We just returned from a trip to AZ to visit my husband’s family. This bunch, the Italian side, was born and raised in Chicago but have all migrated west to the sunshine of Arizona. A quick trip for us, not having seen them in years, so we spent a three day weekend visiting and, of course, eating.
This is no timid bunch when it comes to food. They love to cook and eat as a family and their cuisine is Italian-American. They don’t cook like me-a simple entree, salad, side and dessert. This is food for a famiglia…of 30! I think they pulled out of lot of stops for us. They cooked like crazy and made all of Nana’s old recipes so my husband was in heaven.
Night number one was at Cousin Ray’s. He made Italian beef sandwiches-slow roasted and simply seasoned eye of the round sliced paper thin (on their grandpa’s meat slicer) and kept in its own juices. We piled it on Italian bread with giardiniera, spicy pickled vegetables, and grated cheese. Next was sausage and peppers. This was sweet Italian sausage sauteed with red and yellow peppers and cooked together so their flavors all blended. On the side was a fresh tomato salad with jalapeno and gorgonzola (a Ray twist on a classic, and a very good one) and homemade potato salad. Lots of wine, food, and family plus a dozen kids running all over the place. It was a great night.
The next night was dinner at Auntie Ro’s. The guys spent the day seeing the Cub’s play a spring training game but, I was in the kitchen trying to learn the secrets to Nana’s recipes. Ro cooks like a professional (she did, in fact). She isn’t shy about seasoning her food, she uses salt in all the right places and tastes as she goes. She cooks a lot from memory, which I love. She’d already made two giant pans of eggplant parm and 3 pounds of meatballs when I arrived. I helped maked the breasole, pounded thin beef scattered with Italian parsley, shaved parm, salt, pepper, and garlic powder and rolled. We browned it well and added it to the famous family tomato sauce. The meatballs went in too and we cooked it all day long. Meanwhile, we made cavadelle (which I am sure I’m spelling wrong). They are a simple dumpling with flour and hot water, rolled with two fingers to look a bit like penne, and boiled and sauced like pasta. There was homemade frizelle, fresh homemade bread that was cut, toasted and topped with garlic, oregano, oil, and balsamic plus a salad, homemade roasted red peppers, and of course pasta. It was food for an army but, we loved it!
There is something about this food, and it’s not just that it tastes delicious. It is food made with love and you can taste that when you eat it. There is tradition here and when the family eats these dishes, memories are evoked, conversations are started and people are happy. The same thing happened when my grandma cooked. The food brought us together and when we eat those dishes today we can’t help but think of her with a smile on our faces.
Paisano is a pal or a friend, even a countryman. I saw this jug of wine (above) on Auntie Ro’s counter and thought “this says it all”.