It's been a sad few weeks recently....
Betty Jean Julson, my 80 year old grandmother, passed away from Alzheimer's disease.
Betty, (better known as BJ) (yep. you read that correctly 😀 ) was the family matriarch, and so full of life and love. She was a woman who loved her husband and family FIERCELY, and always said what was on her mind.
Her lasting legacy is one of love.
She met my grandpa in high school, got married shortly after, and never left his side. Just look at the adoring look she gave him then, and continued to give him until her last moments. <3
BJ also lived life without a filter.
She was the type of woman who opened up without hesitation, greeting you with a huge hug and genuine care. She dug right into the gritty stuff, asking personal questions & inserting inappropriate jokes as often as possible. She sure loved her bling, but she loved her family more than anything. I'll admit, living so openly is hard, and every day I strive to emulate that quality.
On her 80th birthday, the whole family gathered at her care facility to celebrate. They brought a beautiful cake, complete with birthday candles to blow out. As my grandma sat at the head of the table, ready to blow out her candles and make her wish, she launched into a beautiful speech.
Keep in mind, at this time, she generally could not hold a conversation or recognize her family, but she dug deep and pulled out these final words of advice she wanted her loved ones to hear:
Rest in peace grandma. I'm blessed to have you watching over & guiding me and the rest of the family. Love always.
Safe to say, I'm feeling a bit nostalgic this week and craving some family recipes.
My grandma was not a huge cook, but she had her fair share of 1950's classics (meatloaf, au gratin potatoes, mock chicken legs, fried cube steak, lemon bars). Look for some of these to come in the future!
This week I'm re-creating one of my own childhood favorites: Fireman's Pasta
Not sure where my Dad got this recipe originally... probably the newspaper or the back of a can or jar... but he made it all the time growing up!
It's called Fireman's Pasta because of the spicy kick it gets from the hot sauce. So spicy, you might need a fireman to put the fire out in your mouth! My dad LOVES all things spicy.... so my sister and I gained our spicy tastebuds very early on.
However, I realize not everyone loves spicy, so I changed the recipe a bit, adding the hot sauce as an optional topping instead of stirring it into the whole batch. That way, everyone can customize their spiciness level to taste.
Basically, this is a giant pot of penne pasta, garlic, Italian sausage, a whole POUND of fresh spinach, fire roasted tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, black olives, roasted red peppers, and dry white wine.
It's pretty freaking easy to make (only 2 pots & very little chopping), and feeds 6 very generously. It's a great way to load up on veggies while still getting some satisfying meat and carbs.
It's sure to be a hit with your family, as it was with mine 🙂
- 12 oz uncooked penne pasta
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 lb Italian sausage links, casings removed
- 4 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 lb bag fresh spinach
- 1 (14.5 oz) can diced fire roasted tomatoes
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 6 oz oil packed julienned sun dried tomatoes
- 7 oz roasted red bell peppers, sliced
- 1 (15 oz) can natural black olives, drained and halved
- ¼ cup julienned fresh basil
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¾ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Tabasco or other hot sauce (like Frank’s RedHot), for serving
- Grated parmesan cheese, for serving
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 12 minutes (or according to package instructions). Drain, and set aside.
- Add the olive oil to a large, deep, nonstick skillet. Use your hands to break up the Italian sausage into small crumbles and sprinkle them evenly inside the skillet. Turn up the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned all over, about 10 minutes.
- Add the garlic to the skillet, then add as much fresh spinach as will fit. Stir the spinach into the sausage mixture, adding more spinach as it wilts & creates more room. Continue until all the spinach has been added and wilted.
- Next, add the fire roasted tomatoes, wine, sun dried tomatoes, bell peppers, and olives. Stir, and let simmer for about 5 minutes to let the flavors meld.
- Add the pasta, fresh basil, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Cook for just a minute or so to warm the pasta, then turn off the heat. Spoon the pasta into bowls, drizzle with hot sauce, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, and enjoy!