October 5, 2021
Well, it’s October. And among the many things we celebrate this time of year, it’s Italian-American Heritage Month.
When I think about my Italian heritage, I usually think “family recipes”. My mother actually taught me to cook when she shared with me some sage advice. I called her from Cape Cod where I was working for the summer between my junior and senior years of college. I asked, “Mom, how do you cook?” And her answer was, “Oh, Maria. If you can read, you can cook!”
I’ve since learned that doesn’t always apply when I am working from family recipes. I have struggled over the last 12 years to re-create some of my favorite family dishes. I have had to research and experiment to make many of them just like Mom or Nana. Some of the recipes are so vague that I have consulted with my cousins to compare notes and see if they have been successful in making them. Most of the time, I just dive in and adjust with the next batch.
For example, Aunt Bobbie sent me a Pizzaiola recipe with instructions such as, “salt and pepper most important” and “cook ‘til very tender”. The first time I made it, it was both bland and tough. I have since adjusted it to “heavily” salt and pepper and “cook 2.5 – 3 hours”.
Yet – as imperfect as they may be – these recipes offer help and advice from my ancestors to this day. Aunt Bobbie’s Pizzaiola recipe includes helpful notes like, “When bottom round is on sale, this is a very economical dish,” and “Serve with mashed potatoes or rice and a green vegetable. Any leftover sauce good for an omelet on another night.” My mother’s recipe for roasted peppers starts with, “Buy red peppers when they are on sale for 99 cents a pound or less.” And my control-freak father added portion control to my mother’s sauce recipe: “If cooking for 2, put 1.5 sausages or 2 meatballs in each pint container.”
I continue to laugh and hold my family in my heart each time I make a dish. Celebrating my heritage is about treasuring the words of wisdom they have shared with me – and feeling the love they expressed through cooking and enjoying meals together. What do you treasure about your heritage?