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Feast Your Eyes!
It was at my Italian grandmother's apron strings, in the "Patterson, New Jersey region" of Italy, that I learned the secrets of creating real home style Italian dishes, and where my passion for food and my culture were nurtured. Always kept neat as a pin, grandma's kitchen was the centerpiece of our social settings and the focal point of our lives together as a family. Yes, it was the heart of her home. There, friends and family exchanged news, grandchildren stood on stools over the counter and grated chunks of Romano and Parmesan cheese to be served with dinner, and under the watchful eye of grandma the women (young and old) planned and prepared mouthwatering menus that reflected the marvelous flavors and textures of Italian cooking. On any given day tantalizing aromas would build and escape through her kitchen window, dance about the balcony and drift down onto the street; where men chatting on the corner of Putnum Street would stop in their tracks to inhale the mouth-watering fragrance. So many sumptuous meals were prepared in that modest, yet functional, kitchen. If I close my eyes and think of Grandma's cooking, I can vividly recall some of those fragrant food memories: tomato sauce with meatballs and sausages simmering on the stove top; onions, peppers and garlic roasting in a fragrant pool of olive oil, Neapolitan pizza with vine-ripened tomatoes (from grandpa's garden), fresh garlic, basil, Parmesan and anchovies bubbling in the oven; Italian bread smothered with creamy butter, minced garlic, and fresh parsley toasting under the broiler ... "Yummmmm - Heaven in your mouth!" Among the many recipes that I've collected over the years, are those that I hold especially near and dear. They are tattered, faded pieces of paper that provide a glimpse into my past -- Family recipes passed down from mother to daughter, granddaughter to great-granddaughter. Generations of my family's heritage are captured in grandma's recipes for flavorful soups (Minestrone, Pea, Ruccola); hearty meat, poultry and fish dishes (braciole, pot roast, chicken casseroles, seafood stews); fresh vegetable entrees and salads, and those baked goodies that bring a happy ending to every meal (Ricotta pies, Struffoli, Cenci, Pine Nut cookies). Whenever I am 'hungry' for "the good old days" or I want to soothe my soul after a tiring day, these are the comfort-recipes to which I turn. I once heard it said: "What distinguishes great cooks from good cooks is that great cooks love to cook. Every meal is an opportunity to express that love." A credo that I am certain grandma lived by -- I believe that she prepared her meals to fill her family and friends with love. I am proud of grandma's spirit of "abbondanza" (an abundant table). Indeed, no one ever left grandma's table hungry. I'd like to share with you some of the foods from my beloved grandmother's kitchen. Enjoy and make these Italian classic favorites in your own family's kitchen. Buon appetito!