The Italian Fest

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By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

On March 19, our St. Monica Catholic Church held an Italian Fest to celebrate the Feast of Saint Joseph. The parish had not run this event in some years; however, we now have a young, charismatic priest who is full of ideas about how to bring parishioners together. The Italian Fest certainly did this.

My late mother ran the Saint Monica Spaghetti Suppers for years. She created committees for the meatballs [everyone made meatballs off of her recipe for uniformity in taste], the sauce [again, the cooks used the same recipe for evenness of taste], the desserts, the kitchen crew, the decorations, the servers [my brother and I figured prominently in this regard], the set up, the take down, the cleaning [both before and after], the carry out protocol, ticket sales, and the bookkeeping [for she herself was a cracker jack bookkeeper]. She met regularly with the chairs of these committees so that each was kept abreast of the development of the supper as it unfolded.

The oversight of the kitchen Mama left to a successful Italian restaurateur and his wife whose eatery my family dined at on special occasions. Mama and Tony and Betty stayed in close contact in the weeks leading up to the Spaghetti Supper. All three of them were expert organizers and taskmasters: they knew what they were doing down to the minutest of details. Their teamwork resulted in highly successful Saint Monica Spaghetti Suppers for years.

It was my mother who taught me how to organize events and how to delegate committee interaction and effective leadership. Her guidance served me well in the 36+ years of planning professional and personal events on large and small scales. Mama held office in every organization to which she belonged, yet her greatest joy came in working as a volunteer at our family’s parish of Saint Monica’s. She remained cheerful, helpful, and calm no matter what situation arose. Never did she lash out or make snarky remarks to anyone; hence her popularity!

For the newly revived Italian Fest, with my brother’s help, we provided over 200 meatballs, which translates to roughly 20 pounds of meat. Our meatballs were made from our mother’s meatball recipe that we use to this day. This family classic incorporates ground beef and ground pork into the meatballs, along with seven other key ingredients. In later years, instead of meatballs, the meatball committee moved to cook a meat sauce d [far less labor intensive].

I baked Italian Lemon-Lime-Basil Shortbread Cookies, a savory after dinner dessert for the Italian Fest. Some of my cousins made  deserts and served food at the dinner. Yet parishioners had come together; indeed members of my party included those from other parishes. We ate, we talked, we laughed, we ran into people we had not seen in a long time, we drank vino rosso and Peroni beer, and we shared desserts. It mattered little that the meatballs I ate [clearly not my mother’s meatball recipe] were so alarmingly salty that I drank two large glasses  of water and imbibed a bottle of beer to negate the salt. I refrained from complaining too much, for I feel certain that every Italian cook feels his or her meatballs are the best. What took precedence over the shortcomings were the camaraderie and the collegiality that prevailed as we toasted the Feast of Saint Joseph.

Ciao for now.

 

 

Soup for All

Ribollita|AFoodCentricLife.com

This photo of Ribollita on china like mine is from Sally Cameron’s blog, A Food Centric Life at http://afoodcentriclife.com. She posted some yummy recipes! – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli 

One of my earliest childhood memories of food is that of soup. My mother concocted the most delicious, soul-warming soups for our family. Her chicken soup remains in my dreams, for she would make it with a hen my father butchered from his dozen chickens. Always he kept twelve chickens in the spacious coop and fenced yard within our orchard. Fresh eggs, roasted chicken, and the ubiquitous soup were all culinary events from those erstwhile hens. Whenever my Ohio relatives were commencing their drive to visit us, my Uncle Joe, whose parents were Sicilian immigrants, would phone my mother and say, “Kitty, toss another cup of water in the soup! We’re on our way!” He knew full well soup would be on the menu, with pasta served for the next day’s dinner.

Not only do I adhere to the healing power of soup, I believe also in its inherent ability to comfort, to console. My mother and father have long since passed away, yet they imbued me with a culinary sensibility that food transcends the foibles of the world. To quote famous chef and food critic Anthony Bourdain,

Soup is elemental, and it always makes sense, even when the world around us fails to.

