My Grand Father’s Pasta — Les pâtes de mon grand-père

food stylist styling photography tartine gourmande ricotta tomato sauce

I was only eight when my mum’s dad, my grand-father E., passed away. He was way too young. I was too. He worked in a mine in the eastern part of France for his entire life, and I remember eagerly waiting for him to come back from work whenever we visited him and my grand-mother in the nearby village, where my mum was born. The house is still there, and the long vegetable garden going down a slope too. I remember him for his great sense of humor, his endless generosity expressed by a soft smile always beaming from his face, the beautiful drawings he sketched with a pencil, his key chain collection neatly hung in the small back room by the kitchen — he did not know this but I was dying to own it — the long hours we spent together watching the Zorro series on their black and white television, the knack (Alsatian cooked pork sausage) he would never fail to sneak into our children’s hands whenever we walked to Mr S., the village’s butcher, and then I remember him for his magical pasta trick. Or this was how my brother and I ended up calling it. Le truc magique de pépé avec les pâtes. When we stayed over for dinner, if we were not eating my grand-mother’s tasty pommes de terre rôties (roasted potatoes), we often ate pasta. Des spaghetti. He would put some in his mouth and with his hands carefully placed on the tips of his ears, he would skillfully start to turn them slowly, fooling us into believing that this movement made the spaghetti disappear in his mouth. It went all in. While this happened, my brother and I had our eyes wide open, not able to detach them from the snail-paced movement of the pasta. We loved to see him do this and at each time, we were rolling on the floor laughing. It did not matter that he was doing it once, twice or three times. We never grew tired of watching him repeat his trick. Of course, the best thing for us was to mimic him, and by doing so, whenever we visited, we ate a lot of spaghetti.

I am not sure whether this is when my love for pasta started, but if it is, I am actually extremely thankful because it makes me think of my grand-father and how much I miss being around such a funny, adorable and sweet man. Although I clearly remember the pasta trick and the disappearing spaghetti, I cannot recall anything about the sauce that came with it. Was it made with tomato, cream, or did we use to eat the pasta plain with butter? After I thought about this about a week or so ago, I decided to make a tomato sauce because that evening — unlike today — the weather was still a little cool, and both P. and I had a craving for pasta. I wanted to make a sauce that would be creamy but not too much, both sweet and sour, tasty but not covering the delicate taste of the tagliatelle I had purchased fresh. While I am sure my grand-mother would have used cream at the time, ricotta worked as a perfect substitute for me, giving a slightly grainier texture to my sauce. I flavored it with thyme and a touch of white wine, adding sun-dried tomatoes to freshly blanched ones for a subtle yet stronger tomato flavor. I know, I know, the season of tomatoes is not yet plentiful, but all I can say is despite that, my tomato sauce was delicious. In fact, all that really mattered that evening is the feeling I had when P. and I sat down to start eating dinner. I placed our plated pasta on our table mats and I smiled. I thought of my grand-father and his magical pasta trick, only wishing we could have shared a bowl of pasta together like we used to before, perhaps even watching Zorro on TV.

P. would have loved to meet him, I know. And pépé would have made us laugh, once more.

food stylist styling photography tartine gourmande ricotta tomato sauce

Thyme-Flavored Tomato, Ricotta Sauce

(For 4 people)

You need:

  • 2 lb tomatoes (6 medium-sized tomatoes)
  • 1 cup fresh whole milk ricotta
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • Nice Bunch of fresh thyme
  • 3.5 oz red onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 Tbsp sun-dried tomato paste
  • A few sun dried tomatoes in oil (about 5)
  • 1 Tbsp whole cane sugar (I used Rapadura)
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • Piment d’Espelette (optional)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 14 oz pasta, tagliatelle, linguini or spaghetti


  • Boil the tomatoes for 1 min and rinse them under cold water. Peel and seed them. Dice them.
  • Heat 3 Tbsp olive oil in a sauté pan and when hot, add the crushed garlic and sliced onions. Cook for a few min without browning.
  • Add the tomato paste and cook for 1 min until well coated, stirring constantly.
  • Add the tomato pieces and diced dried tomatoes. Mix and season with salt and pepper, and add the sugar. Cook on medium to low heat for 2 to 3 min.
  • Add the thyme twigs and pour the white wine. Cook uncovered for about 20 min, on low to medium heat. Keep an eye so that you does not stick to the bottom.
  • Remove from the heat and purée in a food processor.
  • Add the ricotta and continue to mix to obtain a nice grainy cream. Check the seasoning and add freshly chopped basil.
  • Cook your pasta following the instructions on your package and coat them with the sauce. Add more basil and optionally, some piment d’Espelette.
Le coin français
Sauce tomate et ricotta parfumée au thym

