The Swedish Village in Nebraska

Last Friday when Bec and I were in Columbus on our nostalgia tour,  we were somewhat at loose ends. We had driven around the town the night before, seeing all the things we wanted to see. That takes no more than an hour because Columbus ain’t that big. We had eaten lunch at Glur’s Tavern, its claim to fame being that it’s the oldest continuously operating bar in Nebraska. We drove up 13th Street and down 14th Street to replicate the activities of our youth, when we probably did that same thing about a cajillion times. Unlike the days of our youth, we didn’t see anyone we knew.

“What do you wanna do?” I asked Bec.

“I don’t know,” she replied. “What do you wanna do?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “What do you wanna do?

Jen saved us by FaceTiming us about that time. Thank heavens.

“Here’s what you need to do,” she ordered us, er, suggested to us. “Drive to Stromsburg.”

Where?

Stromsburg, Nebraska, is about 35 miles north of Columbus. Despite its close proximity, neither Bec nor I had ever visited the unofficial Swedish capital of Nebraska. I know for a fact, however, that there were folks from Stromsburg who made their way on a regular basis to Columbus to buy their bread at Gloor’s Bakery back in the day. I know this because the reason Jen knows about Stromsburg is that a very good friend of hers (who also lives in Fort Collins) was born and reared there, and her family did exactly that. Small world.

Jen promised us it would be worth the drive. If nothing else, she insisted there was a very good coffee shop in the town center. I frankly doubted it, having seen the dismal cafes that most small towns feature. Still, see above. We had nothing else to do.

The drive is pretty if you like that sort of scenery (which I do). There are lots of fields of corn and soybeans with a silo or two thrown in. Very Willa Cather-like. I’m waiting to see Antonia Shimerda (of My Antonia) running across the field, except that she’s Bohemian and not Swedish…..

Anyway, it wasn’t hard to find the town center because the entire village is only about one square mile. But its outside appearance surprised me…..

…..and its indoor appearance astounded me….

It was clear that this was not your typical midwestern farm town coffee shop. It was quiet, and Bec and I enjoyed our lattes and even did a bit of gift shopping. The proprietor was a pleasant young woman who had grown up in Stromsburg. She encouraged us to walk around the town square and visit some of the other shops.

We did just that. We stopped at the small grocery store and took note that it had nearly everything a body could want, but just not 175 brands of each. There were a handful of shoppers in the store.

After perusing the market, we went next door to The Apothecary which plays double-duty as a gift store and the town’s pharmacy. Bec purchased a couple of items, and as we went to pay, we struck up a conversation with the proprietor/pharmacist, a woman by the name of Marsha Yungdahl. The story she told us is quite remarkable.

Once upon a time there was a man who grew up in the small Nebraska town of Stromsburg. As so often happens, he went away to school, planning never to return. He made a considerable amount of money doing whatever it was that he did. But the thing is, he DID return, along with his wife and family, eager to bring up his children in a safe, small-town environment with good schools and nice people.

He didn’t just return, however. He made it his mission to revive the town. He poured money into improvements, and — perhaps even more important — he talked other townsfolk into helping spruce up the village. In the years since he’s returned to Stromsburg, the town has transformed. There is a health clinic, a dentist and doctor, a butcher in the grocery store who appeals to people from as far away as Lincoln, an extremely progressive elementary school, and a bed-and-breakfast. When I asked Ms. Yungdahl where people go to do their big grocery shop, she seemed surprised. “Why, they mostly shop next door,” she said.

As for Ms. Yungdahl, her story is quite similar. She met her husband in Pharmacy School at the University of Nebraska. He grew up in Stromsburg and never intended to return. Until they did. Why? To raise their family in a safe environment near to grandparents.

And that says it all…..

Susie Reichmuth and Marsha Yungdahl are happy residents of Stromsburg, Nebraska.

You might remember that Jen and I just visited Pawhuska, Oklahoma, where The Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond and her husband are almost single-handedly revitalizing the town. In that post, I expressed my concern that when her brand is no longer popular, the town might suffer. It feels to me that Stromsburg is a bit more organic, and less likely to suffer such a fate.

At any rate, Bec and I felt quite proud of ourselves for having discovered such a hidden treasure in the cornfields of Nebraska.

Oh, and thanks Jen.

D Cup?

Two things happened yesterday that made me smile.

The first was that I received my package of goods that I had ordered from The Pioneer Woman Mercantile last week when Jen and I journeyed there. Five plates that will form a wall decoration in my kitchen on the off chance that I actually remember to buy plate holders from which to hang them. I was somewhat concerned that they might have gotten lost because Jen also purchased some items, they arrived within a couple of days.

