Buon Appetito: A Comforting Taste of Italy


By Karen Jurgens

My idea of comfort food isn’t limited to just a couple of dishes. Since I have always loved to cook and eat from my earliest remembrance, almost everything is comforting. Fortunately for me, my mother was delighted to let me train under her watchful eye from a kindergarten age—where I baked Betty Crocker children’s cakes from a package that I sent away for in the mail—to the day I left home for college—where I had progressed to béarnaise sauces, homemade Swedish breads, and puffed pastries. I signed up for local cooking classes, read cookbooks like novels, and subscribed to Gourmet Magazine, until it went out of print.

After college graduation, teaching jobs were scarce and even harder to secure, so I decided to fall back on my love of cooking and study professionally. Before I could complete my application to Le Cordon Bleu, surprise of all surprises happened. I got an offer for my first teaching job. Partly relieved and partly sad, I signed the contract, permanently retiring my cooking school ambitions, but not my love of creative cuisine.

My mother had always preferred to shun the kitchen in favor of restaurants, claiming that cooking was too stressful for her. On the other hand, I have always found chopping, sautéing, whipping, and baking to be very relaxing. It is the way I let go of stress.


Family dinners for every special occasion continues to be my assignment, even to this day. It isn’t a real birthday without one of my scratch cakes colored with fluffy, boiled frosting.


Thanksgiving is the only holiday where I bake traditional pies along with the turkey and dressing.


But Christmas is where I pull out all the stops with three continuous meals, beginning on Christmas Eve and ending Christmas night. The last meal includes chateaubriand, fancy French veggies, homemade rolls, and all those glorious desserts. IMG_1009

The menu includes Julia Child’s French chocolate cakes, dried fruit tortes, and British trifles. I adore fruit cakes, unlike most people, and used to bake two of them—a dark and a light cake, both marinated in brandy cloths for a good month, then wrapped with marzipan and frosted with royal icing. Heaven!


Obviously, gourmet cooking is not practical for every day. My children love to eat, like I do, but the best thing they can make is reservations at a restaurant. (And they do excel at that!) So, as I bring all of us back to earth and to practicality, I am going to share an easy recipe that anyone can tackle with success.

Love spaghetti with meat sauce? You know, the rich, simmered-all-day, smells-like-Italy kind? Now that’s my idea of comfort food.

But…do you have six hours to spend in the kitchen, nursing it along as it bubbles and squeaks? Not many do these days. So, for an abbreviated shortcut that takes approximately thirty minutes from skillet to table, I humbly offer my own creation, affectionately named Hamburger and Macaroni Stuff by my children.

I realize the name is less than motivational, so I have thoughtfully renamed the recipe as Hamburger Macaroni Casserole. Children, as well as adults, love it.

Interested? Keep reading!

Hamburger Macaroni Casserole (Yield: 8-10 servings)


-one large onion

-two garlic cloves

-1.5 pounds of ground beef

-1 large can of tomatoes or 2 large fresh ones, chopped

-1 box of elbow macaroni, cooked al-dente

-salt, pepper, oregano, basil, marjoram

-olive oil


  • On a cutting board, chop the onion and garlic as finely as desired. Sauté over high heat in 1-2 T. olive oil, until soft and translucent, @ 2 minutes.


  • Add the ground beef and brown well, breaking up into small pieces.
  • Add the chopped tomatoes.
  • Season with the salt, pepper, and spices to taste. Stir well, and let simmer @10 minutes.


  • Boil the elbow macaroni until al-dente. Drain, rinse, and season to taste.
  • Combine the sauce and macaroni in a serving bowl. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, if desired. Voilà!


 Writing Prompt

You have stepped off the plane in Rome. Your limo is waiting, whisking you to a famous Italian restaurant you have only read about in food magazines. Now is your chance to order the dish you have always dreamed about sampling. The waiter approaches and asks for your order. “Il vostro ordine, madame?”  You reply in English, …