Sunday Lunch in Italy

I finished my plate of homemade flour gnocchi quickly because it was smooth, light, and delicious. © Photo by Francesca Di Meglio
I finished my plate of homemade flour gnocchi quickly because it was smooth, light, and delicious. © Photo by Francesca Di Meglio

Thank God Sunday comes only once a week. Getting through Sunday lunch in Italy (or with Italian Americans in New Jersey for that matter) requires stamina and physical strength. Expect to eat your weight in pasta and pastries — and then work it off by washing pots sticky with red sauce and a million and one dishes and glasses. You can’t use paper or plastic on Sunday, after all.

Last Sunday, I had lunch at the home of my cousins Gigino and Flavia and their children Fausto and Angela. We laughed, we ate, we ate some more, we laughed some more. Passing the day with them is a pleasure with or without food — but there’s always food. In honor of my attendance at Sunday lunch, Flavia made homemade gnocchi, with flour but no potatoes. The gnocchi were light and delicious and smothered in a red sauce with meat, which we ate as our second dish. We also feasted on salad, eggplant rolled and stuffed with chopped meat, and freshly grilled pork. Just when we thought our stomachs would explode if we took another bite, we delighted in Italian pastries — everything from cream puffs to lobster tails (the kind with cream in a flaky pastry shaped like a lobster and not the fish). And they didn’t even let me help wash the dishes. To view pictures of the fun we had on Sunday, visit the photo album “Sunday Lunch in Italy“.

Italians and Irons – Ironing Out Our Differences

A typical Italian iron © Photo by Francesca Di Meglio
A typical Italian iron © Photo by Francesca Di Meglio

Anyone who has ever lived in Italy knows that Italians, especially women, have an obsession with ironing. An iron like the one above, which my husband and I received as a wedding gift last year, is a prized posession of many an Italian woman. I personally think it looks like something that the aliens who dropped in from Mars might leave on your doorstep. And I have never used it. As I understand it, you fill that bottom part with water, so you can iron everything from sheets to button-down shirts without having to continually add water as you would with traditional irons. Americans would never purchase such an iron because none of us do enough ironing to justify that much water in the tank. Perhaps, in the States, we could use this iron to boil water for tea. In any event, you can read about how the Italians judge me for my anti-ironing ways at the About.com Newlyweds site in a blog I recently wrote. Do me a favor: take a stand and don’t iron anything today.

Fausto’s Italian Birthday Party

Cousin Fausto prepares to make a wish at his Italian-style 27th birthday celebration. © Photo by Francesca Di Meglio
Cousin Fausto prepares to make a wish at his Italian-style 27th birthday celebration. © Photo by Francesca Di Meglio

Italians don’t care much about balloons and party horns. But every birthday must include a delicious meal. The person who is celebrating his birthday is expected to either invite (and pay) for his friends and family at a restaurant or invite them to his home and cook them a meal. You are also expected to offer cake or pastries to your colleagues at work on both your name day and birthday. Crazy, right? I must admit that I prefer the American way, where friends and family and colleagues offer you treats on your birthday as opposed to the other way around.

In any event, we recently celebrated my cousin Fausto’s 27th birthday at the home of our friends Antonio (yes, it’s quite the popular name in Italy) and Imma in Barano, Ischia. Fausto is like a mayor. He’s friends with the world, so there were plenty of us gathered around a long table in Antonio and Imma’s house. As head chef for the evening, Fausto led his friends, who participated in the cooking, in creating a delicious, gourmet meal that featured astice, which is similar to lobster, and balsamic vinegar soaked semi-raw fish that sounds strange but melts in your mouth. (See “Fausto’s 27th Birthday” photo album for pictures of some of the food and Fausto and friends.) The party was on Sunday, and I’m still delirious from the stuffed-to-the-brim gorging in which we partook. Thank God I don’t drink and therefore skipped the Veuve Clicquot and wine being passed around, or I’d be in sorrier shape. Still, it was worth it.

Australians In Ischia

Our cousins from Australia gather with us at the home of Gigino and Flavia in Ischia, Italy. © Photo by Antonio Gerenini
Our cousins from Australia gather with us at the home of Gigino and Flavia in Ischia, Italy. © Photo by Antonio Gerenini

It has been a whirlwind week for Antonio and me. First, my American cousin Damiano was in Ischia with his friends for the weekend — and had quite an adventure after accidentally arriving on the wrong island with no more boats headed for Ischia until morning. Then, my cousins from Australia met up with us for dinner at the home of my cousins from Ischia, Gigino and Flavia. (See the photo album “Australians In Ischia” for more pictures.) If you’re still reading this, you’ve realized that I have lots of cousins from all over the world. Yesterday, Antonio and I took the day off — consider it a vacation from everyone else’s vacation. Seriously, however, it’s been so much fun having all these relatives around that I’m not sure how I’ll go on without them now that the summer is winding down and everyone is returning home. Ischia is just not the same without family. Thank goodness I have enough cousins on the island to keep me busy!

Italian Women

Francesca Di Meglio
Francesca Di Meglio

I’m an American woman, but as the wife of an Italian (and daughter of Italians before that), I know a thing or two about how women are treated in Italian culture. Although Italy has made progress, it is still far behind the United States when it comes to how its people treat women. Yes, women vote. And they even keep their last names when they marry in Italy. But they also take on a large part of the responsibility at home, regardless of whether they work outside the house. In the end, the Italian women I know have jobs (some even have careers), keep house, cook, tend to children, and their husbands just work.

Worst of all, there’s a “boys will be boys” attitude that have everyone accepting the behavior of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who allegedly had sex with minors and paid for sex with prostitutes. But a few women are making an effort and calling for change. What do you think should happen to Berlusconi in light of this scandal? Leave a comment below to let us know.

Our First Meal and Nonno Giovanni’s Figs

Figs from the tree Nonno Giovanni planted many moons ago at my father's birthplace in Buonopane, Ischia. © Photo by Francesca Di Meglio
Figs from the tree Nonno Giovanni planted many moons ago at my father's birthplace in Buonopane, Ischia. © Photo by Francesca Di Meglio

These figs were a delightful and unexpected addition to the first meal Antonio and I served to his family in our completed kitchen in Ischia. (You can join us for the typical Italian lunch at the “Our First Meal and Figs” photo album.) My cousins from Testaccio, Ischia brought them to me to share with my in-laws. What’s so special about these figs? Well, my Nonno Giovanni, who passed away in 1992, planted the tree on which these figs grew at the home in Buonopane, Ischia, where my father grew up.

My in-laws couldn’t get enough of them. We enhanced their flavor at lunch by serving them with prosciutto. And we finished them in less than a day. And everyone wants to know when Nonno Giovanni will be sending more from Heaven. It was great to have him with me for a bit here in Ischia.