Thursday, March 25, 2010
Food is Love
As far back as I can remember, food has been central to my life. Of course, we all need nourishment-that’s a given, but growing up in an Italian household-well, let’s just say, food-and by that I mean the growing of it, going to the market for it, preparing it and then finally sharing in the eating of it, is central to Italian culture. Memories abound of my father bringing home strange and exotic foods like wild cardoons, a relative of the artichoke. He would clean the woody stalks and boil them first then bread and deep-fry them in olive oil. The humble dandelion would grace our table every spring, sautéed and mixed into a frittata.
Of course there was the ubiquitous tomato. In late summer you would find many families in our neighborhood busy in the kitchen canning them, rows upon rows of beautiful jars of tomatoes with just the right amount of basil leaf. These tomatoes would be the primary ingredient in the Sunday sauce every week throughout the year.
One of my most vivid and tender memories as a child was when my father would make the Sunday sauce. He would always include a few pork bones for flavor. When the sauce was finished cooking he would take the bone out and offer me the “ mookoo” and I would suck the bone marrow out of the bone-the rich complex taste mingling with the tomato sauce. This offering was his special way of saying I love you.
Holidays at my grandparent’s house were riotous affairs with adults firmly planted “a tavola” drinking wine-and eating a never-ending feast. There was always some sort of drama but amidst the tension there was lots of laughter.
As children we would run in a pack, hungry little wolves, grabbing food while inventing elaborate imaginary games. I remember a July 4th, one of the cousins sneaking some of grandpa’s homemade wine
(It didn’t end well…). Most times we were content with our bottles of cherry soda from Black Rock Soda Company.
And the food- a never ending procession of homemade ravioli, manicotti, meatballs the size of tennis balls,
pizza with anchovies, olive salad, bracoile, and for Christmas, Grandpa’s legendary assortment of Italian cookies. Like most second-generation American children-I thought a lot of Grandpa’s food a bit strange. What were raisins doing in my meatballs and was that a hard-boiled egg in the sauce? The cookies had weird fig jam in them with anise flavoring.
What I would do for one of those cookies today.