We are spending Thanksgiving at home this year. Like a lot of our friends, we are doing a lot of cooking and experimenting with new takes on old recipes.
Like most Catholic families, we grew up waiting to eat leftover turkey until the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Friday was fish day. In a way, I like to continue that custom. Not for traditional reasons, but because we like to have something light the day after. Also, we crave tastes that depart from the traditional holiday fare. So, I set out to make a dish for Black Friday – black pasta with squid.
Our friend Antonio made this for us in Naples. He pointed out that there they don’t use pasta that has been tinted black. For Neapolitans, it’s the sauce. It’s a very spicy tomato sauce made with cuttlefish that has its ink sac intact.
Since cuttlefish is hard to find here, I use fresh squid and add canned squid in its own ink. This year, I could not find it where I usually shop. Since this is not the time to be going from store to store, I decided to improvise.
So here is my recipe for Black Friday Penne alla Vodka made with shrimp and black caviar.
Like most of what we make, dinner starts in Jim’s herb garden. This time of year it’s rather depleted, but I did procure some lovely savory and thyme.
For four servings:
1/2 pound of penne (I recommend green/spinach penne, if it’s available.)
1/4 cup vodka
1 cup minced onion
2 cups chopped Campari tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Thyme and savory
4 tablespoons black caviar, divided
Sauté shrimp and set aside, keeping warm.
Set about 2 tablespoons of minced onion aside.
Heat the olive oil. Add the seasonings. If you don’t have fresh herbs, use about ½ teaspoon of dried – or, of course, to taste. Marjoram is a good substitute for savory.
Add the tomato and remaining onion in olive oil until the onion is translucent and the tomatoes are soft.
Meanwhile, cook the penne according to package directions.
Add the vodka to the sauce and cook for a few minutes. You may want to puree the sauce at this point.
Add 2 tablespoons of caviar. Just a note – the caviar will not turn the penne as black as does the squid ink.
Drain the penne and add it to the sauce in the pan.
Divide the pasta among four plates, top each with six shrimp. In the center of the shrimp, add a dollop of caviar and some minced onion.
Grimaldi knew something interesting was afoot. There was unusual hustle and bustle in Anna’s kitchen. She and her husband Salvatore spoke loudly, using strange words that he was just beginning to understand. When they spoke to him, though, they made the familiar sounds that Jon once used. Grimaldi early on figured out that when Anna said “latte,” she meant milk and “carne” meant meat. No matter which language, these words brought Grimaldi running to his bowl.
Grimaldi missed his old home. He still grieved for Jon, although he loved Anna. His thoughts drifted to the beings who had disappeared from his life. He knew that after Jon had vanished, Jon’s mate Lucy did not want him. She moved to a place called Naples, leaving Grimaldi with Anna and Salvatore. Henceforth he was to be Anna’s cat.
As far back as Grimaldi could remember, Lucy never liked him, and for his part, Grimaldi disliked Lucy. She had no business being in that house but could stay at Jonathan’s sufferance. Lucy cooked and cleaned. That Grimaldi would give her. She did not encourage him to stay around when she cooked, however; so he made a habit of lying in the doorway, pleased when Lucy barely missed tripping on him. She never shared tidbits from her plate, as Jonathan used to do.
One day, shortly before Jon vanished, Grimaldi had stretched out on the kitchen table. Lucy had gone out. Had she seen him, she’d have thrown whatever she could grab at him. Grimaldi heard the key; he jumped down and stood in the middle of the room. As Lucy entered, he put his tail in the air and sauntered away upstairs. Lucy snarled at the cat’s departing rear and set out to make dinner. Then she noticed cat hairs on the table. She felt the surface. Warm. “Damn that cat!” she shouted. If she had gotten her hands on him, she would have tossed him out the window.
Grimaldi, though, was quite pleased to have gotten away with something. Upstairs now, he considered jumping up on the bed, but thought he’d better not push his luck. Lucy had it in for him as it was. He meandered into Jon’s studio.
He found Jon absorbed in painting. A cup of lukewarm tea and a cheese sandwich sat on a side table. Grimaldi lapped up a little spilled milk and nosed the sandwich. He pushed the top piece of bread off and nibbled the cheese. Then he yowled his Siamese yowl. Jon turned around and smiled. Grimaldi sat and regarded Jon, blinking his blue eyes.
Jon stopped painting to admire Grimaldi. His colors were perfect—a tail the hue of dried autumn leaves melded into a sandy tan touched with sienna on his body. The shade flowed back into deep brown of his graceful legs and upward to the ears. The cool blue of his eyes made for a startling interruption of the warm browns. Something in the eyes recalled the Mediterranean. But viewed from afar. As if gazing on the sea from the mountains above Amalfi. A blue approaching a cool bright turquoise (but not quite) sliced by glints of white sunlight. Jon never entirely managed to capture their luster in paint. Light defined them, not pigment.
Grimaldi finished Jon’s lunch. He warbled, and careful not to disturb Jon’s paints, wove himself around Jon’s legs. Jon seemed dispirited, as if retreating behind his easel. Then Grimaldi smelled it — not Jon’s scent, but a smell that meant something coming to an end.
Grimaldi’s instinct was to run away. He had not forgotten his littermate, Grazia. She too had emanated this same odor of death that made her unfamiliar. From the time he first detected it, Grimaldi kept her at a distance. Grazia crept into the basement where she hid behind the furnace. She stayed there for two days until Jon pulled her out, limp and dusty. He wiped her off and laid her ever so gently in a box. This he put into the car and drove off. When he returned, he was alone. The way Grazia changed and vanished disturbed Grimaldi for a long time.
Now it was happening again. Only Grimaldi sensed it. Lucy did not. She behaved as if everything were normal. He did not run away this time, but rubbed the easel with his upper lip to mark Jon’s place as his own.
Soon however, the hubbub in Anna’s kitchen made Grimaldi forget his melancholy and drew him there. He sprang to the windowsill. He sniffed the delightful aromas and tried to discover what was going on. Anna was unusually busy. Interesting smells floated all around. Grimaldi, taking advantage of Anna’s good nature, plopped himself in the middle of her table to see what he might eat.
Anna didn’t mind. She was glad of the company. Her adopted country did not relegate cats to outdoors where they were expected to hunt their own food. Here they treated animals as the sentient beings Anna knew them to be. So, working around the cat, she prepared her American Thanksgiving.
Foremost was making pumpkin pie, an American dessert that she found peculiar but scrumptious. Anna offered Grimaldi crumbs of crust and put a little condensed milk into his bowl. The cat gobbled it all. Then Anna opened the can of pumpkin. He went mad with delight. He mewed and rubbed her legs, nearly tripping her.
“Pumpkin is for cows, not cats,” she told him.
After the pies were baked, Anna put them on the dining room table to cool. Grimaldi leapt to a chair, then onto the table. He was about to lick one when Anna picked him up. She carried him out and closed the door.
While Anna was relaxing, reading the Corriere della sera, Grimaldi made his way to the dining room. He couldn’t push the door open, but he had an idea. He leapt and grabbed hold of the doorknob with his paws. As he dropped, it turned, and the door opened a crack. Grimaldi nudged it open and stole in. Yet again, he jumped on the table. A pumpkin pie was waiting. He devoured the center, leaving a great hole.
Grimaldi was thankful that Thanksgiving — thankful to be clever enough to get a taste of pie, and that Anna loved life too much to deny any creature a measure of enjoyment.