Tuesday, April 10, 2012


In the mid-1950s, the northern Vermont town of Northfield was a modest country market village with one bank, a modest food store, a hardware emporium, a city Green with a bandstand, and the nearby campus of Norwich University, the proud century-old military school. For me, fresh out of the Air Force, Northfield was also the site of my first civilian job and a ten-mile commute on narrow twisty Vermont roads from the rented farm house we called home.
            The work was hard, the pay marginal but appreciated, and I was lucky to be able to hitch a ride with my older brother who labored in the same hardwood products mill.  Overtime was more than welcome and so we usually put in one or two extra-long days each week. It was definitely a “lunch-pail” society among whom we shared these saw-dust-filled days and nights, and rest breaks were short in time but long on story-telling; there was little in rural Northfield to add a fillup of excitement. And then we discovered “Frank’s Place”, a typical “hole-in-the-wall” corner coffee shop, with a short counter and a half-dozen tall stools, serving a miniscule but loyal clientele. Most of the time it was just that – a corner coffee shop, but on Wednesday nights, “Frank” put on his chef’s hat and cooked up a once-a-week batch of hot, spicy, magical Italian mostaccioli from a family recipe which probably made its way to America via a long line of stone-cutters who had been lured to Vermont’s granite quarries in the 1800s.
            At the time, I totally lacked the culinary curiosity and educated taste buds which at a later time would have caused me to “camp out” in his tiny kitchen (or better yet set up a spy camera) in order to purloin his recipe. In my mind’s eye though, and in the memory strings of my propinquitous palette I have never quite forgotten those wonderful Wednesday night rituals. Now and then, over the years, I have ventured onto hallow ground with stew pot and pasta press in search of Frank’s “holy grail” only to come up short. Until now!
Al’s Wednesday Night Mostaccioli

½ lb. medium-hot ground Italian sausage
½ lb. ground turkey meat (or chuck)
1 pint crushed Italian tomatoes
½ cup dry red wine (Chianti works well)
1 pint tomato sauce
1 small can tomato paste
¾ cup chopped celery w/leaves

1 poblano chili pepper, seeded & halved
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs. basil pesto       
1 large onion, coarsely chopped        
olive oil for sauté
salt & pepper
Preparation:    Sauté the onion, pepper, celery and garlic in a Tbs. of olive oil until just tender. Set aside. In a Dutch oven or saucepan, cook the sausage and ground meat, separating apart with a wooden spoon as it begins to brown slightly. Pour off & discard accumulated fat and return to stove. Slowly add the red wine and crushed tomatoes while continuing to break up with spoon. Add back the onion mixture.  Simmer for a few more minutes, slowly adding the tomato sauce and paste in small quantities, so as to preserve cooking temperature. Simmer about ten minutes. Finish with basil pesto, salt and pepper.  Serve over freshly cooked ridged penne or rigatoni tube pasta, dressed with grated parmesan.
A serving of the author’s home-made mostaccioli brings together a taste of old Italy and a piece of personal history. It is even better the next day (Thursday), so make enough!

No comments:

Post a Comment