(Pour 4 personnes)

Ingrédients :

  • 700 g de tomates (6 tomates moyennes)
  • 250 g de ricotta au lait entier
  • 3 càs d’huile d’olive
  • 1 beau bouquet de thym frais
  • 100 g d’oignon rouge, haché
  • 2 gousses d’ail, écrasées
  • 1 càs de concentré de tomates séchées
  • Quelques tomates séchées à l’huile (environ 5)
  • 1 càs de sucre de canne entier (J’ai utilisé du Rapadura)
  • 60 ml de vin blanc sec
  • Piment d’Espelette (facultatif)
  • Sel et poivre
  • 400 g de pâtes, type tagliatelle, linguini ou spaghetti


  • Ébouillantez les tomates pendant 1 min et rinsez-les sous de l’eau très froide. Pelez et épépinez-les, puis coupez-les en petits dés.
  • Faites revenir l’ail écrasé et l’oignon rouge émincé dans 3 càs d’huile d’olive.
  • Ajoutez le concentré de tomates et faites suer pendant 1 min, en mélangeant bien.
  • Ajoutez ensuite les dés de tomate avec les tomates séchées coupées en petits dés. Mélangez, salez et poivrez, et ajoutez le sucre. Faites revenir pendant 2 à 3 min sur feu moyen à doux.
  • Ajoutez quelques brins de thym effeuillé et versez le vin blanc sec. Faites cuire à feu moyen à doux pendant 20 min, à découvert. Surveillez pour que cela n’attache pas.
  • Retirez du feu et mixez les tomates en purée dans un robot.
  • Ajoutez la ricotta et mixez pour obtenir une belle crème. Rectifiez l’assaisonnement puis ajoutez le basilic frais ciselé.
  • Faites cuire vos pâtes en suivant les instructions sur votre paquet et enrobez-les de sauce. Ajoutez du basilic ciselé et une touche de piment d’Espelette (facultatif).

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Posted in Grains, Vegetarian


  1. Je crois que les pâtes de ton pépé vont rentrer au menu un de ces jours où j’aurais racheté de la ricotta !

  2. I just discovered your blog and am amazed–these pictures of food are works of art! I cannot wait to begin exploring. I will have to do so on a full stomach, I believe.

  3. oh! my favourite trick! i used to always roll my pasta in that way… oh the fun we had! i haven’t done this in ages, it’s something you would never show your kids, so i’ll have to wait for my children to give me some grand children first! but i’m sooo going to teach them!

  4. I’d forgotten about that. I can’t remember who tought this trick to me and my brother but we always used to “roll up” our pasta with our ear.

  5. Je crois que ton pepe et mon papi auraient pu etre de bons copains. Le truc du mien c’etait les pates a la confitures quand on etait malade ou en manque d’appetit. Le mien enroule encore ses pates avec le nez. Il aura 98 ans en aout, incroyable.
    merci de nous faire partager de si bons souvenirs, ainsin qu’une super recette!

  6. a sweet tribute, bea! your pépé must have been a very wonderful man, and would be so proud, i am sure.

    your recipe seems VERY delicious; thank you for sharing.

  7. So sweet. This recipe looks divine. I’ve been a little obsessed with ricotta lately, so you can be sure that this one will make it onto the menu at my house.

  8. The pasta with sun-dried tomatoes sounds fabulous. I love the pink and purple hues in the back of the pasta picture – gorgeous!

  9. tiens je suis dans ma période ricotta, donc…des sucres lents une sauce sympa, je m’y mets!! bon, bien sûr je ne parle pas de la photo…..tu sais ce que j’en pense!

  10. Petite question…
    Penses-tu que ce mélange supporte la congélation? La ricotta m’inquiète …

    Nous sommes deux à la maison… et il n’y a rien de plus agréable, le dimanche soir que de sortir un portion de sauce du congélateur pour un petit repas rapide et gourmand!

    Merci pour cette recette gourmande et pour la jolie histoire qui l’accompagne!

  11. I love stories like these, they’re always so heartwarming. It’s a beautiful pasta dish too. I’ll save this recipe for the future. Thanks Bea!

  12. What a beautiful post and tribute to your grandfather, who sounds like such a sweet and wonderful man. I’m sure he would have loved that pasta you prepared…it certainly sounds delicious to me!

  13. Super. J’adore la ricotta pour les pâtes, chose que j’ignorais complètement avant de rencontrer mon homme (qui est – surprise – italien). Ma recette préférée implique de la chair à saucisse et de la cannelle, plus lourd que cette recette mais bien goûteux aussi.
    Et comme d’habitude, ces photos sont à tomber à genoux…

  14. Such a sweet story Bea! We probably all have similar stories about our grandparents. I’m really lucky to have my granny still – I’m visiting her next week and I’ve already ‘put in my order’ for her wonderful rice pudding.
    Your pasta looks delicious (and your styling with the two plates is superb). Will definitely try that sauce as well.