After opening the box, however, it became clear why my package took longer to arrive. There was no way that any one of those plates could have gotten broken in the mail. I have quite literally never seen such effective packing of breakable items. It took me 20 minutes to unwrap five plates……

But they were packaged with love. I know that because it says so right there on the box. They were undoubtedly packaged by the Pioneer Woman herself…..

The second thing that made me happy was that I was reminded about why I love my husband. Yesterday he had his six-month appointment at his movement doctor’s office. We have gone every six months since he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease nine years ago. After he was put on a couple of really effective medications about eight years ago, he has really not struggled a lot with symptoms.

However, lately, we had both noticed some change in his mobility. Not huge changes, but noticeable. And being as active as he is, it sort of drove him crazy. But the nurse practitioner with whom he meets every six months took it all with a grain of salt. Your symptoms haven’t changed that much, she said. You are just experiencing your symptoms more when your medications wear off. We can deal with that.

The thing about the medications for Parkinson’s is that, because they mess with the dopamine in the brain, the side effects can sometimes be as bothersome as the meds themselves. Still, 30 years ago, the medications for PD were mostly ineffective, so it’s a blessing to be able to function almost normally as does Bill after being diagnosed almost a decade ago.

But here’s why I love my husband. He goes with the flow. He never complains. He’ll even eat pho with me if I catch him at a good time. He has accepted his physical limitations without complaint. So when his NP told him that there are options to improve his mobility, he was all ears.

What she suggested to him was that he participate in a clinical study in which he will wear a pump measuring about 3 inches square and an inch deep. The pump will give him a continuous flow of what are basically the same meds he’s currently taking. Since the flow is continuous, he won’t experience the problems that result from meds wearing off.

Bill asked her how people wear the pumps, since it must be worn 24 hours a day. She told him that people have come up with creative ideas. She excitedly told him about one man who wears a woman’s sports bra and places the pump inside that. Bill physically blanched at that notion. Nevertheless, she mentioned it several more times. I finally said, “Vicky, stop with the women’s sports bra. It ain’t happening.” Bill might go with the flow, but wearing a lady’s bra is his break point.

I’m not sure which word scared him the most: Bra. Women’s. Or sports.

Welcome to Her Frontier

I always tell people that I grew up in a small town in Nebraska. The town where I spent my formative years had somewhere around 10 or 12 thousand citizens – give or take – when I lived there. Population specifics don’t really matter, however, because what I learned during my recent trip to Oklahoma is that Columbus, Nebraska, wasn’t really Small Town America.

Pawhuska, Oklahoma, is Small Town America…..

When you see little towns portrayed on television, they are generally lovely little communities with thriving small businesses adorned with striped awnings and flower boxes, and friendly people who greet one another with smiles and waves. In real life America – especially in rural areas in the bread basket of the United States — small towns are almost always sort of sad-looking, with crumbling abandoned buildings, and struggling businesses, there only out of a vital need. You know, grocery stores, hardware stores, a saloon or two.

I imagine that is the way Pawhuska, Oklahoma, looked three or four years ago. But no longer, thanks to renowned blogger and Food Network star Ree Drummond and her husband Ladd. Ladd Drummond grew up on his family’s ranch outside of this northern Oklahoma town. His ranch – which has likely been in his family for decades — consists of literally hundreds of thousands of acres of land, and innumerable heads of cattle.

At some point a few years ago Ladd and Ree decided that it was time to breathe some life into their little rural community. I don’t know who said the words first, but one of them said to the other, “Let’s revitalize Pawhuska.”

They purchased a building that was crumbling, and breathed life back into it. Their efforts – and money – has resulted in The Mercantile, a store so bright and cheerful and full of life that it nearly hurts your eyes. It certainly takes a toll on your pocketbook. And trust me when I tell you that there are very many pocketbooks in the Merc on any given day, and the people carrying those pocketbooks are spending lots of money. What’s more, they’re having fun, and little Pawhuska is the beneficiary…..

Being great fans of The Pioneer Woman, which is the moniker by which Ree Drummond is most well-known, Jen and I checked off a bucket list item last week and paid the Merc a visit. We flew into Tulsa, and drove to Bartlesville, which is the nearest sizeable town to Pawhuska, where we bedded down for the night. The next day (and half of the day after), we lived and breathed All Things Pioneer Woman.

