Mom’s summer pasta: chef Joseph Guzzetta’s go-to comfort food

I’m from Utica, a small urban city in central New York.  I grew up on the second floor of a two family house with my parents and sister.  My Italian grandparents lived on the first floor. In the backyard, we had an arbor covered in grapevines and under it was our picnic table.  Everything else was a garden that produced the most amazing food. 

In the summer during the height of the garden’s bounty, my mother would make what we called “macaroni with cold sauce,” made with tomatoes, onions, garlic, basil and parsley — all from the garden — chopped and mixed with mozzarella and Pecorino Romano cheese. There was minimal cooking. We didn’t have air-conditioning, so on hot days my mom didn’t want to make the house hotter by cooking.  All the salad needed was a quick browning of the onions and boiling the water for the pasta.

For me, this dish tastes like summer, like sitting under the grapevine. It tastes like home.  Comfort food makes us comfortable because we taste happy memories. It makes us long for a return to those times.  The memories make the food taste better.  Be happy at meal time and create those memories for your littles.

Mom’s summer pasta (macaroni with cold sauce)

1 large onion, thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

½ cup parsley, chopped

8-10 leaves basil, chopped

3 large ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced

½ cup olive oil 

salt and pepper to taste

3 tbsp grated cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano)

1 pound uncooked pasta (small shapes like penne, radiatore, or trompeti work best)

½ pound mozzarella, shredded

Lightly salt the sliced onions, toss well and set aside while preparing the other ingredients. Before adding onions to the bowl, use a paper towel to absorb the water that has leached out. Alternatively, you can quickly brown the onions in a pan with a little butter or olive oil instead of salting them — that’s the way mom did it.

Add all ingredients to a large mixing bowl except for the mozzarella. (Make sure you retain as much tomato water as you can). 

Let stand at room temperature for up to four hours.

Boil well-salted water and cook pasta al dente.

Add the hot pasta and the shredded mozzarella to the bowl and toss well. 

Joseph Guzzetta graduated from culinary school in 2001. He cooked in four and five-star hotels and restaurants in New York, Virginia, Boston and London. After more than 15 years in a career focused on executing proper techniques using quality ingredients sourced as locally as possible, he began teaching Culinary Arts for Tyler ISD. Joseph will start his seventh year teaching this fall. East Texas has been Joseph’s home since 2006.

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