Liverpool, N.Y., specifically the southern part of the suburb outside of the village, during the latter part of the 20th century was an Italian-American enclave. Syracuse had long been a magnet for Irish and Italian immigrants their children settled in the suburbs. Liverpool was particularly attractive during the 1960s, 70s and 80s with the massive General Electric plant that employed thousands of people (including my mother), good schools, a bounty of land and a relatively close proximity to the city’s Northside.
Having a vowel at the end of your last name was not out of the ordinary. Our upbringings were certainly different than those of our Anglo friends. Certainly none of the Murphys or McDowells were bringing Nutella sandwiches for lunch or Thermoses of minestrone. Our leftover pasta didn’t come from a can either.
Speaking of pasta, we ate it twice, sometimes three times a week in our house. The sauce was homemade, usually a meat-flavored sauce made with short ribs, and served with meatballs that had been fried and made with more eggs, cheese and fatty ground beef than I even care to remember. My father’s father farmed a large chunk of land in the Fairmount area of Syracuse and would send bushels of tomatoes, onions, garlic and whatnot to the house. Labor Day weekend for a number of years meant the awful smell of tomatoes being crushed in the garage. My mother and her mother would run tomatoes through a crusher, making their own base for sauces. Some would get frozen. Some would get canned. Some would be sent to other relatives houses. When the machine broke in the mid-to-late 1980s, that practice went away. Instead, my mother would make her own puree, peeling and seeding tomatoes one by one and running them through the blender.
I’m not that adventurous. Yes, from time to time, I will buy fresh tomatoes and make my own base for sauce, but time is a significant factor. So, Furmano’s is my friend. Their tomatoes are by and large the best of the best. Cora’s tomatoes are also quite good.
Last night’s dinner incorporated my favorite pasta, orrechiette, with chopped tomatoes. The plum tomatoes at Wegmans didn’t look all that great last night, so I opted for the whole canned variety. They performed well, given the circumstance. The key to making this work is to buy canned tomatoes that are not preseasoned. Tomatoes, salt, juice. That’s it. No basil, parsley, garlic or “herbs.” I find it easiest to cut the tomatoes in the can; it’s less of a mess and you can use the can’s walls for leverage. If you choose, strain the tomatoes, reserving the juice, and chop them up on a cutting board.
Orrechiette with Chopped Tomatoes
- 1# orrechiette (Wegmans just started making their own; Delverde is quite nice as well)
- 1 28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tb fresh basil, or 1 tsp dried
- 1 tb fresh parsley, or 1 tsp dried
- red wine
- olive oil
- Heat a medium-sized sauce pan over medium-high until its clear that it is hot to the touch. Add olive oil to pan. When it begins to shimmer, add garlic. Using a wooden spoon, mix the oil and garlic together to a good marriage of the flavors.
- Take your open can of tomatoes and, using a steak knife, cut the tomatoes while they are in the can. You don’t have to be exact. Drag the knife through in a slicing motion to chop them into smaller pieces.
- Before the garlic begins to brown, add tomatoes with the juice, herbs and a healthy glug of dry red wine (I used pinot noir). Use your wooden spoon to mix this together. Add a sprinkle of salt if you’d like. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes. You’ll want to reduce the liquid by about half.
- Bring the pan of pasta to a boil and cook according to the directions. Before draining the pasta, use a soup ladle and add 1-2 ladles of pasta water to the sauce. Give the sauce a taste and adjust with salt and sugar to your liking.
- Serve the sauce over the pasta and toss together. If you’d like, add a liberal sprinkling of grated parmigiano reggiano and toss before serving.
Incidentally, a sick visit to the doctor’s for my daughter meant that Wednesday dinner was pizza. Unexciting but tasty all the same.