Musings on Macaroni….and spoons

As the weather turns colder and our schedules are more hectic, it seems that the urge for comfort food is stronger.  While everyone may have their own particular favorite when it comes to comfort food, it seems that macaroni, or some other such carbohydrate, is high on the list.  Not just any macaroni.  Macaroni eaten with a spoon.

My daughter calls it “shovel macaroni” because when she was very, very, little she said she wanted to “shovel it in her mouth”.  It has become vernacular that we use to this day.  What, you may think, depicts regular macaroni from “shovel macaroni”?  It lies in the utensil of choice, the spoon.  While spaghetti or linguini have their own merits, they are much too complicated for me to be comfort food.  (Unless  I melt cheese and add bread crumbs until it turns into one collective entity, but I think I have a problem.)

Maybe it’s an innate memory of being fed as a baby, but food that you eat with a spoon just tastes happier.  Think of the dishes that we want when we are sick, or sad, or tired.  Warm, soft, cozy food.  Yes, food can be cozy.  You already know that. Think of what you crave when you are fussy and grumpy.  I’ve compiled a list of dishes that meet the requirements of 1-comfort food, 2-eaten with a spoon 3-delicious.  Not all of them are pasta, but they are a derivative, in that they are flour and grain products.  I will write an entirely different list that will explore “Spoon Sweets”, but for today, we will talk about the savory suppers served with a spoon.

Elbow macaroni with tomato sauce and melted cheddar cheese  Adding the chunks of cheddar gives the sauce a rosy color that is creamy, gooey and oh so comforting.

Risotto with gorgonzola cheese   The tart creaminess of the gorgonzola adds a richness to the risotto.  They were made for each other.  Risotto though, any way you can get it, is a comfort food in its own right.

Polenta  People are extreme in their reactions to polenta.  This corn meal dish is either a craved comfort food, or you just don’t like the way it feels in your mouth. The cooking and stirring is an added bonus to the comfort factor.  There is nothing that soothes the mind like stirring and staring into a pot and decompressing from the day.  Top it with tomato sauce or a savory mushroom ragu.  Even with just Parmigiano-Reggiano it melts into a golden bowl of happy happy joy joy.  (Can you tell which Polenta camp I’m in?)

Gnocchi A potato dumpling that pairs well with the typical marinara sauce, a cheese sauce, or blended with some ricotta and a dash of pepper.  They are so filling….my dad calls them “sinkers”.  Pencil in a nap.

Pastina Add butter and Pecorino Romano cheese.  That’s all.  Just that.  It’s perfect.

Ditalini and broth The tubular shape of these small macaroni are perfect for letting just the right amount of broth into them.  They are also excellent for macaroni and cheese….which is my next entry.

Macaroni and Cheese This quintessential comfort food has as many recipes as we have mothers that make it best.  Choose your favorite.  With or without “sand” as my daughters call the breadcrumbs, it’s fantastic.  Personally, I think it tastes better in a bowl with bunnies on it.

Stelline and Meatballs  These little stars are a favorite in Italian Wedding Soup.  Tiny meatballs mixed with spinach and cheese keep the dish from being too spicy.  For some reason, (for me at least) comfort food has gentle seasoning.  (These are also really good if you let them sit there at the table and soak up all the broth until they explode into swollen stars mixed with tiny carrots.  Am I the only one who ever finished their kids’ lunches?)

Mashed potatoes Gabriele has an excellent recipe posted here with pancetta and olive oil.  It’s spectacular.  However; if you are a potato purist, butter and cream  are in fact, registered antidotes for cruddy days.

So there you have it.  This by no means is a complete list.  I think that we humans are ever so creative and resourceful when it comes to hitting the spot when we’ve had a day that can only be made better by eating with a spoon.  So.  Please.  Comment below and share YOUR favorite comfort foods.  I’m interested in what other people enjoy.

Finally….since I have gone against the advice of nutritionists and cardiologists everywhere in suggesting foods laden with fat and tied to emotions, I want to close by saying that after you eat this, at least go for a walk.  (But wear your slippers.)