When I was in elementary school in Chicago, my mother would come home from her long day at work to make dinner from scratch every night. About once a week, these macarrones cooked with sofrito, jamon and chorizo were on the menu. At first I hated them. I remember thinking: Why can’t we just have the spaghetti I see on TV? Why can’t my mom just open a jar of Ragu and pour it over some long, thin boiled noodles, like all the sitcom moms did, like the moms of my non-Latino friends at school did? Of course, the idea that she would allow her family’s dinner to come from a jar was something my mother rejected whole-heartedly, and it took many, many years for me to finally see how right she was.
Her preparation was unfussy and unpretentious, grounded in the ingredients that were familiar to her at the time, ingredients she adeptly combined with new ones she learned about in United States. It’s a dish I believe to be an expression of the journey that took her from her native Cuba to a new land with a foreign language and foreign food, a land her only daughter would call home, a land whose tastes she had no choice but to bring into her kitchen. (Many of my Latino friends grew up with similar dishes, adaptations of something foreign. If you’ve ever been to a Dominican party, for example, then you’re likely to have had Dominican lasagna, which has little to do with its Italian counterpart but is so delicious nonetheless.)
My mother’s macarrones recipe isn’t as involved as making a lasagna; it was, after all, one of her weeknight go-to meals. All these years later I have made it one of mine too. So if you’re looking for a way to bring a little of Latin flair to pasta, or for a dish to help pass on your sabores to a precocious son or daughter of your own, here’s how. If she’s is anything like me, she’ll remember it for the rest of her life.
Macarrones con jamón & chorizo
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large green bell pepper, cut into medium chunks
3 garlic cloves, each cut into thirds
3 oz cooked ham, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (about 1/2 cup) or ground
3 oz uncooked Spanish chorizo, ground
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp smoked Spanish paprika
2 bay leaves
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1 cup beef broth
1/2 cup vino seco (dry white wine)
Salt & pepper to taste
1 lb ziti pasta, cooked al dente according to package directions
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated gouda cheese
1. In a small food processor or vegetable chopper, grind the onion, pepper and garlic until it’s pureed but still slightly chunky.
2. In a large caldero, heat the oil over medium-high until it just starts to ripple. Add the onion-pepper-garlic mixture to the caldero and cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the ham and chorizo, the oregano, cumin, paprika and bay leaves and sauté until the chorizo is cooked through, about 7 minutes.
3. Add the tomato paste, stock and white wine and bring to a boil. Lower hear to low, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
4. Once the sauce is done, pour cooked pasta into it and mix well. Add cheeses and mix well, right from the caldero. Serves 4 to 6.