We drank the delicious coffee, including a wonderful concoction called the Spicy Cowgirl. It is a blend of strong coffee, chocolate, and rich vanilla cream whipped into a frenzy and served over ice. The sassy beverage is served over tiny ice cubes that magically don’t melt, and finished off with a sprinkling of cayenne pepper……

Other treats we enjoyed included cinnamon rolls sprinkled with crackling cinnamon sugar that the Merc Bakery calls sugar buns, and Jen enjoyed a pancake breakfast with a variety of syrup choices, including orange clove, vanilla, and caramel that I wanted to eat with a spoon.

One of the things we most wanted to do was take a tour of the Lodge, and we were able to do so the first morning. The Lodge is where the Food Network program The Pioneer Woman is filmed. It takes about 30 minutes to drive to the Lodge, and you drive by the Drummond ranch on the way…..

 

And let me tell you, what you see on her television program when she’s driving into town isn’t fake news. The road to the Lodge is gravel, and requires slow speeds and great concentration…..

According to a woman whose job was to make sure visitors didn’t make off with the silver, the Lodge had been built some years ago to provide a place for people visiting the ranch to stay. The kitchen was added about the same time that the show began appearing on FN. It was great fun to see the place in which we watch Ree cook each week; however, the really fun part was that, as we walked around the Lodge, we came upon the place where the cooking is actually done…..

Ree’s television kitchen (l) and the working kitchen (r). Notice the pots and pans, which look just like mine.

I will admit to being tickled by the fact that the enviable Pioneer Woman’s pantry stays so clean because there is a REAL pantry behind the scenes…..

The Drummonds haven’t ended the revitalization of Pawhuska with only the Mercantile. They recently opened an eight-bedroom boutique hotel that we also were able to tour. The hotel is adjacent to the Merc, and part of the building that they rehabbed. There are two floors of four rooms each. Ladd supposedly was responsible for decorating the third floor while Ree gave the second floor her touch. The difference in styles was notable. But even more impressive was the fact that as the work began on the rehab, they unexpectedly came across an amazing mural that was decades old and part of the original pharmacy. Rather than painting over the mural, they painstakingly cleaned the mural and left it as part of the wall decoration…..

The Merc’s food was amazing, and served by the nicest people you could ever hope to meet….

Jen and I split a spinach salad and brisket that was so tender there was no need for a knife.

Who wouldn’t enjoy this delicious skillet that was tasty and had just the right amount of kick?

It’s astounding to think about the number of people being employed — both as staff, and as construction workers as the rehab efforts continue. They have a pizza place scheduled to open any second now that is in a building across the street. There are also plans for a steak house and a saloon. The economic boosts just keep on coming.

In fact, now that the Drummonds have started their revitalization efforts, investors in a building across the street plan on opening a 20-unit hotel in July…..

Me, being of a nervous nature, can’t help but wonder what will happen if and when the Pioneer Woman brand goes south. As well-planned and well-run as everything is, I am keeping my fingers crossed that there are long-term plans as well.

In the meantime, we enjoyed our little two-day adventure very much, especially the Ladd-sighting that we had one morning at breakfast. It was nice to see that the Drummonds actually maintain a presence.

As for Jen and me, on to our next adventures…..

The view from the Lodge in our background.

This post linked to the GRAND Social

 

 

Christmas Chaos

At the beginning of every episode of The Pioneer Woman on Food Network, Ree Drummond says, “Here’s what’s happening on the ranch.” Apropos of nothing in this blog post, I love when she says that, because I have a secret desire to live on a ranch. Let me explain something, however. I would be a very, very bad rancher. Considering how many times a day I make my way to the grocery store for one reason or another (like when I realized yesterday that I didn’t have a lemon for my lemon butter chicken just as I was beginning dinner preparation), living in the middle of nowhere simply wouldn’t work for me. Plus, if I was going to live on a ranch, it would be in the Arkansas Valley of Colorado where my ranch would be surrounded by mountains. It certainly wouldn’t be in Oklahoma. I have no beef with Oklahoma (pun intended), but every time Ree Drummond says, “Let’s have a picnic,” she looks like she and everyone picnicking with her are going to blow away. You know, OOOOOOOOOOOOklahoma, where the winds come sweeping down the plain….

Anyhoo, with a wink to the Pioneer Woman, here’s what’s happening at the McLain suburban non-ranch.

It’s been a busy week because, as you know, we leave on Christmas Day for AZ, where we will spend the next four months soaking up sunshine and feeling sorry for all of our Colorado family and friends when the need to shovel snow arises. So in addition to preparing for Christmas – which in my case involves preparing two different meals on two different days – we are also doing the things we need to do to get the house ready for our departure.

