Being Italian — The Italian Sunday Feast
Not many people can believe some of our stories… I do understand that because sometimes these stories are hard for me to believe — and I lived through them.
The beginning and end of our lives — is food – pasta, pasta,and more pasta…. We’re born, there’s a big celebration with food, wine, cake. We receive our First Communion — there’s a big celebration – with food, wine,and more cake. We turn 13 — there’s a celebration – with food, more wine,and more cake. We receive our confirmation – take a Saint’s name, — a BIG celebration with More Food, Much More Wine, and Tons of Cake — we graduate high school and then — yes college —- OMG — the Food , Wine and Cake amounts are staggering. In a few short words – our lives were filled with celebrations, Food, Food,and More Food. Food is the center of the Italian families life..
You see my Family was from Abruzzo and Naples Italy. Both spoke different dialects of Italian. So when united these two provinces – well – to put it plainly – we had our own dialect of this beautiful language. Funny – no one could understand us except for “us”. We enjoyed our own private Italian. That made it better because in an Italian family the solemn oath – is “keep it in the family”… That means that everything is a secret. We’re a strange breed.
Put the secret stuff aside — we were taught to love, to welcome, to open our home to anyone, especially people in need. Oh – and of course , those poor, unsuspecting guests that we welcomed with open arms couldn’t leave our house without being stuffed with every kind of food that my mother could find. It was nothing for her to make a quick pasta dough, roll it, cut, it, cook it and make a miracle sauce out of anything she had in the cabinet and in the refrigerator. She was a magician.
My family was very proud to be Americans. This was safe,and America was the real land of opportunity. The only problem was that in our homes we still lived in the old country – Italy. It was all Italian! All of the Italian traditions — the family was everything…
So it took me years, I was almost 12 years old before I realized that I was American and not only Italian.
Going to school in Long Island in the 60’s I grew up with every kind of ethnic groups such as Italian, Irish, Jewish, Greek,and German. Ok, so back then everyone brown bagged lunches. No such thing as hot meals in Catholic schools – we brought our own lunches. When all of the other kids were having their wonderful peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips,and ring dings – we, the Italian kids – were eating meatball sandwiches or eggplant parmesan sandwiches. Oh – how I longed for those peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. P.S. I had my very first peanut butter and jelly sandwich when I was a freshman in college. If I remember correctly, I believe that I even put some fluffanutter on it.
Going to the beach was another experience. My mother and her sisters would prepare our regular Sunday dinner. Instead of a picnic filled with the usual things like ham and cheese, tuna, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches accompanied with potato salad and pickles — yes that’s right – those old girls would carry bowls of pasta, Sunday gravy, meatballs,and sausage – accompanied with loaves of Italian bread. I am grateful that in those days, in New York people were used to us crazy, food maniac – Italians – so we were ok. Thank Goodness!!!!
Some traditions today still die hard in my family. The number 1 tradition is our Sunday Dinners. We all still gather, have our fiesta that begins being prepared from early morning. We eat, laugh, cry, talk and talk some more until we are blue in the face – and then – there is more eating. Oh – can’t forget that there is always the holidays. Starting with Thanksgiving, of course, we are still American,so we have the historic American dinner — Turkey, gravy, stuffing, etc.— but ALWAYS — our homemade Manicotti finds its way to being placed on the table. Easter Sunday, as we are all enjoying our Pork Roast and roasted potatoes – oh — here it comes — the homemade ravioli’s.
Being Italian means so many things — the family closeness, love, weddings and – yes let’s throw the funerals in ( we are professional mourners) and the ultimate — THE ITALIAN GUILT.! I was the youngest of four siblings,and I wore the guilt like I wore my daily outfits. A quick example is that when I left home, I was 18 and off to college. Believe me – I thought that my mother and father were going to die!!!!Wow – did I wear that guilt. About 15 years after that – my parents finally stopped telling everyone that I left them to become a big college girl. Funny. They did eventually get over it — but I still haven’t…
Now – today our families are all blended. We call our family the league of nations and the rainbow family. It’s a wonderful thing to have come from A Full One Nationality Family — crazy and yes lovable crazy — but now to be socially blended crazy and yes – still lovely – is monumental!
Waking up every morning with my hot coffee, eggs,and buttered Italian bread was a great sense of “Home”…Those Sunday mornings, I can still smell the aroma of garlic, onions,and tomatoes cooking. Italian music, Tony Bennett’s voice flowing through the rooms, seeing my father grab my mother to dance and always finishing that dance with a kiss. Those memories still fill my mind with all love…
I have tried to carry on with the same traditions for my daughter – although she can do without the Italian music and of course refuses to let me lay the Italian guilt on her – she still knows and adores her incredible, Italian family history.
At the end of it all, In my mother’s kitchen is where I learned my love of food and my love for cooking.
We always have time to gather for our Sunday family dinners. To eat and enjoy each other’s company. Simple – but – my simple key to the success of my own family.
I want to share my families Sunday recipes with you. Here is our classic Sunday Gravy and it’s accompaniments.
Always – Romance The Pan!