When I was growing up, my mother, of Italian descent, served up swoon-worthy meals for my sister, my brother, and me.
Her pasta sauce, referred to by many Italians as “Sunday gravy,” was a masterpiece in and of itself. Often made from tomatoes from my father’s garden, the sauce was redolent with basil, garlic, parmesan – and enough meat to satisfy a lumber camp.
Neckbones, pork, and/or beef. The best meatballs I’ve ever had to this day. Italian sausage. Oh, my goodness, they were sublime. The meat simmered in the sauce for hours, filling our home with its heady aroma, so that by the time we sat down for dinner, we were ravenous.
One of my favorite memories is of sitting at the kitchen table, watching Mom make her sauce. Without fail, I got the “cook’s treat,” either a meatball or a neckbone, of which I sucked at greedily, getting every last bit of the meat and marrow. She’d watch me, waiting for my approving “Mmmmmm,” which was my standard response. How could it be anything else? I was sampling ambrosia.
Without a doubt, spaghetti or linguine smothered in my mother’s sauce was one of my all-time favorite meals. As I write this, I can almost taste the sunshine in the fresh tomatoes and the umami in the parmesan. Sharp. Pungent. With a salty tang.
I would share the recipe here, but my mother told my sister that she didn’t want the recipe to be divulged to anyone but family members, and we respected that.
Liver. Yes, liver. My mother worked her magic on that, as well. She had a trick of soaking the organ meat in milk, to take that gamey, funky taste out, and it worked. Fried with onions, it was sublime.
Then there was her Chicken Vesuvio. Chicken sautéed with wine, olive oil and a boatload of garlic. As good as any of Chicago’s Italian restaurants.
We weren’t rich, by any means. But, between my mother’s cooking and my dad’s prowess with the grill, we ate like royalty. Steak. Chicken. Pork chops. And, that incredible pasta sauce. How blessed were we? Did we realize it then? When I watched my mother cook, I like to think I did.
Sunday mornings were my dad’s bailiwick: Lox, bagels, smoked sable, knishes, and other Jewish delights, and all from Kaufman’s Bakery & Delicatessen in Skokie, Illinois, which is still going strong. That was THE place and on weekends, Dad was drawn there like a moth to a flame. But, that’s a story for another time.
I no longer eat red meat. But, that doesn’t stop me from the frequent longings I feel for my mother’s food. My mother’s kitchen. If only I could “sample” her meatballs, just one more time.
My beautiful mother would have been 88 years old on December 26th of this year. I miss her every day.