Gina Baker works with her husband at Baker Air, a family-owned heating and air-conditioning business. They live in Glen Cove with their two children.
You've been featured in "Who's Cooking" before.
It was back when I was 16. I was a vegetarian and had just started to cook a lot. When it came out, it was a big deal. My home ec teacher put it up for everyone to see. A little while ago my mom sent me a copy that she found when she was organizing a move. My daughter likes to look at the old article.
Are you still a vegetarian?
I'm not, not since college. One day I just felt that I missed meat. But it was a good phase to go through. You try a lot of other things you wouldn't normally try. Because I was a vegetarian, I use a lot of vegetables now, and that's good for the kids.
And this is a newer version of that old recipe?
Yes. I've been making this dish in some form or another since my grandma taught me when I was a little kid. She used to call these kind of pasta dishes "Pasta Withs" because you could make the pasta with pretty much anything. I'm fortunate because I have a lot of good Italian cooks in my family. I make really great meatballs, and chicken cutlets. Those are family recipes that my great-grandma made.
How has this recipe changed?
I took out onions because my kids don't like onions. I took out the butter because I don't cook with butter anymore. When my dad comes to dinner, I might add something he likes. I'll put in sauteed ground chicken or sliced grilled chicken in the summer. I always have frozen vegetables on hand, so I can add frozen peas, carrots, broccoli. I can add tomatoes and make it red-sauce based. In general I keep it traditional, but times change. I think my grandma would probably turn over in her grave if she knew I sometimes use whole-wheat pasta.
How have you changed as a cook?
I'm a healthier cook and I'm more experimental. I'm more conscious of getting all the right nutrients on the table for my kids. I try to use whatever's fresh at the market. My mom was famous for making a dish out of nothing. I didn't understand as a kid how we could have nothing in the refrigerator and she would come home from work and make a meal. Now that's what I do. If I don't have time to go to the grocery store, I use what I have. I don't use recipes as much anymore. I just like simplicity, and just throwing together fresh ingredients that I have around.
PASTA WITH BEANS
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 garlic cloves, sliced
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, with liquid (use 2 if you love beans)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
Ground black pepper to taste
1 pound pasta (we like orecchiette or mezze rigatoni)
1. Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add garlic and cook until lightly browned.
2. Add beans and liquid, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, basil, garlic powder, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 10 minutes and set aside.
3. While beans are cooking, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 2 cups pasta water.
4. Add drained pasta to the beans, stirring in reserved water as necessary to moisten. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.