By: Tony Traficante, ISDA Contributing Editor
“The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you’re hungry again.” -George Miller
Sunday dinners were always special events for Italian-American families.
Pasta was usually the norm. For Mamma, the day began before breakfast “che aveva già cominciato a preparare la salsa,” banging her wooden spoon around the tomato sauce, and stretching the pasta dough in preparation for the “tagliatelle, orecchiette, cavatelli, or ravioli.”
The bread dough had already been prepared, sitting in a pot and protected by “un mappin,” a dish towel, and was ready to be punched and kneaded.
The dinner meat choices for the day: chicken, sausage, meatballs, “braciole,” pig’s feet, or neck bones – would go through a braising, or browning in olive oil before adding to the sauce. A favorite type of “braciole,” often on the menu, was a combination made with chicken giblets, gizzards and livers, wrapped around small twigs of rosemary, rolled together and tied with chicken – in our dialect – “stindini.”
For dinner, besides pasta and pieces of meat, a fresh garden salad, crusty Italian bread and homemade wine were on the table. And in those days, even the kids were permitted a sip or two of the grape! Dessert consisted of always-homemade cookies, apple or lemon meringue pie.
Having punched down the pasta and bread dough, again, and pre-cooking the meat, it was off to first Mass. Being a block away from the Church, our home was an open door for relatives and friends, making a quick stop, to exchange “i saluti” and other pleasantries. Frequently, grandparents and a couple other family members stayed over for dinner.
The kitchen was Mamma’s domain and stage. She moved around, as spry as a ballet dancer, pirouetting from pot to pot, to “frigo,” the oven, and around again. Throughout the day, the house was filled with delicious aromas of tomato, basil, oregano, rosemary, garlic, olive oil, baked bread and a sundry of other wonderful culinary scents.
To curb our hunger, Mamma poured some sauce in a dish, allowing us to “inzuppare il pane nel sugo” dip pieces of Italian bread in the delicious red sauce. The sauce remained on the burner, simmering for hours…and for us, it was called “ragù,” not gravy.
While the ladies kept busy in the kitchen, the men sat on the porch, smoking a “toscano,” and having an “apertivo,” to boost their appetite. The kids were out on the street riding “geegles,” i.e., crude homemade scooters fabricated with a two by four, an orange crate and the halves of a skate as wheels.
All in all, besides good food, Sunday dinners were a grand time for conversation and catching up on family stories and the week’s events. After dinner, the adults continued their conversation, “al fresco,” on the porch with an espresso or “un bicchiero di digestivo.”
It wasn’t long before someone began to sing timeless Italian songs – “La Montanara,” “Calabrisella Mia,” and “Quel Mazzolin di Fiori.”
As night began to fall, it was time to call it a day – “siamo arrivati alla frutta,” we’re at the fruit. The day is done, but what another unforgettable Italian Sunday family dinner it has been!