first taste: pasta a la strega nona

Childhood picture books, stories and TV shows that depicted food and dining made a real impression on me. Illustrations of steaming bowls of pasta or a piece of toast smothered in purple jam gave me my first taste of foods I’d yet to try, and are sometimes still the archetypes I hold food up to today. Instead of simply reminisce, I’m going to bring those dishes to life the way I imagined they’d be.

Strega Nona is the story of a witch, technically, a friendly witch who uses magic to help the villagers around her. But I cold barely tell you anything about the actual story line. To me, it’s about a Nona in old-school Italy who makes pasta in a magic black cauldron. The pasta is, naturally, delicious, steaming hot and always plentiful–spilling from the bowl and there’s more in the cauldron. In true Italian style, the sauce is not the point, really. In the illustrations, you see only swirls of noodles and that’s enough to tempt you.

*Strega Nona story and lovely illustrations by Tomie dePaola

The image above is exactly as I remembered it. I took this book out of the library to reference for this post and I swear I hadn’t seen it in decades. Without a magic cauldron and a village to feed, I didn’t attempt to make enough pasta to fill the largest bowl in my home. But I did get the longest pasta noodles I could find and I kept the sauce simple. For barely there (looking) sauce, it had to be cacio e pepe. Smooth, silky cheese and pepper pasta, that looks as much like the noodles in Strega Nona’s pot as I could conjure up.

This recipe comes courtesy of dashing Mark Ladner who shared it with Bon Appetit. You can read the recipe or better yet, you can watch his charming self in this video and pretend he’s making it for you. You know, if you want.