Many years ago I traveled to one of the islands in the Caribbean. It was so long ago that I cannot recall specifically which island. I do however vividly recollect how I came to acquire the recipe for what I now call “Caribbean Pasta”. There is nothing Caribbean about the pasta dish other than that I acquired it while there. Here’s the story behind it.
We had flown from Ottawa directly to our island destination. I believe the carrier was Air Canada. When we landed at the resort we were too early to check into our suite so it wasn’t until late in the afternoon that we made it to the beach for a swim in the magnificent sea. Our suite was located some distance from the beach. It was a very large compound and we availed ourselves of the mini-bus which regularly toured about the compound for the purpose of transporting the guests from one spot to another. One of the couples who parked themselves on the beach in the same area as we was a handsome man and a ravishing woman, both young, blond and vivacious. We had noticed them on our flight from Ottawa. When the woman’s husband (which I subsequently learned he was) was in the water swimming, I struck up a casual conversation with her. She was of Italian descent and her family lived in the Preston Street area of Ottawa, an area known locally as “Little Italy”. Her husband by contrast reeked of White Anglo Saxon Protestant ancestry which turned out to be true as well.
Having learned that the woman was of Italian blood it wasn’t long before our conversation turned to the subject of food. She related that when she and her husband were courting one another, after an evening of drinking and carousing, they would return to her flat for a late night snack. Instead of ordering a pizza (which was her beau’s knee-jerk suggestion) she instead insisted on preparing a simple pasta dish consisting of heated olive oil mixed with chopped garlic, parsley, Oregano and red pepper flakes, served on a bed of spaghetti smothered in fresh grated Parmesan cheese. What could be finer!
That kind of recipe appealed to me greatly. Aside from being easy to remember it had the further advantage of not requiring measurement. Its expedience was too compelling to ignore. When I returned home to Canada it wasn’t long before I attempted the preparation of the dish. While I shall never claim any particular facility in the kitchen my instinct was at least acute enough to venture the addition of other ingredients. My version of the recipe came to include shards of red pepper, quartered firm tomatoes, halved Queen olives stuffed with pimento and chopped sundried tomatoes. Other people who later expropriated my recipe added such things as onion and shrimp but I have never done so myself.
Because of the richness of the dish I developed an equally uninvolved hors d’oeuvres of sliced hot sausage and spears of garlic dill pickles. To accompany the main course, I added a side of sliced cucumbers topped with Basil flakes and drizzled with Balsamic and tarragon vinegars. Dessert was fresh fruit, normally in its original state, to be plucked from a centre bowl and eaten by hand (again, effortless preparation).
Anything involving oil and pasta is always a sure-fire hit with me. I confess the liberal addition of sea salt is not uncommon. I inevitably mix the remnant cucumber and vinegars with the pasta dish and it becomes a race to the bottom of the bowl for the oil and garlic. While I have philosophically deciphered that the chef’s axiom “less is more” is not to be trifled with, it is nonetheless a bit of wisdom which I have yet to put into practice. For the most part my meal is known for its pronounced element of garlic and sometimes the red pepper flakes. A healthy portion of grated Parmesan cheese ensures undeniable competition for the sea salt. In short, there isn’t anything delicate about my concoction and admittedly for that reason it doesn’t appeal to everyone. For those who respect bluntness and the primitive cut of what are essentially raw vegetables, the recipe has its singular appeal. I might attempt to dignify the amateur preparation by calling it “peasant” nourishment but historically even that apologetic label is nothing more than false modesty for what are actually refined dishes such as Osso Buco. As it turns out the meal is popular with my closest friends and for that reason its continuation has been assured. Granted it helps to know how to prepare a passable cocktail!