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March 18, 2011     Post-Gazette
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POST-GAZETTE, MARCH 18, 2011 Page13 Jr'anna 00Babb"00onno I was in grammar school and was home for a week with either the measles or chicken pox, I'm not sure. As I recuperated, I felt better and was out of bed most of the time. As there was a period of semi-quarantine back then, Mom didn't dare let me out of the house. As a result, I was in the kitchen most of the time watching Nanna get the dinner menu ready. There was only so much playing with toys and read- ing books that I could stand before becoming bored and watching Nanna afforded me whatever cooking skills I learned. My grandmother had learned how to cook back on the family farm in Avellino watching her mother make the daily meals, but being unable to read, she only knew portions by what we might call the trial and error method. After several forma- tive years of practice, Nanna became a good cook. As I watched her cook a genera- tion later, she could only give me proportions and amounts by saying, "A pinch of this, a spoon of that," and that was the way I learned. Of course, seeing I was the first born male in an Italian family, I was the second coming and whatever I wanted was granted. During my convalescence, I wanted to try my hand at cooking. With Nanna's guid- ance, I set out to explore my culinary skills. Today, we buy everything pre-made: pasta, gravy, sausages, meatballs, canned or frozen vegetables, pre-packaged lettuce or salad ingredients, salad dressing ... you name it, it comes wrapped, bottled, canned, packaged, frozen, dehydrated or pre-mixed from a supermarket. Nanna would have none of this. She made everything from scratch That first day that I felt well enough to stay with her in the kitchen was a Monday. Dinner was to be chicken soup with escarole and pastina, roasted chicken, string beans saut6ed in gar- lic and oil, salad and dessert. She began by showing me how to make the chicken broth by boiling a chicken. When the soup was ready, she would have kept parts of the bird in the pot, the neck, the feet, the heart, the giz- zard and other organs. The rest of the chicken was left out on the table to be picked at for lunch. For dinner, she cleaned the other chickens, stuffed them with home- by John Christoforo A Nostalgic Remembrance i made egg stuffing and baked them in the oven. These were not chickens pur- chased on a disposable tray and covered with plastic wrap. They were purchased live at a slaughterhouse and killed, cleaned and dressed just for her. The vegetables were fresh, having been pur- chased from a green grocer. As a result, I learned how to cook a Monday chicken. By Friday, I knew how to cook lamb chops, pork chops, stuffed veal, all with an array of vegetables and salad. Friday was fish day. If you were Catholic, you weren't allowed to eat meat on Fri- day. This meant that either Nanna or Mom would head to the fish store an d pick up the makings of a Friday night dinner. Faber's Fish Market was a fifteen minute walk down the Brooks Street Hill from Eutaw Street. On that Friday, I learned how to clean and prepare smelts for the first course. The second fish might be cod and Nanna made it two or three ways, plain baked for Babbononno, broiled with breadcrumbs and seasoning for the rest of the family and a few pieces to flavor the linguini which she would make aglio-olio (garlic and oil). On Saturday, it was steak, but Nanna taught me how to make steak pizziola, a dish I still love to this day. The highlight of the week was Sunday dinner. Back then, regardless of what was go- ing on it was family Sunday dinner with Nanna and Babbononno. That Sunday, I got up at about 5:00 am with Nanna. She was going to show me how to make gravy, the sauce that was a traditional necessity for the pasta and meat courses. She would start by searing spare ribs and pieces of pork in olive off and garlic. Then she would add tomatoes, and later, maybe, a can of tomato paste, but this was after she had added in a pinch of basil, a pinch of oregano, a pinch of mint, par cooked ground beef, and later her par co0ed meats which included meat- balls and sausages. Of course she had to taste everything every few min- utes to make sure they weren't any mistakes. When this large pan of gravy was ready to just simmer, it was time to make the pasta. Babbononno had a ma- chinist friend make a stain- less steel rolling pin with V shaped grooves sometime Owned and operated by Pamela Donnaruma, Publisher, Post-Gazette -- FOR YOU WHO APPRECIATE THE FINEST-- THE MUSIC FOR ALL OCCASIONS 781-648-5678 back before I was born and Nanna used it every time she made spaghetti. She didn't buy a box of spaghetti that is hard and dry and might have been in the card- board box for months. She made her pasta fresh ... from scratch. I watched her pour out a mound of King Arthur flour, make a hole in the middle, crack in several eggs, beat