Story and photos provided by Jefferson Bryant
With the recent holiday season, our thoughts turned to family traditions. Many of those traditions center around food. From seasonal dishes that only seem to appear on the Thanksgiving table to the nightly meals we prepare for our family, the food we make and eat together is inextricably intertwined with memory and tradition.
In my home, food is important. More than just nourishment, food is an expression of love. We toil over a hot stove, burn our fingers, and sometimes singe our eyebrows, all in an effort to show our families how much they mean to us. Where some people spend time and money on lavish gifts or sew costumes, I cook. The first time I cooked for my wife, I was 13 and she and my sister (her best friend) were at our house around lunch time. I set out to make us lunch, which consisted of homemade pizza. I used a can of biscuits, tomato sauce and spices, along with shredded cheese and thinly sliced summer sausage. Ten years later, Ammie and I were married. I have always said that homemade pizza had a little something to do with that.
My love of cooking comes from my mother. She spent every evening cooking delicious food for the family. It was always good and usually something you simply could not get elsewhere. Her pepperoni chicken was incredible. In fact, my first year of college, the residence hall cafeteria asked parents to send in recipes for a special week of homestyle food, the dish was so popular it became a weekly addition to the menu.
Her love of cooking for her family knew no bounds. She always made sure that there was something for everyone, which is extremely difficult in a family full of picky eaters. She would make a special dish just for you if you didn’t like the main meal.
Over the years, I spent many hours with my mom in the kitchen or beside a campfire learning how to cook and experimenting with recipes. She taught me most of what I know about cooking, and I am forever grateful for those times. It was something that she and I shared together, just me and her, not an easy task in a family of six.
Even though she passed away last May, she is still with me every time I cook. Sometimes that is very difficult, because I miss her so much, but I know that I wouldn’t be able to prepare meals for my family without her. Today, I share the same moments with my youngest son, teaching him the things she taught me. Sometimes, I even make a special version of my dishes for certain members of my family, like she did. Because in our family, food is an expression of love.
Rosanne’s Pepperoni Chicken
2 lbs chicken breast, sliced thin
1 lb penne pasta
1 ground beef
14 oz jar of Ragu Traditional Sauce
5-10 pepperoncini peppers
6 oz pepperoni slices
1 tbsp olive oil
Fill a stock pan with water and bring to a boil.
While waiting on the water to boil, Brown the ground beef until done, drain and rinse. Add the cooked beef to a saucepan along with the Ragu sauce. Stir thoroughly, cover and let simmer, stirring regularly.
In a skillet, cook the thinly sliced chicken breast in olive oil until the outside is golden and the meat is cooked through. Season chicken with salt and pepper to taste. Turn the pieces several times while cooking. When the chicken is about ¾ done, add the pepperoni. When the chicken is done, add the peppers and take off the heat.
Once the water has come to a boil, add the penne pasta and cook for 7-8 minutes, depending on your preference for softness. Drain, do not rinse (never rinse pasta).
Mix the cooked penne with the sauce and chicken in a large serving bowl for family style dining or portion each serving separately for individual plates. Serve with garlic bread. For an extra flourish, top each serving with finely shredded mozzarella cheese or parmesan.