Don’t you love it?
What do you love? Food-wise, I mean. I’m not talking about what you would eat three meals a day forever. That’s too tough a question. It’s more like what your very favorite is. I guess I’d have to say a deep red, mid-Italy-type spaghetti sauce. You know, just like Nonna used to make. She would simmer it all day and put some unusual things in it. A couple of pork chops, a turkey neck. Darn, I wish I’d paid more attention. I wish I had been more interested in cooking when I was a kid.
I’ve never had the red sauce as good as hers. Verdino’s came close but despite its popularity, the joint on the south side of Jamestown closed many years ago. Oh, I’ve been to some really good Italian joints, but still…. I wonder how much is the memory-enhancing factor… After so many years, have I convinced myself that it was better than it was? How much of it is connected to the sweet, sweet family atmosphere? All those aunts, uncles, and cousins in a house that seems so much smaller to me now than it did then….
Heck, EVERYTHING Nona cooked was great. Focaccia, gnocchi, freniachi, biscotti, homemade pasta, baked fish with tomatoes and potatoes…. Even her simple oil and vinegar salad dressing were perfect, even on dandelion greens we picked along the roadside. Maybe it was because the vinegar was an aged version of Nonnu’s dark, dry, red wine. Now, if I could pick that handful of things to eat every day forever… that would work.
I think it’s accurate to call this “peasant fare.” Nonna, Nonnu, and their families certainly qualified for that status. They were born around 1900 and emigrated here in their teens. I guess Nonna’s Mom taught her the techniques; she sure did master them.
But these days, “good food” takes on some different trappings. There are all diets…. I think you could find one to match anyone’s preferences. There are all the ads and posts for the best foods for this or that type of nutritional need. Lately, there are these posts with headlines like: “If you are going to eliminate just one food to eliminate joint pain….” Then you click, and scroll, and scroll, and click, through a series of ads…. I usually give up long before the final page and pitch. Pay too much attention to too many of these and you’ll run out of things to eat, completely.
Then there are the fad foods! Consider yogurt. Most markets have a whole wall full of options; regular, Greek, light, organic… and dozens of flavors of each. I do eat it once in a while, I guess it’s when I’ve forgotten that I really don’t like the stuff. Why do I feel that I should like it? Does anyone REALLY like it? Kale is another one. I like vegetables and salad greens. But this stuff…. I’ve tried it raw, cooked and even “kale chips.” They say it’s healthy. I don’t think I’ve heard them say it’s tasty. I SHOULD like it, but I don’t. I wonder how many people “like it” because they should. How about pesto? This is the basil-flavored paste used as a pasta dressing or a dip, sometimes, I guess. Basil, grated cheese, pine nuts or pistachios…. Oddly, I think all these ingredients are tasty, individually, but ground into a paste? Why? Again, I try it from time to time… for some reason….
There must be peer pressure involved. I mean, who wants to be the only one who doesn’t like and rave about these things? We talk (or shame) each other into them.
Here’s my latest million-dollar idea! Yogurt with kale and pesto! Just think, we could get all the tasteless fad stuff out of the way in a single little cup from time to time!
Just kidding, Nonna, I think I’ll be happier if I whip up a batch of my red sauce. It will never be as good as yours, though. I wonder where I can get a turkey neck.
Gary Lester is a lifetime area resident, a former photographer for the Times Observer, former market manager for WhirleyDrinkworks, retired Executive Director of Family Services of Warren County, and current Director of Leadership Warren County. He is a life-long student and commentator on human behavior.