Native Californians have their share of regional expressions, but in terms of interest, variety, and color, we can’t begin to compete with Southerners.
Sadly, years of graduate school have expunged most of the phrases from my husband’s vernacular, but they always return, at least in small measure, when we spend time with my in-laws. I have a few favorites.
Topping my list is “bless your heart.” My husband's grandmothers and aunties use this one, often. According to my anecdotal evidence, this idiom is exclusive to Southern women. Used in response to information of all kinds, “bless your heart” can express deepest sympathy or concern, but Yankees beware: it has additional meanings including, but not limited to, “how appalling,” “how very pitiful,” and “darlin’, you’re crazy.”
Next up is one of my mother-law’s favored turns-of-phrase, “fixin’ to.” If you’re fixin’ to do something, you’re getting ready to, planning to, and/or intending to do something. The potential ambiguity of this phrase is very appealing. For example, I can say I’m “fixin’ to re-organize my filing cabinet,” but this could mean I’d like to do it, but I’ll actually get around to it in 10 minutes, two weeks, or never.
Then there’s “putting up,” meaning to put something away; in the case of food, it can also refer to preserving or storing (e.g., jarring, canning, and preserving fruits and vegetables in cans and mason jars). My husband continues to use this one. It caused particular confusion the first time we camped together when, upon preparing to leave, he asked me to help him “put up the tent.”
And finally, one of my father-in-law’s multi-purpose expressions (really a single word): “deal.” He uses this pronoun for everything from weddings to rain gutters to dentures. Considering he relies on “deal” so frequently, you’d think communication would be problematic. But if I pay attention to the context and inflection, the meaning is almost always illuminated.
For example, when he asked me yesterday if I might “make that spicy deal with spaghetti” I’d made the last time they visited us in Texas, I knew exactly what he wanted, and I was happy to oblige.
Even if you like your noodles soft, it’s important to cook the pasta just to the point of al dente. Why? Because the pasta will cook again for another minute or two in the sauce, absorbing all of the wonderful flavors (and if you want your noodles really soft, just continue simmering in the sauce, adding an an extra tablespoon of water, until they have the consistency you like). This simple step can elevate all of your pasta dishes from good to great.
The anchovies are really important for the overall flavor of the dish, adding depth that you don’t associate with fish. I separate leftover anchovies into snack-size-baggies(2 or 3 per bag) and freeze for future use, so one can is plenty for multiple recipes.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
3 canned anchovies, rinsed, minced
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 and 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 28-ounce can peeled whole plum tomatoes, undrained
1 1-pound box whole grain spaghetti
8 ounce washed kale, spinach, chard or other greens, chopped
1 6-ounce ball of fresh mozzarella, ripped into pieces
Heat the oilve oil in a large, deep skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, anchovies, basil, oregano and chili flakes, stirring until garlic is golden (be careful, this goes quickly—don’t walk away). Pour in the tomatoes, breaking up slightly with a spoon. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes until the sauce is thick.
While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta according to the package directions until al dente. In the last 3 minutes of cooking, add the greens (only about 1 minute if using spinach). Drain the pasta, then add to the skillet with the sauce; cook and stir 1-2 minutes longer to blend the flavors. Transfer pasta to a large serving bowl and toss in the mozzarella, Season with salt & pepper to taste. Makes 6 main-dish servings.
(I don't have access to my nutritional anlsysis program right now; I'll post the nutrition info when I do)