King of the Pastavazool


We’re not Italian.  But on Saturday nights, if my parents didn’t go out to Twin Oaks for dinner, my dad cooked.  Meatballs and spaghetti.  Braciole.  I’d stand and watch him make the meatballs.  First time he asked if I wanted to help, he made me wash my hands for five minutes before I stuck them in the bowl, squishing around the hamburger and raw eggs and breadcrumbs.  It was so gross and I loved every minute of it.

The braciole was something he did by himself, while I watched.  First, we went to Ruggieri’s Market on Saturday morning to get the meat – thin slices of beef.  Dad made a mixture, again with the raw egg, and spread it on the slices of meat, then rolled them up, stuck a toothpick in each one, and put them in the frying pan.  They sizzled and popped and turned brown.  After that, into the tomato sauce to cook until supper.

“Watch the pastavazool – don’t let it spatter on the stove or your mother will be mad,” he’d say.  Ah, so pastavazool was spaghetti sauce.  But wait.

On Sundays we usually had a roast beef or a pot roast, or sometimes a turkey.  My mom would work hard because we usually had company: my grandparents or the old neighbors.  We ate in the dining room, and everything was to be just right for the guests.  After church I had to dust the furniture.  Someone had to set the big table.  The smells from the kitchen made my stomach rumble.

And then, in the middle of the turkey and the mashed potatoes and the stuffing and the green beans, my dad would say, “Martha, pass the pastavazool.”  He pointed at the gravy, in the fancy gravy boat, and everyone laughed.  “Oh, Jack!” said Mrs. O’Connell.  “Here’s to ya,” said Mr. McLaughlin, raising his glass of Narragansett beer.

On regular weeknights there was no pastavazool, just pork chops or American chop suey or chicken à la king.  The pastavazool was for the weekends.  And it was very special.