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Who's Cooking: Patty Nugent of Sayville

Patty Nugent and her mother, Anne Campbell, with

Patty Nugent and her mother, Anne Campbell, with their baked penne and the "Nonni" cookbook. (July 10, 2011) Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

A school administrator, Patty Nugent lives in Sayville with her husband and children. She spoke to Newsday about her mother, Anne Campbell, 83, who lives in Holbrook

What kind of Italian cooking does your mother specialize in? My mother learned from her mother, who came from Trento in Northern Italy, where they didn't use red sauces. My grandmother didn't know what a tomato was until she came to the United States. They used brown gravy made from a beef-veal-pork combination that went over polenta. Slowly they started bringing red sauces into meals. 

What types of dishes did you grow up with? My mother, grandmother and aunts would make meat ravioli with a pasta machine. They'd make 70 dozen ravioli and lay them out on the dining room table, freeze them in boxes and use them for holidays. They also made torta seca (hard cake), gnocchi and red chicken. 

How did your mother preserve these traditions? She is part of a group called Club Trentino, which collected favorite recipes in a cookbook called "La Cucina dei Nonni." (It means "The Grandparents' Kitchen.")

How are you preserving these traditions? I told my mom that I want to learn how to make the dishes I grew up with. I'm helping her organize all her cookbooks and the recipes she tore out of magazines. The family is also cooking favorites together from the cookbook. We were baking torta seca the other day, and I said that the kitchen smells reminded me of my grandmother.

Baked Penne With Sausage, Zucchini and Fontina Cheese

3 medium zucchini, edges trimmed

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 pound hot Italian sausage (regular may be substituted), casings removed

1 onion, chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 cup whipping cream

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 pound fontina cheese, grated

1/2 pound penne 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cut zucchini into 11/2-inch-long pieces.

3. Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add sausage and cook until no longer pink, breaking it up with a fork as it cooks. When sausage is cooked, transfer to a bowl using a slotted spoon.

4. Add onions to skillet and cook until they begin to soften, stirring occasionally. Add zucchini to onions, season with salt and pepper and sauté until almost tender, about 8 minutes.

5. Return the sausage to the skillet. Add cream and oregano and bring to a boil.

6. Add half of the grated fontina cheese to the sauce and stir just until melted.

7. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta well and return to pasta pot.

8. Add sauce and stir to coat. Taste and adjust seasoning.

9. Transfer to a 1-quart casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese and bake at 350 degrees until heated through, about 15 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

(This dish can be prepared a day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

KNOW A GREAT HOME COOK? Write WHO'S COOKING, Food Dept., Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747 or Marjorie Robins at marjorie.robins@newsday.com

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