Saturday, April 30, 2011


My sainted mother’s tireless work in our kitchen has left an indelible mark on my life. The taste and smell of her cooking as well as 18 years of experiences at our kitchen table, alone, or with family and friends is woven into the fabric of my life, and with each passing year I am compelled to pay increasing homage to that history. I attempt to do this with my cooking, and quickly realized that no matter how hard I tried, I would never duplicate the meals she served. Instead I have set out to adopt her style, or process, which was to cook intuitively, using whatever ingredients were available at the time. I remember so clearly asking for a recipe for something I really liked, or how she cooked it, and her response…”I don’t know Billy, I just use a little of this and a little of that” leaving me quite frustrated. Only now, years later, when I am cooking every day do I appreciate what she was saying.

Like so many first and second generation Italian-Americans, my culinary culture is the result of a combination of American and Italian influences, the latter heavily determined by the region from which the immigrants came, the overwhelming majority coming from the impoverished southern Italy. For whatever reason, my mother served pasta in bowls or soup dishes, and we twirled the pasta on soupspoons. Imagine my distress when much later in life I learned that in Italy no one twirls their past on spoons! I managed to recover from this cultural tremor by telling myself that twirling was OK because that is what Italian-Americans did, only to discover just weeks ago that that was not the case. There are some who do not twirl their pasta on spoons! The foundation of my cultural heritage was cracking.

But it doesn’t end here. This week I read in an authentic Italian cookbook (the author lives in Milan and runs a culinary school) that one NEVER serves pasta in bowls or soup dishes; it should always be served on dinner plates. And there is more. The proper way to serve the pasta is to allow each person to serve him or herself from the main dish…a practice we do not observe. What is a soul to do?!
Everything I believed in, the source of so much cultural pride, was being torn apart. Oh…I can only imagine what something like this would do to a lesser man than me. But, being the tiger that I am (have I told you before that I’m a tiger?) I faced the crisis head on and …oops, the pasta water is boiling…gotta go.


Aynex Mercado said...

start boiling the pasta for when I get there, tiger!

happy internist said...

amy and i walked in to a little italian restaurant in chicago and it smelled like grandma's kitchen! the fried peppers were almost as good too.