I can't even pretend I'm Italian (I divulged Slavic roots in a previous post, but am a good 50% Danish as well). Not even close, unless I imagine the Vikings pillaged the coast of Italy centuries ago. My mom, however, makes the best lasagna I've ever had. The story goes something like this. My uncle - her older brother - had a Croatian girlfriend in university. She, in turn, had an Italian grandma. My mom ended up at their house a few times for supper. Here, she was served the most remarkable lasagna ever. She begged for the recipe, but nonna held her ground. At last, one day, the grandmother gave my mother the recipe. I can understand why she guarded it so carefully. It is incredible.
The point of my meandering story is that one need not be Italian to appreciate the country's diverse and universally appealing cuisine. One evening I found my way to Pasta Pantry in Sherwood Park, having heard rumours of long-standing deliciousness.
The line seems daunting at first, but it moves quickly. The formula is this. Select the shape of pasta you desire. Pick a sauce (or two). Add chicken or sausage. Add salad and a bun, if desired. Finito. We chow down on penne with alfredo sauce. Not bad, not bad. The sauce could use a bit more pizzazz, perhaps in the guise of garlic or white wine, but the pasta is perfectly al dente. A green salad is deliciously dressed with an Italian vinaigrette, but I am wishing some cherry tomatoes had joined the carrots for a vegetable party.
My pappardelle with four cheese sauce is anointed with a swirl of house-made pesto. The combination of basil, pine nuts and the riot of cheese is utterly fabulous and I quickly clean my plate. A spicy sausage bathed in tomato sauce is a meaty counterpoint. I leave stuffed and happy; the owners even stopped by our table for a chat. I don't get to eat my mom's lasagna very ofter. Good thing Pasta Pantry is around next time I need a pasta fix.