 Frequently the world makes little sense, but soup atones for that. No matter how bad a day, regardless of disappoint, in spite of strife, and with little money, soup remains a constant presence that sustains us. With meat or without, with few or many vegetables, with a vegetable, or chicken, or beef broth, soup can be made from very little. My mother used to add either cabbage or Italian greens such as mustard greens, escarole, or dandelions to the carrots, onions, celery, tomatoes, beans, and chicken simmering away in her homemade chicken broth.

When I learned of the cookbook, Soup for Syria: Recipes to Celebrate Our Shared Humanity, by Barbara Abdeni Massaad, I knew I needed to purchase it. All of the proceeds are given to non-profit organizations for food relief efforts for Syrian refugees. The author has tapped into her extensive network of famous chefs, like Anthony Bourdain and Yotam Ottolenghi (author of Jerusalem, an amazing cookbook) to name only a few of the many contributing chefs. Massaad was born in Beirut, Lebanon, yet grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where her father owned a Lebanese restaurant, although she now resides in Beirut. Next to Italian food, I count Lebanese food among my favorite cuisines; therefore, I became interested in Massaad’s cookbook, Man’oushé: Inside the Street Corner Lebanese Bakery some years ago. She is active in the Slow Food Movement, founded by Italian Carlo Pettrini. The movement focuses on preservation of traditional and regional cuisine in support of sustainable foods. It sounds like how my father and mother parlayed  his abundant garden into soup, and filled our large freezer with vegetables and chicken years ago!

Here are several links to Soup for Syria: Recipes to Celebrate Our Shared Humanity:

http://soupforsyria.com/book.php

https://www.amazon.com/Soup-Syria-Recipes-Celebrate-Humanity/dp/1566560896/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1486659579&sr=1-1&keywords=soup+for+syria

Tonight I am serving Ribollita, a hearty Florentine soup I made this morning. Prior to ladling up bowls of Ribollita, I will lay toasted Italian bread in the bottom of the bowls. ‘E buona!

Ciao for now.

Italian Cooking Survival Skills

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I served up rotini with a pasta puttanesca sauce with olives and a side of Swiss chard topped with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Recently I pondered the longevity of Italian cooking. While I enjoy cooking Italian food, I tend to eat other kinds of cuisine when dining out. For example, I relish Indian food. However, instead of keeping staple ingredients on hand for Indian food, I prefer not to, and opt to eat Indian out. Yet when it comes to Italian foodstuffs, I am a connoisseur due my lifelong cradle to present love affair with it.

On the subject of Italian dishes, I wax poetic: as long as a cook has a bottle of high quality olive oil, fine Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, good quality pasta (I keep rigatoni, linguine, fettucine, cappellini, and rotini on hand), excellent butter such as Kerry’s Gold, and fresh parsley on hand, delicious pasta can be concocted. Additional items to have ready are Sicilian green olives (my personal favorite), Calamata olives, anchovies, sardines (both in olive oil), and panko and/or Italian bread crumbs, capers, eggs, a large tin of tomatoes, a bottle of strained tomatoes, a bottle of robust red wine such as Chianti or Pinot Noir, a bottle of dry white wine such as Pinot Grigio, white truffle butter (when in season), pesto (during the winter months I purchase Costco’s Kirkland’s Basil Pesto), pancetta or bacon, and heavy cream.

With said ingredients on hand, I can whip up the following in a flash: spaghetti carbonara, pasta puttanesca, linguine with pesto, Greek pasta with olive oil, butter, and parsley, fettucine with white truffle butter and crimini mushrooms a’ la The Barefoot Contessa, spaghetti with anchovies, garlic and breadcrumbs courtesy of Melissa Clark of The New York Times Cooking, and spaghetti with sardines, capers and breadcrumbs thanks to Mark Bittman of the The New York Times Cooking. All of these delectable entrees may be made effortlessly with my pantry and refrigerator items that I generally keep on hand. All this, without my even delving into Italian soups!

Here is a link to Melissa Clark’s recipe for Spaghetti with Garlicky Breadcrumbs and Anchovies recipe. I make it frequently.

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016264-spaghetti-with-garlicky-bread-crumbs-and-anchovies?action=click&module=Recipebox&region=dinner&pgType=recipebox&rank=30

Buon appetito!

Ciao for now.