I was looking for a quick and easy way to serve my homegrown tomato crop over pasta. I searched online for tomato pasta recipes, and found a few that were similar enough that I realized that the cobbled-together idea in my head was completely legit.
As soon as I took a bite, I knew I had to serve the tomatoes over angel hair pasta next time. Why? Because my stepdad Tom served his homemade spaghetti sauce over angel hair — or vermicelli, or spaghettini, but rarely spaghetti.
His was the first and only homemade spaghetti sauce I’ve ever tasted (to my knowledge), and his was the only spaghetti sauce I’d had up until then (age twelve) that included sugar. It’s definitely different than any sauce out of a jar. He also had a different method of serving pasta, where he’d mix a little of the pasta sauce with the capellini in the serving bowl, so it wouldn’t get sticky. I got out of the habit of drowning my spaghetti in sauce, and instead would just add a touch more sauce — and usually some meatballs or sausage, too.
I remember standing in the doorway of the kitchen in the little house he rented (Mom and I moved into the rented house with him when they got married), watching him watching the big tall pot on the stove, simmering the Roma tomatoes we’d harvested from our garden. Years later, after he and Mom divorced, I remember visiting with him in his rented trailer in Amish Country, and him serving up that same pasta sauce with capellini, in the same blue-floral serving bowl, with the same serving tongs and silverware we’d eaten with in the little house in Burbank.
My slapdash 30-minute meal pales in comparison to the depth of his spaghetti sauce, but still — every time I make it, the smell of cooking fresh tomatoes straight out of the garden combined with the sweetness of sugar (or Splenda) and the aroma of oregano and basil… I’m back in Tom’s kitchen again.
He’s been gone exactly 20 years this month. I hadn’t realized that when I sat down to write this. Amazing how smell and taste can trigger memories that seem like yesterday.