A Love Letter to the Italian Family Supper Table

Bubbling aromas, family recipes, red wine, laughter and love filled the dining room (which was never quite big enough to hold all of us).

By: Felicia LaLomia, ISDA Contributor 

Nestled in the back corner of a wooded cul-de-sac is a brown- and white-sided house Grandma and Papa have called home for over 50 years. Inside is where my dad and his three brothers grew up. The rooms are like time capsules, stationed in a decades-old past. The walls are filled with their collection of art and knick-knacks from traveling.

But one room holds a special place in my heart — the dining room, the gathering place of food and family, celebration and memories. It isn’t a room my grandmother uses often, but it was one I was often privileged to use when my family and I came to town to visit. 

On cold winter days, Grandma would put a pot of sauce on the stove in the afternoon, filling the house with the savory scents of jammy, cooked down tomatoes. The irresistible aroma of baking garlic bread and meatballs drew the family from every corner of the house to the kitchen. Selections of meats and cheeses from near and far laid artfully on the table would satisfy us until dinner.

The memories of eating in this room all blend together. It was always the same. The normally bare table was always decorated with a tablecloth, table runner and doilies, changing seasonally. All the candles would be lit and the napkins were made of linen. The table was always just a little too small. Chairs transplanted from the surrounding kitchen and offices filled the tiny room up to the wall. We knew once we sat down no one would be getting up for a while. 

Then, the feast began. Pasta, sauce, meatballs, shells, bread, and, for me, a little juice glass of wine. The table was a mishmash of shouted words and passing plates.

“Pass to the left!” 

“Send down the bottle of wine.” 

“Is that enough?” 

“More sauce!” 

“Anyone for seconds?”

Once it quieted down, you knew everyone was full. Then came the sliced fennel and olives, always a separate course from the pasta, a digestif. 

Dessert consisted of cookies and pastries, sometimes a cake if we were celebrating a birthday. The oversized tray of after-dinner drinks followed — scotch, limoncello, frangelico, grappa with no label, Bailey’s that had seen better days.

“Papa, this expired in 2008.”

“Oh, it’s fine!” he would say, waving concerns away.

The chatter would pick up again, filling the otherwise tiny room, conversations happening in every corner. The dim lights and candles warm the white walls and cast a glow across the faces of those around the table.

When I think about that dining room, one word comes to mind — warmth. Complete and encompassing warmth. Walking out of that room felt like what I imagine Goldilocks felt like after her bowl of porridge — full, happy, ready for bed, and totally unaware of how lucky she was. 

My grandfather passed away earlier this year. We grieved together in the same way we had celebrated together, converging in the dining room, tetrising in one too many chairs, setting the table, lighting the candles, eating a hearty meal of pasta fagioli, and opening the wine. The memories flowed just about as much as the wine. There were a few more tears this time around, but just as much love and laughter. 

Next year, my grandma plans on selling the house and moving to a smaller place. When thinking about this home that has been a part of my childhood, the baseline of my memories, the last place my grandfather lived, it saddens me to know that it won’t be ours anymore, that the dining room will be filled by another family, making their own memories. That I will never get to be in those moments again.

But it wasn’t the table or linens that made the dining room special. It was the people and the food. And the wine certainly didn’t hurt.

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