Monday, April 6, 2015

Memories of family Easter feasts and recipes have me pulling out some favorite cookbooks

I am the product of what used to be called a “mixed marriage.” I tend to think of it as “mixed cuisines,” rather than mixed religions, nationalities or politics.

My mother’s people were Scotch-Irish and had lived in Alabama for many generations. My grandmother made buttermilk biscuits every single morning of her married life in a “bread bowl” which her husband’s grandfather had carved from a log for his wife. I have it now although I can’t make a decent biscuit to save my soul. I love looking at it, though, especially the very bottom where years and years of kneading fingers finally wore through the wood, requiring a makeshift patch. Easter at that grandmother’s house meant ham
decorated with pineapple slices and cloves, fried chicken, whipped sweet potatoes, collard greens and pecan pie.

My father’s side, the Sicilians, had much more elaborate fare. Meals tended to be much noisier and to last for hours with plenty of wine. Easter there meant multiple courses, including homemade pastas, fish brought up from the Gulf that morning and roasted spring lamb with rosemary.

I tend toward the Sicilian side when it comes to food but in moderation. We started our Easter dinner this year with caponatina and pastiere Siciliane (lamb in crust). After that, Pollo Arrosto all’Arancia, Limone, e Zenzero (Roast chicken with Orange, Lemon and Ginger), arancini stuffed with mozzarella and pancetta, a salad and – a bow to the Southern side - pecan pie.

The caponatina recipe was hand-written for me by my grandmother almost fifty years ago and begins, “Well, cover celery with water and boil till tender.” I’ve made the dish so many times that I don’t really need a recipe but I like to take it out and read it anyway because it brings back such vivid memories of her kitchen and its wonderful smells.

My recipe for the lamb in crust appetizers and the arancini are from Giuliano Buglialli’s FOODS OF SICILY & SARDINIA AND THE SMALLER ISLANDS. Now, ordinarily, I am suspicious of big, glamorous books that look as if they are intended for the coffee table rather than a kitchen counter. I make an exception for Buglialli’s series. The pictures are gorgeous and bring back more happy memories, this time of trips to Italy and Sicily. His FOODS OF ITALY has my favorite ossobuco verdure (ossobuco in vegetable sauce) and one of the best desserts ever: Pere Ripiene al cioccolato (wine-poached pears stuffed with cream and chocolate).

The chicken recipe comes from Joyce Goldstein’s CUCINA EBRAICA: FLAVORS OF THE ITALIAN JEWISH KITCHEN. Having explored the Jewish Quarter around Via Portico d’Ottavia in Rome with my friend, Penny Reynolds, and having stuffed myself with carciofi alla Giuda (crispy fried artichokes, Jewish style) everywhere we ate, I was delighted to find this book. It recommends my chicken dish as part of a Seder menu.

­One last note: fresh figs will be hitting the markets soon. Lorenza de’Medici’s FLORENTINES: A TUSCAN FEAST has a fabulous recipe for Spuma di Proscuitto e Fichi (Proscuitto Mousse in Fig Sauce) as well as reproductions of the 17th century miniature paintings of Giovanna Garzoni. You can thank me later.

1 comment:

  1. These recipe's look wonderful. Such a fabulous collection. Makes me want to hit the kitchen.