Easter at my parents’ house this year was a culinary reenactment of the Civil War.Mom’s from New Jersey and my dad’s from Pittsburgh. Jersey was also represented in her sister, Aunt Polly, and her brother and my Godfather, Uncle Sammy, and his wife Candy.My brother was born in Mobile, and his wife and daughters are NC born and bred. Petey’s from a long line of Tar heels, and The Kid is 100% pure Durham. But, it was the food which starkly illustrated the North/South divide.
After decades of living in the south, Mom’s Easter spread was as traditional as seersucker and magnolia. Ham, turkey, potato salad, baked macaroni and cheese, and all the other Dixie dishes you’d expect.
Then Uncle Sammy and Aunt Sandy arrived. Maybe it’s a Jersey thing, but Sandy is also a lifelong member of the “OMG, what if there’s not enough food?” club, just like my mother. She brought in piping hot pans of the kind of grub you’d get at a Yankee Easter spread.First up was ziti. Ziti is the ham biscuit of the northern states. Whenever there is any occurrence that necessitates the bringing of food; funerals, sickness, babies, there are pans of ziti. Every well-stocked freezer has a pan or two; ready to go in the oven, or out the door.Although ziti is also a pasta shape the type of noodle in a pan of ziti is cook’s choice. Both my aunt and mother favor rigatoni. But I’ve made it with everything from actual ziti, to my fave, cavatappi; a long corkscrew-shaped, ridged tube.
Because I’m no fan of red sauce, I make ziti with my pink sauce. But Candy’s dish is made with her own red sauce recipe, and was really tasty. I asked her for the recipe, and she generously complied.
The second dish was stuffed zucchini. I really liked it, but when I asked for this recipe, my suavity was turned up to 11. I said, “I wasn’t expecting much, but I loved it…uh, I mean, uh…”. Luckily, she’s met me and doesn’t really expect me to display a whole lotta tact and diplomacy, so she gave me this recipe, as well.Candy’s last dish was simply very thinly sliced kielbasa slow-cooked with sauerkraut in a crock pot. It was amazing by itself, but it would be a revelation heaped onto a warm pretzel bun and slathered with mustard.
So the Easter dinner fare may have resembled a food-based dichotomy of the novel, North and South, but once we sat down to eat, it quickly transformed into an equal opportunity Appomattox. Because at that point, we all surrendered—to flavor.
Thanks for your time.
2-28 ounce cans of tomato puree
2-28 ounce cans tomato sauce
2-28 ounce cans plum tomatoes, drained and run through food processor
1 teaspoon each, dried oregano and dried thyme
1 tablespoon dehydrated garlic
5 links sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Salt & pepper to taste
24 ounces tubed pasta, uncooked
Cook pasta in heavily salted water 2-3 minutes less than directions state (you want the noodles very, very al dente, so it will hold up to baking without turning to mush).
Place sausage meat in large heavy pot and brown. Stir in all tomato products. Add spices and garlic. Bring to a simmer and season, taste, and re-season if needed.
Stir cooked pasta into sauce, then pour everything into a very large casserole dish. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for twenty minutes. Uncover and top with mozzarella cheese. Bake 40 minutes more or until browned and bubbly.
Let sit at room temp for 15 minutes before service. Serves 10-12.
Stuffed zucchiniPreheat oven to 350. Slice 7 or 8 zucchini length-wise. Using a spoon scoop out seeds and pulp, and place pulp in a skillet along with ½ diced yellow onion and a spoonful of dehydrated garlic. Cook in a little butter until the liquid is mostly cooked out and veggies are golden-brown. Stir in enough Italian-style breadcrumbs to stiffen the stuffing. Spoon stuffing into zucchini. Bake uncovered about 40 minutes, until the zucchini is tender, and the stuffing has browned. Serves 10-12.