Monday, November 22, 2010

Why I Make Ravioli

Yesterday was ravioli-making day. Butternut squash. Homemade. Delicious!
Now, I am no pasta-making expert, but I do my best, and when I make fresh pasta, I want it filled. Filled with delicious, delectable things. Which, to me, is not butternut squash. I really do not like the b-nut.

However, 1) everyone else seems to and 2) I love butter and fried sage more than I hate squash.

There seems to be no better medium to convey butter and fried sage to my mouth without feeling gross and getting a little bored (because too much goodness gets monotonous unless there’s something to counter that—that’s why we like grilled food with little burnt bits!), so a couple weeks ago I roasted a b-nut and froze it; today I conned a friend into coming over and helping me. Pasta-making is much easier with three hands. (Don’t know what to do with the fourth, but it’s always nice having an extra around.)

I always read in Italian cookbooks about how easy it is to make pasta, and how it’s an important daily ritual of every nonna feeding her clan. However, that does not jive with my Italian-American upbringing. I stole (only my mom thinks I “borrowed”) two old Italian-American cookbooks to use for inspiration (since Marcella Hazan’s book was causing me to get snarky phone calls from the library about returning it sometime soon) and neither of them have a pasta recipe! Both of my dad’s parents worked and there wasn’t the luxury of cranking out pasta every day. That, and I think dried pasta serves its purpose better than fresh. Yes, fresh is what you need for making homemade filled pasta, but fresh spaghetti or linguine? Not necessary. And making fresh shaped pasta? Not worth it.

And that is why I make homemade ravioli.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Finally, the Gravy

Jars of Italian food in my freezer, including 4 quarts of gravy.
Been putting off this post for a while. It’s kind of a little intimate.

Nearly two weeks ago now, we ate a few braciole and our first jar of tomato gravy, made from those twenty pounds of fresh tomatoes according to the best I could remember from the one time my Gramps taught me to make it when I was twelve.

First, a little history:

All of my grandparents lived on the other side of the country from my family, which means I only saw them about once a year, for two weeks at a time. What that means is I feel like I didn’t really know them that well. But there are three things that I always think of when I think of my Gramps.

He was an alcoholic. This made him a little peculiar and hard to understand, especially since my parents always hid the alcohol when he and my grandma would come to visit and he’d be going through withdrawal. It wasn’t until years later that I realized why he shook so much and always worked on latchhook rugs (to distract himself) when he came to visit.

He had other habits, too. A habit of walking. He never learned to drive and so when he visited us in our suburban town he would walk, every day, two miles each way to the grocery store. He made friends with the butcher, which was another habit. My Gramps always knew people. Baseball was another habit. The Yankees, to be exact. He watched the Yankees, bought Yankees memorabilia, even named his mini poodle after one of them.

He cooked up a storm. My dad told me he had learned to cook in the Navy during World War II and then got a job working in the kitchen at the company from where he’d eventually retire. He eventually moved up to being the electrician he had trained to be, but my Gramps was always a good cook, especially for crowds.

A large part of his visits would be spent cooking, packing our freezer with sauce and meatballs and lasagna and braciole. We’d have his food for months afterward.

In fact, he passed away shortly after he had visited us. It was like a temporary resurrection eating the food he had made for us. It was like he had died again when we ate the last meatball.

It wasn’t until just a few weeks ago, when my parents pointed out my own penchant for cooking for large groups of people, that I realized the connection I had to Gramps. I always knew we both loved to cook, but the ability to cook for crowds just made it that much deeper.

But I need to get back to the gravy. There’s a problem with it.

I can’t remember.

I think it tastes like what it did. At the very least, I think my gravy tastes good.

But I am not sure that it is his sauce.

And that’s okay. Because even if it’s not, even if it’s been too many years and I don’t hold flavors in my head as well as I would like to, when I made that gravy I was thinking about him and what he would do and trying to remember what he had taught me. I think it came pretty close.

It’s hard not to just let it sit in my freezer forever, since now there are only four quarts left.

The braciole, on the other hand, was exactly like I remembered.