Sunday, May 8, 2016

Family Recipes: The Italian Traditions

Recently I heard author Valery J. Frey discuss her new book “Preserving Family Recipes:
How to Save and Celebrate Your Food Traditions.” What really struck a chord with me was when she talked about a particular dish being like a time machine. How true that is! When we savor a mouthful of something we loved as a child, it can zap us straight back to our childhood.

Over the years, I’ve collected personal favorites, but I’ve noticed a mysterious phenomenon that occurs every time I’ve made them: no matter how scrupulously I follow the recipe, they never seem to taste quite as good as they did when the original cook (usually my grandmothers or my mother-in-law) made them. I’ve come to suspect that they added a secret, intangible ingredient: L-O-V-E.

I determined during that lecture to put together at least one blog post to highlight some family favorites both from my past as well as my children’s past. What a special exercise down memory lane, and it gave me great pleasure to know that these culinary memories were special to them as well.

My earliest memories of culinary delights are from my Gramie Smith, my father’s mother. Her parents, Onesto Guidetti and Adelcisa Tassinari, came from Italy in 1907, and she was an excellent cook. Bean soup, cabbage soup, goulash, and cherry pie, oh my! She also made great brownies, but imagine my shock when I learned that they came out of a box!


She and my Grampa Smith lived in Whitman, Massachusetts, the town where I grew up. As Gramie’s only female descendant (and still was until my cousin had a daughter about ten years ago), I got to spend most weekends at Gramie’s. One of my favorite memories was helping her make pies and she would let me play with the excess pie crust.


The goulash recipe has a conversational tone to it because I wrote to her (in the days of long-distance phone calls) to ask directions, and I got them!


Another traditional family dish was served every Easter, just before the ham. To me, they were known as “tootlings,” a delicious cheese-filled pasta cooked in chicken broth. After I moved away from New England, I always searched for them, but no one had ever heard of tootlings, until one day I spotted them in a bag in the deli section of a grocery store: Tortellini! But the ones we had in the chicken broth at Easter time were made by hand at an Italian delicatessen in Plymouth, and the plastic bag ones are just not the same.

Gramie’s Bean Soup
¼ pound of salt pork
2 onions, chopped
1 6-oz can tomato paste
1 quart water
1 can shell beans (I use navy beans)
1 cup elbow macaroni

Brown salt pork and onions. Remove salt pork. Add tomato paste, dilute & simmer. Add water, ½ can beans, ½ can mashed beans, macaroni. Simmer until cooked.

Her cabbage soup recipe used the same base, except the macaroni was replaced with rice, and the beans replaced with shredded cabbage. Then load the hot soup down with grated Parmesan cheese, and you've got the best winter comfort food anywhere!



As hard as I've tried, I can't find words to describe what my Gramie meant to me while she was on this earth; I wish I'd taken more time to record her history, but so thankful for what I still have that connects me to her. 


I’m proud of and love my Italian heritage!

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