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What Southern Folks Eat - Comfort food for Southerners

Stephanie Hill-Frazier Special to The Star
The Star

“Life is a combination of magic and pasta." - Federico Fellini

Let’s face it, pasta is easy to love. It's comfort food, which we all need from time to time. It has been happily embraced by many cultures, including our own Southern U.S. culture, where we enjoy the classics, obviously. Sometimes we also add our own Southern touch. Have you ever combined turnip greens and crumbled bacon with pasta? I have, and it was spectacular. Collard green soup with plump tortellini pasta floating in its broth? Yes, please. There’s almost nothing pasta doesn’t make better by its addition.

Though many believe Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy by way of China, one expert says that is just not true. According to the vast research for the book “Encyclopedia of Pasta,” food historian and author Oretta Zanini De Vita says dried pasta made with durum wheat was found in Italy beginning around A.D. 800, while Polo was credited with taking it to the country in the 13th century. He may have enjoyed pasta (who doesn’t?) but he is not the person who introduced it to Italy, after all.

Nonetheless, pasta was a rather big deal in Italy, but not just because of its taste. It was also prized for the shapes that home cooks created as they made their pasta from scratch. Zanini de Vita told the New York Times in 2009 that housewives were able to express themselves creatively with pasta when they could not in almost any other arena, creating shapes, even medallions with imprinted designs, from the pasta.

Well, I’ve never created a new pasta shape, but I’ve happily eaten many types of pasta over the years. Here are a couple of recipes I think you’ll enjoy, and if you’d like even more, please visit whatsouthernfolkseat.com for even more!

First, a perfect supper for a busy night when you want something that is not complicated, but is much better than anything from the freezer or the local drive-thru.

Weeknight skillet supper: Campanelle with sausage and arugula

1 2/3 cups dried Campanelle, Orichiette or rotini pasta

1 quart vegetable or chicken broth

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

8 ounces ground Italian sausage (or substitute ground turkey or beef)

1/2 cup chopped onion

2/3 to 1 full cup torn baby arugula

1/2 cup shaved or grated Parmesan cheese

Method:

1. Brown ground meat and chopped onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven.

2. Add the broth, and bring to a boil.

3. Add the pasta and pepper flakes to the boiling broth, and stir frequently while maintaining boil. Don't allow the pan to dry. (add more broth or water as needed)

4. When pasta is done to your taste (10 minutes or so), remove from heat, and add the arugula. Stir in until wilted.

5. Serve in bowls and top with generous sprinkle of cheese.

The following recipe is so easy to make it’ll surprise you with it’s excellent flavor payoff. It’s a great way to use up some of that leftover pasta you’ve got in boxes in your pantry!

“Pasta cake” with Parmesan and Fontina

(Based on a simple recipe by Giada de Laurentiis)

Ingredients

4 eggs

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

3/4 cup each fontina and Parmesan cheese

salt and pepper

8 ounces of pasta, cooked

1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes, drained

1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Method:

In a large bowl, toss the pasta with the tomatoes.

In a second bowl, whisk together the eggs, cheeses, and salt (1 teaspoon) and pepper (1/2 teaspoon).

In a non-stick skillet (I used a 10-inch skillet), melt the butter and oil over medium heat. Meanwhile, pour the eggs over the pasta, and toss thoroughly, so all pasta is coated well.

Put the pasta mixture into the skillet, and use a spatula to press down, so the pasta is compressed a bit.

Cook on the burner for about 3 to 3 1/2 minutes, as you preheat your broiler.

Then, move skillet to under the broiler, and cook about 5 minutes, until beginning to be golden in color on top and eggs no longer bubble and look wet.

Allow to cool in the pan, then invert onto a platter. Slice into triangular wedges, and serve with your favorite salad.

Enjoy!

Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is "Mama Steph". She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home.

She is married and has three sons who are considerably taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at WhatSouthernFolksEat.com, and she'd love to hear about your own favorite recipes via email at Steph@whatsouthernfolkseat.com.