This year, there isn’t as much involved in that regard because Allen and his girlfriend Emma are going to stay here and housesit while we are gone. The only reason that’s a panic situation for me is that my house is a mess. I would like to blame it on Christmas, and that certainly has added to the mess. However, I laid on my bed yesterday afternoon and glanced up and noticed about three-quarters of an inch of dust on the ceiling fan, and that can’t be blamed on Christmas. You know what’s really sad about that? That dust will still be there when I get back, because I certainly won’t be dusting ceiling fans any time before we go.

You’ve heard of Murphy’s Law? Well, we are experiencing Murphy’s Second Cousin Once Removed Ernie’s law, which is a step worse than Murphy’s Law. It all started last weekend when the temperature was hovering around 2 degrees and Bill went out to get our mail. Now then, there are lots of things wrong with cold weather, but not the least of these things is the fact that everyone is so clumsy when wearing heavy coats and gloves and hats and scarves. It is almost impossible to move. I always feel like Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story. I’m afraid I’m going to fall down and need to yell, “Ralphie! I can’t get up.”

Anyhoo, Bill got our mail, but somewhere between our mailbox and the front porch, he dropped the mailbox key into the snow. It was 2 degrees, the snow was five or six inches deep, and it was almost dark. And there was poor Bill digging in the snow trying to find the key. The key which, to date, has not yet been found. Thankfully our kids had a spare, and we were able to make a duplicate key. But you know how those things BUG YOU? Both Bill and I have been out there on numerous occasions this week determined to find the key, and yet unsuccessful.

And then, of course, the toilet backed up. The downstairs toilet which is used in the neighborhood of 75 times a day. It happened the night that Court and the kids were over for dinner. Cole is our prime suspect, though he is wisely admitting to nothing. Bill is tenacious. He is determined to fix it himself, despite the fact that his degree is in law and not plumbing. He even ordered a special tool that was supposed to shoot whatever it is that is blocking to toilet (and only Cole knows for sure) to kingdom come so that the toilet will once again flush.

johnny-jolter-tool

So far, he has been unsuccessful. Perhaps I will send him to the grocery store and call a plumber while he is gone.

Not to be outdone, my car had to get its last-minute shots in as well. Suddenly the key remote stopped working. Thankfully, it was an easy fix, but Bill was not able to fix it before I sat in the parking lot waiting for Hobby Lobby to open and listening to my car alarm unceasingly screeching for a reason that I haven’t quite figured out, but which had something to do with my car remote not working. When the Hobby Lobby doors finally opened, the clerk looked at me as though I was driving a stolen yellow Bug.

Nevertheless, my presents are wrapped and ready for the weekend festivities. Our daughter Heather and her family arrive this afternoon to spend Christmas. We are warm and safe and healthy and dry, so I really can’t complain.

Even though it’s clear that I do.

And speaking of A Christmas Story, while the photo of Kaiya and Mylee that I shared yesterday is one of my favorites, here is another…….

Austin (on the left) is about as happy with the Christmas pajamas that his Grammie Jen bought him last year as Ralphie was with his pajamas he received from his aunt in the beloved movie.

Bulk Down

So, now that I’m out of the hospital and feeling better, I am taking the next step of getting used to my apparent new diet that consists of very little fiber. My hope is that I have fewer (or no) intestinal obstructions. My fear is that I will blow up like a balloon and eventually POP due to a fiberless existence resulting in, well, you know.

I went to see a gastroenterologist Monday afternoon, and unfortunately, he confirmed the need to limit my fiber if I have any chance of preventing further obstructions. LOW fiber, he emphasized, not NO fiber. Folks on the internet called it a low-residue diet, as they clutch their tummies and eat their yogurt without berries.

The doctor said an absolute no-no to apples or pears with the skin, popcorn, sweet corn, citrus fruit, nuts, and tomatoes with the skin. He listed those just off the top of his head. Further research on low-fiber, er, low-residue diets indicated I am able to eat zucchini (no skin), cucumbers (no skin, no seeds), asparagus with the woody part removed, carrots cooked to an inch of their lives, mushrooms, lettuce, very ripe bananas, soft melons, applesauce, peaches, apricots, most dairy (as long as there are no nuts or berries), most meat, poultry, and fish, and white bread, white pasta, and white rice.

In other words, consider the diet that doctors have BEGGED us to eat for years, and eat the opposite. Perhaps I should just eat Gerber baby food.

