Pasta for breakfast?
Every meal of the day from Elio’s Italian Food truck is great
Henri has long been an unabashed advocate of a heaping plate of Italian food for breakfast, though he’s generally regarded the experience as the foregone conclusion of the previous evening’s repast, in the form of reheated leftovers—pesto, manicotti, lasagna.
Especially paired with another glass of red wine—on more than a few particularly bleary-eyed occasions a “blend” of the last of the previous evening’s bottles.
So he was thrilled the other morning when Colette’s visiting third husband, Pietro, suggested pasta for breakfast.
A charming Italian Catholic who grew up in the Bronx, Pietro moved out to San Francisco in the 1980s and for years served espressos in a North Beach cafe. He won my dear sister’s heart with his intrepid spirit, hearty laugh, and self-deprecating wit. Their marriage lasted a scant three years, but they remain friends. I was delighted to learn that he’d be visiting Chico.
On one of those gorgeous January days before the rains came, we headed down to the farmers’ market, leaving Colette, who said she’d have breakfast ready when we got back, at the kitchen table reading the paper and drinking her coffee, Mr. Theo and Miss Marilyn napping in a small box of window-filtered sunlight beside her slippers.
We’d just arrived when Pietro pointed across the parking lot. “That Italian truck,” he said. “You tried it?”
I confessed to being remiss.
“Come on,” he said, leading me over to Elio’s Italian Food truck. Almost immediately, a man was at the door with two plastic forks, each with a large bite of food on it. “Here,” he said, handing them to us. “Try my tiramisu. Real Italian.”
“Like your accent?” Pietro said, grinning.
“Born in Naples, raised in London,” he said.
The tiramisu was divine, melting in our mouths as we scanned the chalkboard menu.
Elio Tudisco came to the United States in 1979, spent a year in New York, then moved to San Francisco. From 2000-09 he was the cook and co-owner of Ristorante Pulcinella, in Chico.
Although Elio’s menu changes frequently, he generally has six or seven pasta dishes to choose from. That morning, offerings included handmade meatballs served over spaghetti; lasagna with a meat sauce, with ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan; penne al gorgonzola, with Italian blue cheese; pesto, made with local basil; and breakfast pasta, with cabbage and bacon. All dishes were $6; tiramisu was $5.
Pietro ordered the spaghetti and sausage, then pointed to the menu. “There you go,” he said. “Breakfast pasta. Better than pancakes.”
We took a quick lap through the vendors, then headed back to the truck. Our food was ready in a few minutes, boxed up and steaming hot. We brought it back to the house, where Colette stood peering into the open refrigerator.
“Close that door,” Pietro said, as he opened a series of kitchen drawers. “We got breakfast. Where do you keep your forks?”
Colette retrieved three, pulled napkins out of another drawer, and we all sat down to breakfast, Colette dishing a little of each of ours onto a plate for herself.
”Buon appetito,” Pietro said, then took a bite, chewing the three big slices of sausage and slurping the tomato-sauced spaghetti off his chin. Then: “Oh, my God. This is incredible. Here, try some.” He pushed his box across the table toward me.
He was right, delicious, but I liked my breakfast pasta even better—penne, bow-ties and curlicues, with butter, bacon, cabbage and a sprinkling of red-pepper flakes that gave it the perfect kick. He reached over, tried a bite of mine, and nodded approvingly. For the next few minutes all one could hear were contented sighs. Finally, Pietro looked up. “I don’t think I can finish mine,” he said. I had to agree. We folded the boxes back up, Colette put them in the refrigerator, and that night we had an absolutely delicious dinner. Leftover pasta. Paired with Coppola Rosso. Brand new bottle.