that she was going to “live forever” if I kept feeding her such healthy meals!
So last week, I decided to take some of Ida’s favorite summer ingredients – heirloom cherry tomatoes, sweet corn, fresh basil, mint, red pepper flakes, and garlic – and create a simple summer pasta in her memory.
First, I roasted a quart of heirloom cherry tomatoes in a 475 degree oven with garlic, salt, red pepper flakes, a little tomato paste, a smidge of sugar, and basil garlic olive oil until they tomatoes were blistered and oozing with juice . . . While the tomatoes were roasting, I put my hubby to work grilling a couple ears of sweet corn in its husks on our gas grill. (And since grilling always involves opening a beer, he didn’t seem to mind!) When the husks were charred, we carefully removed the husks, and then buttered the ears before putting them back on the grill to brown a bit more. Once the corn is grilled to your liking, cut the kernels off the cobs into a large bowl, and add your roasted tomatoes (and the garlic and all the delicious juices) to the bowl.
Although my mom was definitely a huge basil fan, she also loved mint and parsley, so I tore about 3 tablespoons of basil leaves, and chopped 2 tablespoons each of mint and parsley and added that to my bowl with the corn kernels and roasted tomatoes. The smell was heavenly!
Since the grill was still hot, we grilled two Tofurky Spinach Pesto sausages . . .
And then sliced them up when they had cooled a bit . . .
I chose Cavatappi as my pasta, because Ida always loved their looser, more open curl than a pasta like fusilli. My favorite brand is DeCecco.
Once your pasta is al dente, reserve about a cup of hot pasta water before draining the pasta into a colander. Put it back in the hot pasta pot, and toss in the mixture of corn, tomatoes, and herbs, and then add the sliced sausages. Add about half a cup of the reserved pasta water, taste for seasoning and consistency and determine if you want to add more reserved cooking water or more salt, pepper, herbs, or hot pepper flakes.
At this point, the dish is vegan and quite tasty without the embellishment of cheese. But, if you’re so inclined, some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggianno or UAV lemon-basil chèvre would be an appropriate addition. (Or you can throw caution to the wind and use both!)
Although my dear mom wasn’t here to enjoy it with us, we toasted her memory and felt thankful for her presence in our lives for so many years.
The picture I’m sharing is one I took at the dinner party I threw for her 90th birthday in August, 2015. Our traditional Italian toast is “Cent’anni” which means “100 years.” Ida didn’t quite make it to 100, but she came darn close.
I love you mom, and am happy that you’re at peace and finally free from pain.
- 3 pints of organic heirloom cherry tomatoes (choose pints with lots of different colors and varieties)
- 1½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon basil-garlic flavored olive oil (just use extra-virgin olive oil if you can't find the basil-garlic flavored olive oil)
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons tomato paste
- 1¼ teaspoon sea salt
- ¾ teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Lots of freshly ground black pepper
- 2 ears sweet corn in the husk (preferably non-GMO or organic)
- Unsalted organic butter
- 3 tablespoons basil leaves, torn into small pieces
- 2 tablespoons mint leaves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons Italian (flat leaf) parsley, chopped
- 2 Tofurky Spinach Pesto Sausages
- 1 lb. box cavatappi
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 4 ounces lemon-basil chèvre (optional)
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)
- Adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Pre-heat the oven to 475 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with non-stick aluminum foil.
- Heat the gas grill for the corn while the oven is pre-heating to roast the tomatoes. Turn all the burners to high, cover the grill, and heat for about 15 minutes.
- Wash the cherry tomatoes and remove the stem, but leave them whole.
- In a large bowl combine the olive oil, basil-garlic olive oil, garlic, tomato paste, sea salt, sugar, pepper flakes, and black pepper in a large bowl. Add the washed cherry tomatoes and toss so that they are covered with the oil mixture.
- Put the tomatoes on the center of the prepared baking sheet. Scrape any remaining garlic or olive oil mixture from the bowl, and put on top of the tomatoes. Bake until the tomatoes are blistered and browned, about 20-25 minutes.
- While the tomatoes are baking, check the gas grill - it should be hot! Clean and oil the grate of the grill. Using a large piece of aluminum foil, fold it in half to create a rectangle that is big enough to hold your husked ear of corn. (Make sure to snip the silk protruding from the top of the ear because that will burn quickly!) Repeat with the other ear of corn. Place both rectangle boats on the grill. Cover and cook, checking the corn every 3-4 minutes and turning the ears until the husks have blackened. This will take about 12-15 minutes. When the corn looks done, take it off the grill, and turn the grill down to medium, because you're going to cook the sausages next.
- While you're waiting for the grill to cool to medium, put on a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. Check the tomatoes (if you haven't already taken them out of the oven!)
- When the corn husks have cooled down a bit, work over the sink with a trash bag at the ready and carefully peel back the husks. You'll probably need a dish towel or a silicon potholder to do this, because the husks will still be pretty darn warm while you remove the husks and all the silk. Rinse the ears to make sure that all the silk is removed. Butter and lightly salt each ear of corn, and put it back over the grill to char it on each side. When the corn is cooked to your liking, get a large deep bowl, and cut the kernels off of the cob into the bowl. Add the roasted tomatoes and all their lovely juices to the bowl holding the corn kernels.
- Add 1 tablespoon of salt to the boiling pasta water and cook the cavatappi, stirring frequently, until it is al dente. Reserve 1 cup of hot pasta water, and drain the pasta in a colander.
- While the pasta is cooking, grill the two Tofurky Spinach-Pesto Sausages for about 4-5 minutes. When they are cool, slice them into ¼" slices.
- Put the cooked pasta back into the hot pot, add the corn/roasted tomato mixture. Toss, and add the sliced sausages, and the basil, mint, and parsley. Add about half of the hot pasta water, and taste for seasoning. Stop here, if you want the recipe to be vegan.
- If you eat cheese, consider one of the following embellishments. If you have access to fresh chèvre (like I do with UAV), add about 4 ounces of crumbled chèvre to the hot pasta. (We used lemon-basil chèvre, and it was delicious). Lacking chèvre, you could sprinkle on some fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggianno. Or you could throw caution to the wind, and use both!
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