Loose potatoes and potatoes in a sac

Potato attack and tasty pasta sauces

How old were you when you learnt to cook? I don’t necessarily mean prepare a whole meal, but something that was edible.

I was only 13 when my Mum had to go into hospital for an operation. She was going to stay for a few days.

As I was the oldest girl in the house, I was charged with the task of feeding the family. That is: three brothers, my dad, my younger sister and myself.

Before mamma left for the hospital, she had prepared some pasta sauce (sugo di pomodoro) for me to use while she was gone. She had also given me some basic instructions of what to buy or cook for the family meals.

I don’t think I had paid much attention though. Or if I did, I soon forgot.

So the first day mamma was in hospital, I went the easy route for lunch: spaghetti al pomodoro for everyone.

On that occasion I also announced that while mamma was in hospital we had to keep things simple and just have a primo or secondo. No two courses. There was bread, and cheese, and fruit, if people were still hungry afterwards.

My siblings were not impressed, but hey, who was doing the cooking?

For dinner, that first day, my dad grilled some pork steaks. I also made a salad and that went OK.

The second day came and I decided it might be good to do something different. But what? I popped down to our cellar and checked what was there: we had cases of courgettes, potatoes and tomatoes. So I decided to do some potatoes.

I had never cooked potatoes before, so I wasn’t quite sure about quantities. There was a large wooden case containing about 25kg of potatoes. That ought to be enough, I thought.

So I started to peel some potatoes and I put them to boil in the largest saucepan we had. But as I looked at the pan I started to wonder whether they’d be enough. After all, there were six of us, and my brothers and dad had a good appetite.

So I peeled more potatoes. A second large saucepan went on the hob.

That should be plenty, I thought. But then the doubts hit me again. I should do some more, you never know... It’s not good when you want seconds and there’s not enough.

So, I peeled some more potatoes, and filled a third saucepan with them. I crossed my arms and observed the cooker.

That 4th hob, unused, felt strange. Surely I should be cooking something with it. What else if not potatoes? And there I went - more peeling, more potatoes. I was finally satisfied that no-one would go hungry that day.

When my dad and brothers got home at lunchtime, the first question I was asked, as they came through the door, was:

“Cosa c’è oggi per pranzo?” (what’s for lunch today?)

Patate” was my answer.

But my excitement wore off when I saw their reaction.

Patate con che cosa?” (potatoes with what?”)

Ah! I hadn’t thought about that. It should have occurred to me that potatoes usually accompany something else.

I just mumbled that I had been so busy preparing the potatoes that I hadn’t had the time to do anything else.

When my dad actually came inside the kitchen and saw how boiled potatoes had taken over our cooker, our sink, and even our table, he opened his mouth to say something, but then he didn’t.

I realised that I may have overdone it. To make up for it, I suggested that I could do something different with the potatoes every day, so it would taste like a different dish.

Maybe potato salad one day, chips another, who knows!

No-one seemed convinced. Potatoes had never featured highly on a Sardinian diet.

The following day I tried to make up for it and decided to cook the courgettes. This time I was very careful about portions. I said to myself: one courgette per person = 6 in total.

Mamma used to cut the courgettes in slices and pan-fry them. So I was going to do the same. But as I was frying them, they were kind of falling apart, oil was splattering everywhere, and the kitchen had a funny smell.

As it happens, zia Angelina turned up to check on me and when she saw what I was doing she screamed: “Why are you frying cucumber?”

“Cucumber?!?! These are courgettes, not cucumber” I replied in disbelief.

She laughed and shook her head. “You better throw these away before your father comes home, you silly girl”.

I never liked to admit that I was wrong, so I insisted these were courgettes, until zia Angelina dragged me to her cellar and showed me a real courgette: well, it was a green vegetable, and long, a little rough on the outside, and it did look a bit like the ones I was frying. But it wasn’t the same. I had to concede.

Yep, these were my first culinary attempts, but I promise, I got better with time.

Before I moved to the UK I sat down with mamma and wrote down my favourite recipes. I didn’t want another potato/courgette drama in my life.

I want to share some of my family recipes with you. These are three simple pasta sauces that anyone can do. I want to stress the ‘anyone’ because I think I could have done them when I was 13. Possibly I should have just stuck to pasta sauces rather than venture into potatoes or strange vegetables.

Delicious penne pasta with tomato and anchovy sauce

These three pasta sauces are quick and easy to make. If you follow the instructions (and quantities!) there should be no hiccups. And you’ll have something delicious to enjoy. Try the recipes here

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