The only good news about the whole thing is that I can eat Frosted Flakes without feeling guilty. No fiber. Lots of sugar, but no fiber.  Oh, and martinis have absolutely positively no fiber. I’ll happily forgo the olive.

I’m speaking tongue- in-cheek of course. Not about the diet. That, I’m sorry to say, is reality. Or at least my reality until someone wearing a doctors’ coat tells me something different. The tongue-in-cheek part comes in my complaining about it. Because I have said it all along, and I will say it again, if I can eat or not eat something that will subsequently prevent me from a bimonthly hospital visit with a plastic tube inserted down my nasal cavity, I will do it. And not complain. Much.

But I am dangerously close to become one of those people. You know, the people for whom you have to cook special meals. I’m not complaining about those people because our daughter Heather has celiac disease and if she eats gluten, she gets very sick. So people cooking for her have to be careful that they aren’t accidentally poisoning her. She, by the way, has a very good attitude about her dietary limitation. She told me once that she was asked if she liked gluten-free beer. Her answer was, well, not particularly, but it’s what I can drink if I want to drink a beer, so what’s the use of complaining. I want to – and plan to – adopt such a good attitude.

Because the reality (and the good news) is that I have to eat low fiber and NOT that I have to figure out how to survive a few more months with liver cancer. So wah, wah, wah and keep your perspective straight!

Here is an example of the meal that I cooked last night, thanks to the Pioneer Woman.

WU0707_Scalloped-Potatoes-and-Ham_s4x3.jpg.rend.sni12col.landscape

Scalloped Potatoes and Ham, courtesy Ree Drummond and Food Network

Ingredients
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, plus extra for greasing dish
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 1/2 cups milk
Freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds russet potatoes, washed thoroughly
3 cups diced cooked ham
2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
Chopped fresh parsley, for sprinkling, optional

Process
Slice the potatoes really thin using a mandolin or a really sharp knife, the thinner the better. Generously butter a 2-quart baking dish, then add half the sliced potatoes and half the diced ham. Sprinkle on half the cheese then pour on half the sauce from the skillet. Repeat with the rest of the ingredients, ending with a layer of cheese and sauce. Sprinkle extra pepper on top.

Cover the dish with foil and bake it for 40 minutes, then remove the foil and bake until the cheese is golden brown and the sauce is bubbling, an additional 20 to 30 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley if desired and serve it up.

Cooking Teachers

I’m not sure I can entirely remember what life was like prior to Food Network. This fact, of course, isn’t exactly surprising since I can’t remember where I park my car at the mall. The irony I’m afraid is that I CAN remember my home telephone number from when I was a 6 years old and the words to all of the songs from the 1960s. Sigh. Way to waste those important brain cells.

I guess our parents used those funny things called cookbooks. They didn’t have anyone to teach them to cook from their little black and white television sets. Well, except for Julia Child. And I don’t know about anyone else’s mom, but my mom didn’t particularly want to learn to cook French food. I would have liked to seen the look on my dad’s face should mom have plopped sole meuniere in front of him one night.

My mom says she learned to cook from my paternal grandmother (her mother died at a very young age). I learned to cook by watching my mother. And more recently from watching Food Network and PBS cooking shows.

It used to be that Food Network consisted almost entirely of actual cooking shows. Nowadays, you can find a few cooking shows on during the day, but nighttime consists entirely of competition shows. They don’t particularly interest me. So I mostly watch during the day. Ree Drummond, Trisha Yearwood, Ina Garten, Giada De Laurentiis. Others.

If I’m to tell you the entire truth, most of the stars of the shows drive me crazy. I can’t imagine cooking showing as much cleavage as does Giada, if for no other reason than that I would undoubtedly splash my chest with hot bacon grease. I sometimes think that if Ina Garten says “How (fill in the blank) is that?” one more time, I will throw my coveted seasoned cast iron skillet through the television screen.

But I have learned things from all of these Food Network and PBS cooks that I think has made me a better cook. Here’s a few of the things I have learned…..

Ina Garten: As annoyed as I get when the Barefoot Contessa instructs us to use “really good wine” or “good vanilla” or, as in one recipe, “really good saffron” (as if you should spend even more on an ingredient that already requires you to pawn your wedding ring to buy), I have learned that she is right that the better the ingredients, the better the final result. But the way I look at it, it doesn’t mean you have to fly to Madagascar to pick up a bottle of vanilla. It means, if possible, buy real vanilla extract as opposed to vanilla flavoring.

