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Pasta dish was prompted by vegetarians

Thursday, February 28, 2002

By Suzanne Martinson, Food Editor, Post-Gazette

Today's Countdown to Dinner recipe came to us from Spokane, Wash., by a circuitous set of circumstances.


When Fran McCaffrey's recipe for Inspiration Pasta arrived by e-mail, with a note saying how much she enjoyed our Food section, we wondered what had inspired her to send it. A former Pittsburgher?

It's more complicated than that. Let her explain: "Do you know Tim Menees? He was my first student. They had hired me to open an early-learning center for children, and in came this little boy and his mother. It was Tim."

Tim, as you might know, is a Post-Gazette cartoonist. His mother, Marge Menees of Port Orchard, remains Fran's good friend. "She told me I could see his work online.You could tell that he was going to be an artist when he was just little. His mother used to take him down to the railroad track and he'd draw pictures of what he saw. He just had a talent."

Looking for cartoons, she found Food. A visit from vegetarian friends inspired her Countdown recipe. It combines angel hair pasta, two kinds of cheese, pine nuts and green peas. Our tester was tested by his first confrontation with a nutmeg grater, but he persevered and it came in well under 30 minutes.

We found Inspiration Pasta delicious, and it tasted great reheated for two lunches this week.

I enjoyed chatting with someone from the Pacific Northwest, someone you ask, "Where were you on May 18?" Anyone who survived the eruption of Mount St. Helens that day in 1980 can tell you. Turns out Fran was in Spokane, which got the ashfall about noon.

A nurse at the time, Fran was working at Holy Names Hospital in Spokane, and everybody came to work wearing ash masks.

Fran, now 78, had returned to Spokane after retirement. She met her husband, Edmund, a native of Massachusetts, when he was stationed at Geiger Field in Spokane. After the service, he went to work in overseas schools for the Department of Defense. He was an administrator, and she taught. They worked at government schools in Japan, Italy, Germany, Holland, France and Turkey.

Today, she says she has a diverse recipe box and probably 100 spices. "Oh, I learned a lot about different things to cook, and I enjoyed it."

Fran and Edmund, who died in 1987, had a daughter, Janet Eves, now of Neenah, Wis. "She was a real trooper. If we moved, she'd say, 'That's OK, because I've read all the books in the library.' And now she's a reading teacher!"

Fran has two grandchildren, Alexander, 25, and Meredith, 17.

Perhaps others will find Fran's recipe online.

Inspiration Pasta

"This is a recipe that I made up years ago when I was facing a near empty larder and hungry guests," says Fran McCaffrey.

9 ounces angel hair pasta (fresh or frozen) or 8 ounces dry
1/4 cup pine nuts
4 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Black pepper to taste (freshly ground)
Salt to taste

Toast pine nuts in small skillet (no fat needed) until light brown, stirring constantly over medium heat about 2 minutes. Cook pasta according to package directions. Cook peas 1 minute in microwave. In serving dish, combine pasta with Gorgonzola cheese, toasted nuts and microwaved peas. Add salt and pepper. Sprinkle with Parmesan or Romano cheese. Grate nutmeg over the top. Serves 4.

-- Tested by Bob Martinson

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