Real Italian food and cooking

I was raised by an Italian mother. Her family were all born in Calabria which is in southern Italy. My mother was the first to be born here.

To clarify, I have no Italian blood. My birthfamily was Irish, with maybe a drop of German. My adoptive dad was also Irish but he was black Irish (which means he had dark hair and eyes, not skin).

My mother’s father was amazing. He cooked delicious meals and taught me so much about food. I can still remember how his house smelled when he was making gravy!

Yes, gravy is what Italians call their red sauce. Italian cooking is simple and rustic at it’s roots. Tomatoes, bay leaf, some meat and pasta, rounded out with salt and some parmagiana or pecorino cheese.

The gravy starts by browning some meat – preferably lamb – in some olive oil. I run the San Marzano tomatoes through the blender then through the strainer to get rid of seeds. I used to then cook it for hours but I got a pressure cooker now and it’s done fast and right!

The Italians I was raised around would smack you (literally!) if you tried to put oregano in the red sauce meant for pasta! Oregano makes it pizza sauce.

Despite what Scott Conant may say, cooking pasta perfectly isn’t hard. You boil water, salt it, and toss in the pasta. Stir and then test until it’s right for you.

Never in my life did I see anyone cook the pasta “the rest of the way” in a pan with gravy. And I’ve seen a LOT of Italian women cook pasta! You boil it, drain it, then toss it in a bowl with the gravy.

Then I’m watching TV one afternoon and hear Sunny say antipasto means just that – anti is before and pasta, before pasta…. No! Antipasto (singular) or antipasti (plural) means before the meal!! I did have pasta five nights a week though LOL

Italian cooking is not hard, but at times it can be a lot of work.

Growing up, all the Italian women I knew had two kitchens – the one you sat in for coffee and dinners and the one where the real work went on – in the basement.

The basement kitchen always had at least five women, the oldest supervising, the youngest doing dishes, and the rest actually cooking. Thousands of butter cookies for Christmas would be finished in one night this way, as well as lots of casseroles for recent widowers, the tables of food a funeral requires, and party prep.

In addition there was always at least one deep freezer, in the basement or the garage.

Much of my Italian family is deceased now and I miss not just the food but the traditions. Learning by having hands that have done it a thousand times wrap around your hands.

Most especially, I miss that smell at pop-pop’s house that said good things were coming!


Posted on June 6, 2011, in General and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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