Today’s post is part inspiration and part 30×30 project, and needs just a tad bit of explanation. The title of this item is simple enough – cook an authentic Italian meal. Let me start by saying that, you might not believe me, but I have Italian roots. On my grandmother’s side, my family came from Sicily. I know – you probably wouldn’t look at me and think – ahh, yes, Italian girl. But the roots are strong and deep and I’ve got a grandma who makes a mean pasta and sauce for Sunday dinner and taught me the correct way to say mozzarella. But what I learned when I started to think about this item on my 30×30 was that there is a stereotypical picture of what an Italian meal looks like. Here is what your brain might conjure up:
And as I thought about that, I realized: I’ve made that meal. I’ve made it with my own tomatoes, crushed ones in cans, and (sorry, 100% Italians out there), I’ve made this meal with jarred sauce, too. I’ve made beef meatballs in the frying pan and oven, used bread crumbs and real bread, and have even made turkey meatballs. I don’t say this to show off – as those turkey meatballs were nothing to write home about. I say this to show my thought process: was pasta the only way I thought I was going to make an “Authentic Italian Meal”? Wasn’t there more to this culture’s food – although I could eat a pasta dish seven nights a week- then this image? What the heck did “authentic Italian meal” even mean?
So, as with so many other cooking questions, I called my Grandma. I told her about my 30×30 and my Italian food conundrum: Grandma, what is an authentic Italian meal? While her first answers of different pasta dishes and fishes were what I expected, as she continued, her answers surprised me a bit, because I don’t remember seeing them on many menus at fancy Italian restaurants: stuffed artichokes, potato and green beans, roasted chicken with onions, and eggs with peppers. These were just a few of the dishes she grew up with in her traditional Italian-American household. My great-grandmother made these dishes for dinner and lunch, along with her spaghetti and meatballs. How had I gotten so lost and wrapped up in macaroni? Hadn’t I grown up with these meals at my Grandma’s house too?
So, my grandmother is helping me remedy that situation: she is giving me some cooking lessons and showing me how to make her family’s authentic Italian meals. They are fuss-free – my great aunt calls them “peasant dishes” – nutritious meals with simple ingredients.
So here is a photo or two to show you what my grandma and I worked on during one of our “lessons” together. We started with potatoes and string beans, that are served cold:
We moved onto another family favorite, Italian bread and egg. I remember my grandmother making this for me when I was a kid:
Last time, we made and ate artichokes – something I had never done. They were really good – although I did have to be taught how to eat the stuffing out of the leaf correctly. We also made eggs with onions and peppers – almost like a fritada – which was also delicious. It’s been great to get to cook these recipes with my grandmother and to know that these dishes are part of what is being passed down from my great-grandma and perhaps her grandmother before her. I like that link to the past – even though I may not look like a daughter of Italy, I’d still like to be able to carry on some traditions on my own.
Has anyone else had any fantastic meals that have been in your family or cultures? Please do share – I’m always up for attempting a new recipe!