Pasta Perfection

garlic-300x187My dad clumsily peeled the skins off a few garlic cloves and then looked up at me with an expression I didn’t recognize.  He looked like a little boy.

“I’m nervous cooking for you,” he said.

I smiled at the slight power shift from the man whose passion in the kitchen inspired my career– and intimidated the hell out of me.

“Naw, Pop, you’re just using cloves closest to the center of the bulb.  The skins are thinner, especially if they’ve been around a week or two.  I had the same problem the other day in my kitchen.”

He steadied his hands, deftly chopped the garlic and tossed it into the pan of onions and chili flakes sauteing on the stove.  He pulled the can opener from a drawer and opened some DOP San Marzano tomatoes.  He was preparing a simple arrabiatta sauce.

I fished the garlic that I was blanching out of a small pot of boiling water and washed some basil for the pesto.

A sizeable t-bone steak rested in butcher paper on the marble counter, seasoned and coming to temperature before getting tossed on the grill outside.

A basket of greens from the garden awaited my mother’s obsessive-compulsive lettuce washing.

dogAmelia sat in her “I’m a good girl” pose next to the counter, tilting her head to convey “I’m very cute… and I’m starving to death”.

The kitchen smelled amazing – like fresh summer herbs and vegetables and mesquite chips and my family.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided that it was too hard emotionally and physically to take care of Shannon’s dog, Sam, and Shannon came to take him.  The transition has been hard. Nothing signified the end of our 4 1/2 year relationship more than Sam’s departure.  It was the period at the end of our sentence.

My folks offered me and Amelia a few days of distraction in sunny Connecticut and we leapt at the chance.  It’s nice to be taken care of after a long cheffing season and a big relationship change.

My dad stirred the tomatoes into the garlic and onions simmering on the stove.  I opened the fridge and found a wedge of very nice pecorino romano for the pesto.

“You know, Marcella Hazan says that you should always have both pecorino and parmesan for pesto.  She says it doesn’t matter what ratio you use, but there should ALWAYS be both”.  He began to do his impression of Marcella, which sounded strangely similar to his Julia Child, with an Italian accent, “The sharpness of the pecorino is softened by the nuttiness of the parmesano.”

And you know something?  He was spot on.  I had only used the pecorino and it was way too sharp.  I added the parm and then tossed it with the zucchini I had just spiralized and it was perfect.

We feasted on zucchini arrabiatta, zucchini pesto, grilled steak, grilled scapes and a fresh salad.  It was a big meal but it didn’t hurt.  Even my dad, a man who has designed his whole life around his love of pasta, thought it was surprisingly satisfying.

And that’s saying a lot.

Basil Pesto with Zucchini Noodles

zucchinipastaMakes about 1 1/2 cups of pesto


  • 2 garlic cloves, blanched in boiling water for 1-2 minutes
  • 2 cups tightly packed basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt
  • ½ cup parmesano reggiano cheese
  • ¼ cup pecorino romano
  • 1 heaping tablespoon unsalted butter, room temp
  1. Put the garlic and the pine nuts into the bowl of a food processor and pulse for a few seconds to chop.
  2. Add the basil, olive oil and a pinch of salt and process until it’s uniformly chopped and mixed thoroughly.
  3. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the cheeses and then the butter, making sure all ingredients are combined.  Cheesy, buttery, basily goodness is your goal here.  Season accordingly.

Toss it with pasta or zucchini noodles and enjoy!

Alison Wonderland Tucker is a chef and caterer who lives and works in New York City. She writes about her love of food and life as a chef on her blog A Wonderland of Words.