One of my step daughters favorite meals is tacos. If it were up to her we would have them daily. Now don’t get me wrong, a classic ground beef taco with cheese, sour cream, and all the fixin’s will satisfy that taco spot. BUT sometimes …
Let’s talk about comfort food, specifically Mac and Cheese, shall we? Yes, summer time is here. Yes, we should be eating light foods with tons of color and the whole nine…BUT HELLO QUARANTINE 2020!! I feel like Mac and Cheese is one of those foods …
Why Peas and Macaroni? Because they are at the very heart of my existence. Peas and Macaroni mean Grandmom. Peas and Macaroni mean comfort food. Peas and Macaroni mean fast, easy, tasty.
Grandmom would be horrified – she thought she cooked peasant food. “Don’t tell people we eat that!”, she would say. I couldn’t understand. Everything she made was delicious, and it didn’t matter to me that we had the same 5-6 meals over and over. In fact, as a child I remember knowing what day it was by what was on the table. It was order, security and comfort.
When I was little, I only wanted food Grandmom made. I insulted my mother, turned my nose up at restaurants and refused to try new foods. I loved my Grandmom’s food. The base sauce for Peas and Macaroni is the base for all of her food – tomato gravy (or tomato sauce for all you weirdos.) This is the base sauce that I use for starting most things “Italian”, and the gravy my Zoe now uses for her cooking too.
The gravy is simple. You can fancy it up if you want, use different brands, get it chunky, use fancy San Marzano tomatoes – whatever you want, but I find it very tasty the simple way it was made for me: tomato sauce, tomato paste, garlic and salt. Different preparations of meals call for varied amounts and spices, but Peas and Macaroni gravy is the base.
There is a basic order of operations for the preparation. Make the gravy and let it cook. It really takes at least an hour of simmering before its ready to go. I cant be sure, but I believe the sauce and the paste need to really break down and meld together before it gets “that taste.” Yes, I realize that its paste and sauce from a can, but it works. When you get little oil spots on top of the gravy, you are good to go.
Next comes the macaroni part. Real Peas and Macaroni are made with thin spaghetti – not regular, not angel hair, not shapes or wheels, thin spaghetti. Boil a large pot of water. Once it is fully boiling, add a generous amount of salt. Break the spaghetti strands into three pieces and boil them until they are “al dente.” Using a strainer, drain most of the hot starchy, salty water from the pot. How much to leave? Enough so they are still swimming, but not covered.
Now come the peas. I cannot stress this enough – the brand really does matter here. Le Sueur Very Young Small Sweet Peas. Regular canned peas are too big, and the meal is starchy enough without big, honkin’ olive green peas swimming around. They are in a silver wrapped can – do not attempt this recipe without them! Pour the peas and their water in with the macaroni and swirl it around.
Finally, pour your gravy into the pot with the peas and macaroni. The final preparation should resemble something like a soup. The longer it sits, the thicker it gets. In fact, leftovers the next day are hard, because the spaghetti will suck up all of the juice. I personally don’t mind it that way, but if you are a Peas and Macaroni pureist like some of my family members are, don’t even put it in the the fridge. The next day, it does not at all resemble or taste like the fresh product.
Ok, now this part is weird. I don’t know why, but we always put Frank’s Red Hot Sauce on it. Don’t judge – it’s delicious. You don’t have to, but I personally recommend it! Enjoy with a protein side, and finish with a salad.