In Hyde Park, Tampa is the perfect little Italian place that I’ve been frequenting for 15 years or more. Tucked away almost to the bay on Howard Ave, past McDintons with its drunken 20 somethings, past Cheap with guys in faux-hawks, blazers and gals in fake boobs with belts for skirts… this little gem is for the more distinguished (however unrefined) patron.
It has been my go-to favourite spot for many eventful evenings. My parents took me there after my first ballet performance. I went there on my 12th, 14th, 16th birthday, 20th birthday… (never noticed the even years until just now- omen?) I’ve been there on dates, late lunches aprés-shopping/pre-matinée. I’ve dabbled around with different appetizers, and tried many of their wines and cocktails, I’ve even dared to try a few desserts other than my beloved creme brulee. But from the main dish I have never been unfaithful.
Not once, not even one single time, have I ever shared my loyalty to …
Bella’s Confetti Spaghetti.
It was my mother who first ordered it. I remember tasting it cold the next day in the adorable chinese take-out box it traveled home in. It might as well have been wrapped in a bow. I was hooked. Each time we sat down, when the server presented my menu I confidently rejected… I already knew what I would order.
I LOVE that my parents never batted an eyelash while our family watched the server grating a mountain of cheese on my pasta. For parents who were strict on politeness, and staunchly discouraged immature and inconsiderate behaviour, they never once said, “Okay dear, that’s enough.” My mother still, to this day, watches in amusement as I consume amounts of cheese that can in no way be healthy. My cheese obsession will have to be reserved for another blog entirely. I digress… end cheese caveat.
So when I moved to Europe in 2005 it was only a matter of time before I longed for the taste of peas, fresh tomatoes and spaghetti cooked to al dente perfection swimming in a sublime blush sauce with a hint of bacon. A few times I even attempted an off menu order for a daring chef to attempt recreation, but the “customer is always wrong” policy in Europe did not lend itself to custom requests from patrons. Finally, I decided I would attempt a recreation myself, and thus was born possibly my favourite recipe of all time. After years of practice, and experimentation I’ve come up with something mighty grand. I added mushrooms, varied the type of pasta depending on what I have on hand, and did away with the fresh parsley. It is pretty simple once you nail the béchamel.
Disclaimer: Now when I cook, its like an old granny. Its just a little of this, and a pinch of that. I simply know no other way. I’m sure one day my grandchildren are going to be driven bananas when they ask me for recipes, just as I was by my grandmother. I apologize now for any readers driven bananas as a result of this recipe.
About a cup of Fresh tomatoes (okay sometimes I cheat and use canned)
About a cup of Peas
2 or 3 strips of Bacon
A decent pour of Milk (whole milk tastes best)
A little stock
A little flour
A blop of red pasta sauce
2ish Tbsp of Butter
1 clove of Garlic (I always buy it in a jar but a clove sounds nicer)
Maybe a third of a red onion
A handful of Mushrooms (more if you’re a carnie, less if you have man hands.)
Pasta of any kind, preferably spaghetti, rotini or rotelle
A mountain of Parmesan Cheese
Start by frying up the bacon until its crispy. Set aside and chop into bits once cooled. Throw in the mushrooms, onion, garlic and a little butter. Also some salt and pepper. Saute until its all caramelized then stir in the peas, bacon and tomatoes and set aside. (Did you know that saute meant “to jump” in french?)
Start boiling your pasta. Remember: Pasta water should be like the sea. Salty.
For the sauce:
Melt the butter and add a few spoons of flour. For a thicker sauce add a few tablespoons, for a thinner sauce add just one or two. With a whisk stir continually and cook on low heat until the butter/flour mixture begins to very slightly turn beige. This is called a roux. Knowing exactly how long to do this is a skill that requires a lot of practice. I can’t tell you exactly how long, but you can kind of tell its ready when it doesn’t smell too “floury” anymore. If it gets too brown your sauce will taste burnt. If you don’t cook it long enough your sauce will taste like flour. If its not right you can always start over. It doesn’t take long to do. Maybe 4-5 minutes.
Once your roux is ready start adding the milk a little at a time. It will thicken up very quickly at first but whisk quickly and it will stay smooth. Keep whisking and pouring a little at a time until it looks like you have enough sauce for your pasta. Sometimes I have my husband pour while I whisk. My mother used to have me pour while she whisked. She would tell me when to start and stop by saying, “PoooooooooooooooUR.” The pour kinda went up at the end and got louder, which meant STOP.
Add some salt, pepper, garlic powder if you want it to be extra garlicky. Add about 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, and the blop of pasta sauce to give it a pink color and a tangy flavour. If you have some extra bacon fat, stir in a couple teaspoons for a more smokey flavor.
Continue stirring and cook your sauce on low for 5-10 minutes until all the flavors have married and had a lovely reception. Do not boil, for this leads to divorce.
By now your pasta should be done. Drain, add your mushroom, pea, tomato, bacon mix, then pour the sauce over and stir.
Serve with a copious pile of parmesan cheese and enjoy. 🙂