By Robert Hill from the May 2011 Edition
I love Italian food, and over the years have learned to make a pretty decent spaghetti sauce from scratch, with the right blending of beef, pork, onions, tomatoes, garlic, basil, etc.. I even have an Italian pasta machine to make a variety of pasta shapes from the semolina flour I keep in the freezer. However, such an effort requires a party, or at least a small group of pasta lovers, to justify the time necessary to clean the kitchen afterward. So most of the time I satisfy my craving for spaghetti by picking up a jar of Prego, then doctor it up with some ground beef, tomato sauce, and maybe a little extra garlic and basil. Boil some pasta, and Mama Mia !
Last week I was at La Comercial for my weekly shopping and decided to get a jar of Prego for the shortcut spaghetti sauce. There on the shelf, right next to the Traditional, Mushroom and Meat versions of Prego, were jars of Putanesca style spaghetti sauce. I could hardly believe my eyes, that here in Manzanillo the supermarket was selling jars of … well… Prostitute style spaghetti sauce ! Ladies of the night in all Spanish speaking countries are called putas, so how is it that a spaghetti sauce would be named for them? While acknowledging that prostitution is the oldest profession on earth, Ronald Reagan was quoted as saying that politics is the second oldest, and that it bears a striking resemblance to the first. The only thing politicians could come up with are Food Stamps.
My discovery of Putanesca sauce at La Comercial brought back memories of more than a decade ago, when I came to Manzanillo with my Italian wife of 10 years, to retire and paint. She only lasted 4 months here, then headed back up north where she had a big Italian family. I tell people she didn´t like my latitude, but Italians are like that. They like living in bunches, like a flock of sheep, or a herd of goats, or a covey of quail. Amelia Rose Cannatelli was not only Italian, she was Sicilian and Sicily is where the Mafia and Godfather came from.
There are 2 things I really miss about this lady; one is all the money she took with her and the other is her Italian cooking. When we put our beautiful home in Las Vegas up for sale, the realtor wanted to have a weekend “Open House” and he insisted that Amy have some of her incredible spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove. Well, the 3rd couple to show up at the Open House wrote a deposit check on the spot, and we could have sold it 4 more times. It was a beautiful home and maybe the price was too low, but I have to believe it was the magic of that irresistible aroma wafting through the house from her spaghetti sauce.
I learned many things about Italians from Ms Cannatelli, whose grandparents immigrated to New York from Sicily, through Ellis Island. She would freak out if she heard Italians referred to as WOPS (WithOutPapers) and was proud of being an American with an Italian heritage. Our trips to New York were memorable for me, especially visiting the Little Italy section of Brooklyn, where she was born and raised. The little delicatessens and hole-in-the-wall restaurants had the best Italian food you could possibly imagine, and everyone except me spoke Italian. I tried my best to get Amy to write down her recipes, but discovered that it would be impossible.
She cooked the way I painted, having to feel what was needed in my composition, or in her skillet. Asking an Italian cook to follow a recipe is like asking an artist to do a paint-by-numbers. Creating one of her Italian feasts was an all day affair, and was always accompanied by a bottle (or 2) of Italian red wine. She had a sign in her kitchen which read, “I Love to Cook With Wine –Sometimes I Even Put It In The Food”. By the time dinner was ready she was pretty well pickled, and cleaning the kitchen was out of the question until the next morning. Nevertheless, despite the lack of recipes I did manage to learn a lot about Italian cooking, just by watching.
One of the sauces Amy made from time to time was Putanesca which had a particularly pungent and aromatic blend of ingredients not normally found in a traditional spaghetti sauce, like salami, green olives, oregano, etc. She related to me the Italian lore of how Putanesca originated, which I found fascinating. Somewhere long ago in a small Italian town, there lived a lady of the night whose small apartment was on the second floor, above a cantina. She had a small balcony overlooking the street where she could lean on the railing and smile at the prospective clients strolling along the narrow street. Her provocative attire revealed her voluptuous curves as she teased the poor defenceless chaps down below into coming upstairs and parting with a few lira.
Add to this scene the sound of Italian love songs wafting up from the cantina, and she had the double whammy of sight and sound with which to lure her prey. One evening, quite by chance, she happened to have a skillet of spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove, and she did triple the business of a normal night.
It did not take her long to figure out what she had done; she had invented the TRIPLE WHAMMY of sight, sound and smell. Seizing the moment, this entrepreneurial young lady set about modifying her sauce recipe to include even more aromatic ingredients with which to drive her clients crazy with passion. Her competitors soon discovered her secret for increasing her market share, and they too adopted the Triple Whammy. It was only a question of time before housewives and wanna´be housewives caught on and tried the Triple Whammy on the fading libidos of their men, having results similar to those of their professional sisters, and the rest is history.
So there you have it ladies; The Triple Whammy, Aisle 7 at La Comercial. 28