them, add semo- lina, salt and maybe a bit of yeast to taste, and roll the entire mix until she had the dough for the pasta. Then she let it stand on a-dish under a damp dish cloth, which she called a mappina, and when it had risen and was ready to be rolled out, she dusted her cutting board with flour, rolled a piece of dough until it was a flat circle and using Babbo- nonno's invention, cut it into strips of spaghetti. Later, she would choose which vegetables she would add in to her dinner, and saute them with oil and gar- lic. When all was said and done, the feast would be ready for the table, and of course, had to be accompa- nied by a couple of bottles of Zi'Antonio's best home- made red wine. Zio Antonio was Nanna's oldest brother and Babbononno's best friend. According to Babbo- nonno, he was the best wine maker in either East Boston or the North End. (I remem- ber his wine. It was THAT good -- and I'm not a wine lover.) That was the way I learned to cook as a kid, watching my grandmother prepare fresh food adding in a pinch of this, a pinch of that. Morn learned Nanna's secrets a generation before I was born, but even though she was a good cook, Nanna was a great cook. That was many years ago and now I'm the old timer in the family. Periodically, when I have time, I will cook, but I usually don't have the time. With our schedules, it's easier to get take-out or head to a local inexpensive restaurant and have them do the dirty work. In spite of the time restrictions and crazy schedules, I still like home cooked Italian food. My son, John seems to have picked up of the desire to cook and he seems to have inherited the talent to make gravy and prepare either fish or meat the way I like them. Nanna and Babbononno would be proud of him and his abilities in the kitchen, but they passed away long before he was born. My father would watch John when he was a kid trying to cook in our kitchen, and say, "That kid's going to be a chip off the old block." Dad knew how to cook, too, and saw John's potential. If Dad was here today, I would take his word for it. GOD BLESS AMERICA The $ocialb] Set (Continued from Page 9) Reminder: The Bosto Flower & Garden Show continues at the Seaport World Trade Center, Boston, through this coming Sunday, March 20. For more information, visit www. thebostonflowershow.com. (2010 File Photo by Michael R. Morrill) include: Suzanne de Passe, a veteran Hollywood pro- ducer and former president of Motown Productions; Judith Jamison, Alvin Alley's acclaimed artistic director; Jeffery Tobias Halter, highly experienced sales trainer, diversity champion, and noted author of "Selling to Men, Selling to Women'; Sally Helgesen, acclaimed expert on women's leader- ship, and author of pioneer- ing works on women's lead- ership styles; Betty Liu, an- chor of Bloomberg Tele- vision's "In the Loop with Betty Liu," a daily business morning new program; Eileen McDargh, interna- tionally renowned expert on leadership development, and successful author; and Juliette Powell, thought leader, author, and consult- ant specializing in using so- cial media to transform busi- nesses and personal brands. For registration or more information, call 617-521- 3858 or visit www.simmons. edu/leadership. Enjoy! (Be sure to visit Hilda Morrill's gardening Web site, www. bos tongardens, com. In addition to events covered and reported by the columnist, "The Socially Set" is compiled from various other sources such as news and press re- leases, PRNewswire services, etc.) * Judge Peter Agnes (Continued from Page I) and again, across genera- tions, law enforcement offic- ers and service men and women have traveled to the most dangerous corners of the world and defended our safety at home and abroad. These men and women deserve recognition for their dedication to duty. Just as they have stood tall for our country we must always stand by and support the men and women in uniform and their families! Awards will include the presentation of: Retiree Plaques, Medal of Honor Post- humously, Patrolman John B. Maguire, Woburn Police Department. The Law Enforcement Medal of Valor Awards: Detective Mario Oliveira, Somerville Police Depart- ment; Sgt. Joseph McCain; Gerald Reardon and Det. Ernie Nadil, Somerville PD. Special Agent: Brian Higgins, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms; Chief James E. Palmeri, Bernardston Police Department The John J. Megnia High Performance Award: Patrol- man Robbie Tusino, Milford Police Department. The Distinguished Hu- manitarian Service Award: Honorable Joseph R. Faretra, Clerk Magistrate East Boston District Court. Please call (781) 993-9250 to order tickets for this memorable event. Tickets are $40.00 per person. Log onto www.itapo.org or call 781-202-7132. NORTH END00 Quality Printing for all your Commercial and Personal Needs Stationery * Business Cards * Menus * Flyers Program Books * Wedding and Party Inmtatio Announcements * Business Forms and Documents COMPETITIVE PRICES 617-227-8929