Paula Deen: Paula’s use of butter is (and I think was meant to be) ridiculous. But she taught me not to be afraid to use butter in my recipes. It simply tastes better. I also learned the easiest way to prepare collard greens – fold them in half and pull the leaves off the stem in one fell swoop.

Giada De Laurentiis: Despite my constant annoyance with her cleavage and the fact that she won’t simply say “spaghetti” or “fettucine” the way we do, she has taught me to use the freshest ingredients possible. Recently, she made a pasta red sauce that looked delicious, and she threw the rind of a piece of Parmigiano Reggiano into the sauce to flavor it. I will definitely give that a try. Giada also uses a lot of fresh fennel, and once I gave it a try when using one of her salad recipes that included fennel and grapefruit, I was hooked. Yum.

Ree Drummond: The Pioneer Woman has given me permission to use store-bought ingredients. Though Ina Garten must turn her nose up at Ree Drummond, I love that Ree will open up a box of chicken broth or use a jar of store-bought pesto.  If she can do it, so can I! It makes me happy to see her use her cast iron skillet so often because it’s one of my favorite cooking utensils. I couldn’t live without it. I love her 16-minute meals. Next to Lidia, I probably use more of the Pioneer Woman’s recipes than any other.

Lidia Bastianich: I left Lidia until last because, well, you know. I want her to adopt me. She speaks to me. For example, the day after I burned my hand because I grabbed the handle of a pan that I had taken out of the oven a minute or so before, she told me, “Kris, make sure when you take something out of the oven, you place a towel on it to remind yourself and others that it is hot.” (Well, she might not have directed it specifically to me, but she said it on her show the next day, and I know she meant it for me.) She has taught me not to fear anchovies but to embrace them as a rich and salty seasoning that melts in your fry pan and therefore won’t scare others, who will simply wonder why your sauce is so good. I also learned to salt my food as I cook, every time I add an ingredient or move to a new step. (If you fear oversalting, place the amount of salt you want to use in a little bowl and take from that. That’s what Lidia told me.) And maybe my favorite instruction from her is, “Clean hands are your best kitchen tool.” Amen.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Lidia recipes…..

Pasta with Baked Cherry Tomatoes, courtesy Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy, Lidia Bastianich

Ingredients
3 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
½ c. plus 1 T extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 c. fine dry bread crumbs
1 t. kosher salt, plus more for the pasta pot
¼ t. pepperoncino flakes, or to taste
1 lb. spaghetti, gemelli, or penne
10 plump garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 T. chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 c. loosely packed fresh basil leaves, shredded
½ c. freshly grated pecorino (or half pecorino and half Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano) plus more for passing
4 oz. Ricotta or ricotta salata

Process
Arrange a rack in the center of the oven, and heat to 350 degrees.

Toss the cherry tomato halves in a large bowl with 3 T. olive oil. Sprinkle over tomatoes the bread crumbs, salt, and pepperoncino; toss well to coat the tomatoes evenly. Pour the tomatoes onto a parchment-lined sheet, and spread them apart in a single layer. Bake until the tomatoes are shriveled and lightly caramelized (but not dried out), about 25 minutes in all.

Meanwhile, fill a large pot with salted water, and heat to a rolling boil. When the tomatoes are nearly done, drop the pasta into the pot, stir, and return the water to a boil.

As soon as the pasta is cooking, pour the remaining olive oil into a big skillet, set it over medium-high heat, and scatter in the sliced garlic. Cook for a minute or two, until it is sizzling and lightly colored, then ladle in about 2 c. of the pasta cooking water, and bring to a vigorous boil, stirring up the garlic. Let half the water evaporate, then lower the heat, stir in the chopped parsley, and keep the sauce barely simmering.

As soon as the tomatoes are done, remove them from the oven.

When the pasta is al dente, lift it from the water, drain for a moment, and drop it into the skillet, still over low heat. Toss pasta quickly with the garlic-and-parsley sauce in the pan, then slide the baked tomatoes on top of the pasta. Scatter the basil shreds all over, and toss everything together well, until the pasta is evenly dressed and the tomatoes are distributed throughout. Turn off the heat, sprinkle on the grated cheese, and toss once more.

Serve immediately.

pasta with baked tomatoes

Nana’s Notes: I cut the recipe in half by simply halving the ingredients. I used fresh tomatoes out of my garden, which I’m madly harvesting. The only cheese I used was Parmigiano. The meal was delicious. Thanks again Lidia.