Southern Italians don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to cooking. It’s almost as if the longer a task takes you, the more faith the people will have in its desirability. These ideas stand in stark contrast to the beliefs of the Americans I know, who are usually most interested in efficiency, which implies finishing tasks quickly. Nothing is fast with Italians, except maybe the movements of their hands while they talk.
Nonna Francesca made bread from scratch every other day when the family lived in Italy. Her children would gather around her every August to jar tomatoes for the conserva, so marinara and red meat sauce could be a possibility throughout the fall and winter. I myself partook of this tradition with my own parents throughout my childhood. August meant waking up to clouds of steam coming from the pot of boiling capped glass jars, bins of removed tomato skins, and the old sheets covering the kitchen to sop up the tomato juice that would go flying as you cranked the red stuff through the machines – by hand until your arm felt like it would fall off. And my people were hunters in the truest sense of the word. They would kill rabbits, goats, pigs, and even little birds (yes, the kind flying outside your window right now), skin them, clean them, cook them, and eat them. I was always terrified one of my friends would open my fridge to find a dove with his little talons pointing to the heavens. You never knew what you’d find behind those closed doors. By October, grapes would be covering our driveway as my father prepared to make wine in the garage. Again, we would be cranking grapes by hand until our arms actually did fall off.
Through the years, we’ve become a little more Americanized. We’re doing less stuff completely by hand. We’ve mostly given up on the conserva, and my father makes fewer bottles of wine than he did before. Still, we give more importance to stuff we make with our own hands. It’s in our DNA. I’ve taken it upon myself to make my relatives bread, pasta and gnocchi, and ice cream from scratch. But now this Italian girl is even making Greek yogurt from scratch. It’s nuts. I think I might have lost my mind. My native Italian husband has brainwashed me. I am starting to think that we have to make everything ourselves or risk missing out on the freshest flavors and healthiest foods. If I wake up tomorrow and start writing about moving to a farm, have me committed.
Di Meglio uses the written word to help families create memories and stick together. You can follow her on Facebook at Francesca’s Newlyweds Nest and on Twitter @ItalianMamma10.