  15. Bea , such a nostalgic and priceless story! I’m sure your grandfather is nodding so approvingly on your tribute to him. The pasta looks so scrumptious!

  16. Bergeou, super, j’en suis ravie!

    Deborah, oh yes, the best, I agree with you.

    Molly, thank you and welcome!

    Lisanka, pas mauvaises en effet 😉 Merci

    Johanna, ahah, nice to hear that someone else had the same one. It will be fun for you to teach this later on.

    Flo, merci.

    Eva, that is funny indeed.

    Helen, ah dis-moi, c’est génial cela, quel bel âge ! C’est vrai qu’ils se seraient bien entendus.

    Chanelle, thank you, He is dearly missed indeed.

    Kat, thank you. It makes me smile to think he is as well.

    Mary, oh very nice. I am like you on this one, so much ricotta here at the moment. I buy it super fresh from Formaggios.

    Cate, thank you!

    Yoyo, merci merci.

    Peggy, ah oui, nostalgie, n’est-ce pas ?

    Mercotte, merci beaucoup. Super contente que tu vas essayer.

    Ellie, thank you!

    Virginie, je pense que oui, même si évidemment, elle ne sera pas complètement identique en texture, car elle va rendre peut-être un peu d’eau du fait de la congélation. A tester.

    Amy, thank you very much.

    Joey, thanks. I have those nice things to remember, which is great.

    Spacedlaw, ah quelle association intéressante. Je note, surtout venant d’un italien.

    Jeff, yes indeed.

    Inne, oh yes you are lucky and enjoy! This is great.

    Veron, thank you! I love to think he would be proud.

  17. Lorsqu’il s’agit de pâtes, je suis toujours partante mais là, il s’agit en plus d’une recette familiale, teintée de nostalgie et truffée de souvenirs d’enfance… J’ai adoré te lire et je peux d’ores et déjà t’assurer que les pâtes de ton Pépé seront prochainement dans nos assiettes ! Certaine qu’elles feront un véritable tabac chez nous également !

    Merci pour la recette et merci pour ton bel article (comme d’habitude magnifiquement illustré par tes superbes photos…), je suis admirative !

    Amicalement blog,

  18. Such a wonderful memory. When I think of my own darling grandfather, my memories are not of food, but of the many ways he would make me laugh, often with a bit of sleight-of-hand, or funny faces. Thanks for sharing your own story, and a wonderful recipe, too.

  19. Oh Bea, what a lovely post! Memories can be such a strong source of inspiration! The pasta looks (and sounds) amazing!

  20. I like cook to, but not so good as you.
    I love your picture, I learn very much from you.
    Thank you very much.

    Best regard

  21. oh mais qu’elles sont belles! et ricotta en plus, je ne peux que craquer.. une fois de plus!

  22. What a charmingly sweet & sentimental post. Indeed- the memories certain foods hold for us!
    Nice recipe and I think A would like it sans onion. I make try it with creme fraiche as the graininess of ricotta doesn’t appeal to me always nor do I think it would convince Aoife to keep eating! Your photo made me wish i had this in front of me now! I skipped lunch and could use some carb power right now!

  23. Che bel ricordo, Béa! What a beautiful memory. Thanks so much for sharing it.

    We often use ricotta in our pasta and it is one of my very favourites! Beautiful, Béa!

  24. I liked the story too, more than that you have a way with words.
    I also like this blog because I am learning French 🙂

    J’aime Paris aussi, toute la ville est un art.

  25. I made this for my friends a few days ago- it was very well appreciated! 🙂
    since I cant get ricotta i replaced it with a fresh cheese made from whole milk.

  26. Bonne idée de recette pour passer ce week end veille de reprise au journal.

  27. Hello ! I have just tried one of your recipes and I was so great just as your blog is ! Thanks for your work, your words, your recipes, your pictures : it’s a treat to read you !
    I have a blog too, here in France, and I have just written a post on your recipe : it was so good , you have to be known again and agian. Please, do tell me if it annoys you . all the best ! Catherine

  28. I made this .. I did not have ricotta but replaced it with something similar.
    My friends have been asking me to make it again! I served it with whole wheat spaghetti.

  29. I made this last night for my husband and I, and it was out of this world! I made a few alterations to adjust to what was in season – 2 lbs. of large cherry tomatoes (not quite sure of their technical name) and to make it a bit healthier – multigrain pasta (Barilla Plus) and fat free ricotta with a splash of milk to form a similar consistency to fresh. Thank you so much for being a wonderful resource for clean and delicious food!