Presiding Over Pasta

For the Trios, homemade macaroni dough rolled into a family business 25 years ago

RAVIOLI, fettuccine, ziti, linguine, spaghetti, manicotti, rotini. To Catherine Trio Cremaldi, that mouthful can be summed up in one word: macaroni. Mrs. Cremaldi grew up watching her grandmother and mother make macaroni. "My fascination was always how they could get this little round ball into this huge round of dough with a broomstick handle," she remembers.

Macaroni dough rolled right into a family business called Trio's Ravioli, a famed pasta shop of 25 years in Boston's North End.

But the story didn't stop there. In 1984, Catherine and her husband, Cosmo, launched "Cremaldi - a takeout Italian food store in nearby Cambridge.

Catherine and Cosmo recently took time out to talk about their food, family, and business - all of them intertwined like so many strands of linguine. The jovial couple - pasta professionals married for 31 years - took this reporter on a culinary journey, starting from the scion, Cremaldi's, and going back to the mother store, Trio's. [See story, next page.]

"Everything that I know has come pretty much from my parents," says Catherine proudly. "I capitalized on my parents' success. I said: 'OK, what else can we do with that wonderful macaroni? She considers Cremaldi's the "accompaniment" to her parents' shop, much the way her spinach-nut sauce goes with their fresh pasta. Not surprisingly, Cremaldi's gets all its macaroni from Trio's. Likewise, Trio's now carries Cremaldi's sauces.

While some consider Cremaldi's "gourmet," Cosmo calls it "good, old-fashioned Italian soul food."

"With a few nouvelle items thrown in," Catherine adds. Nouvelle items include carrot macaroni, pumpkin-filled ravioli, anchovy-pine nut currant sauce, even sweet-chocolate lasagne. But the traditional meatless lasagne still reigns on their bestseller list. About 400 people a day - from busy professionals to Harvard faculty and students - visit the small store chockfull of goods. Cremaldi's also caters.

"The population across the world is in love with macaroni, and it's cheap," Catherine says. It's good, nourishing, not hard to cook, and you can do so much with it, she adds. In a society concerned with taste, health, recession, time, and variety, what better food? she asks.

Then there's the social magic: "Take an acquaintance to macaroni; that acquaintance will become friend and family," she says with a hearty laugh. "I love cliches," she adds. Cosmo counted 13 of them from her one day. Then, as she does often during the day, Catherine interrupts herself to think of the store: "Coz, someone has got to wash that window," she says, pointing.

Times have changed, she goes on. "Family units have become considerably smaller. People have become transient, with no real roots." Time seems in short supply.

"The general population is suffering from loneliness. If they reached out and had more macaroni dinners with each other, life would be much more fun," she says, half-seriously. People yearn for roots or at least a sense of roots, she suspects, and that's why some people connect with community places like Cremaldi's.

When one Harvard student from California received her doctorate, she broke the news to the Cremaldis first. Another student wrote them from China to ask if his girlfriend was dating while he was away. During the interview, the couple greets customers by their first names. A young man in bikewear stops by - not to eat, but to talk. "Remember: Eat pasta, bike 'fasta, Cosmo jokes with him. Parents often call up and request that lasagne and birthday cakes be delivered to their children on campus. "It's just

basically making a home for these people.... I think that's why I'm here driving myself crazy," says Catherine.

To see where all this love of food and family originated, we drive from Cambridge to the North End. On the way, Catherine gets on the car phone to remind her mother we are coming. "You know - The Christian Science Monitor. I told you!" she yells from the back seat. She also makes several calls the store to remind the staff to do this and don't forget that, while Cosmo stops to make a delivery along the way.

When asked what her first memories were of macaroni, Catherine says: "It meant family." The Trios had a simple macaroni dinner and a salad every Sunday. "We always had a meat sauce," she says, but "never, never, never bread with pasta.

"Macaroni brings back wonderful family memories," she continues. "We also ate a lot of chicken. Chicken [as an Italian dish] is as old as the hills," she says. "See? There's another one," says Cosmo, referring to the cliche. Catherine pauses: "Coz, did anyone water the plants?"

When it comes to pasta, "Americans have a lot to learn," says Catherine Cremaldi. We are here to teach them, she adds. There are little blackboards and signs throughout Cremaldi's, giving tips and directions on Italian food.

Some wonder about the different types of macaroni. "It's more or less a novelty," she says, though "some pastas hold the sauce a little bit better.... Rotini holds any sauce better because it's like a corkscrew. People buy shells so that they can stuff them."

What about ziti with lines as opposed to ziti without? Grooves and lines give you a better appreciation for the sauce, she says; smooth pasta calls more attention to itself.

She offers the following tips:

*-As a rule, a pound of fresh macaroni feeds three people. A pound of dry macaroni will feed three to four. "We're talkin' entrees here," she says.

*-To cook macaroni, use a lot of water. "You can never have too much water," says Cremaldi. If the package says four quarts, she uses six. When you put the macaroni in, "begin stirring right away and continue on stirring and stirring and stirring. If it's gonna stick, that's the time it's gonna stick," she says. "Stir until it's finally free-flowing."

*-When macaroni is done, "Top it with your sauce immediately. If you're making a cold pasta salad, rinse with ice cold water so it doesn't stick. Coat it with oil."

*-With fresh macaroni, drop into boiling water and stir. When the water comes back to a boil - about 30 seconds - it's done.

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