Ask Jen about pasta

multicolored rotini noodles

Isn’t it ironic: last week we dove cannon-ball style into the world of gluten-free eating, and this week we’re doing a complete 180° turn and eating pasta. Let me just start my story here with a warning: gluten-free pasta is delicious! It’s made out of corn and turns the water a yellowish color when you boil it. I personally have never come across a situation where gluten-free pasta will destroy the recipe. It’s all I feed my family. Those unsuspecting chow-hounds don’t even know it … I win.


lasagnaSomeone we all know has a secret family recipe for pasta sauce or an Italian grandmother’s lasagna recipe. But what about the rest of us? For me, it was a neighbor…

Miss Alice lived in the little yellow house on the corner. All of us kids who lived near her house would walk there to catch the school bus, and she made sure to be there in the afternoons to see us off the bus as well. She was like the entire neighborhood’s grandma. She passed out cookies and hugs just alike.

She was in her 60s back then, a widow from the second World War who still wore her thin gold wedding band. I don’t know what she did her whole life. I think we all assumed that she was a teacher because she was so kind.

She was that old-school cook, the one who cooled apple pies on the windowsill and put an apron on when she dressed in the morning. She could make a meal fit for a king out of yesterday’s leftovers.

This is the pasta traditionally used for mac and cheese, but it's great for soups, salads and stir fry, too.

Sometimes Miss Alice would make this macaroni/vegetable concoction that she called, “Joe’s Macaroni.” Every time she made it, it was different than the last. When us kids would pull weeds from her garden, or rake leaves, or shovel snow from her sidewalks, she wouldn’t let us leave unless we had a full belly. We liked doing chores for Miss Alice.

“Joe’s Macaroni” was nothing more than a pot full of whatever she had around the house. Sometimes it had ground beef in it, other times it had chicken. It always had a tomato sauce, macaroni and veggies (corn and potatoes, always). And it came served in a coffee mug with a glass of milk.

We talk about Miss Alice often. We all miss her dearly.

Go make something awesome,

“Joe’s Macaroni”

(What I can remember of it, anyway…)


  • 1 pound macaroni, uncooked

  • 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped

  • 1 can Italian-flavor tomato paste
  • 1 can condensed tomato soup
  • 1 pound ground beef, sausage or chicken, cooked
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 medium potatoes, cooked, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 small can of sweet corn
  • Whatever veggies you have on hand — could include:

    • 1 medium zucchini or yellow squash, halved and thinly sliced
    • 1/2 cup chopped onion or peas
    • 1 cup white button mushrooms, quartered
1 small red or green bell pepper, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
    • 1 or 2 carrots or celery stalks, chopped
    • 1 cup green beans, cut in pieces
  • Seasoning of choice


Prepare pasta according to package directions; drain.

In a soup pot, combine tomatoes, tomato paste and tomato soup and the cooked meat. Cook over medium heat until sauce starts to bubble. Add potatoes and corn, cover and keep warm. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat, add veggies. Season and stir-fry until vegetables are tender. Combine pasta, vegetable mixture and tomato sauce mixture and heat thoroughly. This recipe isn’t an exact science, but it’s so yummy. Serve in a coffee mug with a glass of milk.

Get more "Ask Jen" in your inbox each week by getting Around the Table.

It's a FREE weekly e-newsletter all about food. Sign Up Today!



We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.