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Growing up Italian: The taste of Memories

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My Paternal Grandfather (Nonno) Alfredo was an extremely talented man. A visionary, an entrepreneur, a leader. A little too far ahead for his own times, industrious, frugal and lover of all~things~perfect.

Born at the very beginning of the century, he died in his 80s having survived two wars, the hardship that went with those, and having seen the economic boom in Italy after WWII. It is, infact, during the ’60s that he started a company in which he was actively involved well after my father took over and Nonno was “technically” retired.

He loved the people, things, and ideas in his life deeply in a non~pompous kind of way. He had strong passions, and amazing hobbies like making Violins!

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Nonno was a skilled Violin Maker: Maestro Liutaio.
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Nonno with Uto Ughi, famous Italian violinist and Conductor. Uto was a fan of Nonno’s Violins.

 

He lived his life in a meaningful way, fostering life-long friendships, and valuing his family circle. He was a busy man, even after my grandmother died well into their 60 years of marriage.

Nonno ate healthy, made his own wine, raised his own chickens, and grew his own garden. He taught me how to pick wild herbs, like Pimpinella (Burnet) which is super delicious in salads. A few years back I planted Pimpinella in my garden here in Oregon,to add a splash of cucumber~like taste to my salad, and some pleasure from my childhood sense memories.

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Pimpinella. It grows everywhere!

We would pick Dandelion Greens and Wild Chicory (Cicoria selvatica or Dente di Leone or Tarassaco). He would make  infusions, I liked it wilted with bread. Now, I use Dandelion flowers to enhance the look of my salads…see!? Told you my Nonno was ahead of his time!

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Wild Chicory and Dandelions. More than just pretty wild flowers

From him I learned to accept some things as simply “facts of life”: Life, death, work.

Some other things, he said, we can control, and we can put our two cents in: what we eat, what we do, how we spend our time.

My Nonno rode his bicycle everywhere. He was a very tall distinguished gentleman, who wore a Fedora hat every day of the year. He wore different hats throughout the year: A lighter one for summer, or a woolen winter version. He always wore a long sleeve shirt and a jacket, with shiny leather shoes.

When he rode the bike in winter his attire would see the addition of a cashmere vest,under which he layered a few sheets of newspaper so he would “keep the cold out”. I love that.

He suffered from  kidney stones and he would spend a week every year at the “TERME di Fiuggi” near Rome, known in Italy for its history and various healing properties.

Nonno Alfredo seemed to be living unperturbed. He wasn’t as generous with compliments as he he was with criticisms. He didn’t dispense laughter, or physical affection. His presents were meant to impact one’s life in the long run like a savings account in which my sister and I could put our “birthday money” and save it for College, or ~his best gift ever~ his knowledge.

Being a little child and copiously learning life skills from him, in retrospect, was the greatest legacy a grandparent could have left behind, he left to me, a gift that keeps giving, and I hope never to end.  From Nonno Alfredo I inherited my love for Espresso, for anything homemade, for good wine, cats, tomatoes, pasta and a sweet tooth.

Spring time was special for me and Nonno. He would know when to plant the seeds, and transplant the tomatoes in the garden. He would know that the fragile new plants would fear the early summer chilly nights. So, Alfredo would ride his bicycle  back to the garden in the evening and cover each plant with a bucket, and ride back in the morning to uncover them.

With Nonno I had the best tomatoes of my life. Ripe and warm from the sun. Sweet like a carefree day.  There is not a summer that goes by that I don’t think of him, his long tapered fingers showing my the fruits, and …the buckets.

His “Cuore di Bue” or Oxheart type tomatoes were juicy, meaty, creamy and sweet.

They were the best just rubbed onto a day~old bread slice, with a drizzle of oil and a pinch of salt.

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Pane “Strusciato” with fresh tomatos, a drizzle of EVOO, balsamic reduction, sea salt and fresh Oregano from the garden.

Great memories, to me, taste like Tomatoes and grapes. A culinary syllogism if you wish.

For as much as Nonno loved tomatoes, he did enjoy a good glass of homemade wine at every meal. “Bevi vino campi cent’anni” he used to say:  “Drink wine and you’ll live to 100”

Spaghetti was his favorite, second only to my Grandmother’s homemade noodles. As a child I did enjoy the occasional sip of wine, here and there. I distinctly remember the sharp flavor of the UVA CORNICELLA ( the variety of grapes called Cornicella) or Table grapes, Uva da tavola that we had growing everywhere, seemed like, around the house.

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1967, My Godfather Gabriele is holding me in the backyard. You can see the vines to the left and just behind me. Uva Cornicella!

 

Uva Cornicella
Golden green in color, large, juicy, crunchy…super delicious eaten right off the wine in a hot summer day.

The vines are long gone, leaving more room for a car port with far less maintenance.

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Me, in 1989 walking under the pergola of grape leaves in the backyard.

The memories, though, are still alive. Leaving behind a sense of nostalgia for that girl who was happily raised on espresso and wine and who  now is  a middle aged woman with a superb appreciation for both.

So, even if my Nonno would not have waisted some good  housemade “vino da tavola” (table wine) on a pasta sauce, I do!

It tastes rich, delicious, unique. It tastes like the backyard of my childhood, my Nonno’s cellar at the end of summer, and my Grandma’s kitchen on a Sunday.

[gn_box title=”PASTA AL VINO ~ DRUNKEN PASTA” color=”#D03″]DSCF6612 This is how memories taste to me, these days.

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 1lb of Spaghetti like DeCecco
  • 4 to 5 Cups of good Red wine (or white)
  • 6 T EVOO
  • 3 cloves of galic, minced
  • 3/4 C diced Pancetta
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Red pepper flakes~optional
  • Finely chopped Parsley and Grated Pecorino Cheese to garnish.

DIRECTIONS

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the pasta for 3 to 4 minutes ONLY!

While pasta is cooking, add the wine to a second large pot, and bring it to a boil.

Drain the pasta well, adn add it to the pot with red wine and continue to cook and additional 6 to 7 minutes, or until the pasta il “al dente”.

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While the pasta is cooking in wine, in a frying pan, heat the oil and cook the pancetta to crisp. Add the garlic, stir well and remove from heat. It should be very fragrant.

Season with chili peppers if desired.

Drain the pasta once more of whatever wine is left (most will be absorbed by the pasta, though) add the pasta to the pancetta and oil. Toss well to coat for about 1 minute.

Garnish with Parsley and Cheese. Serve immediately.

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Until next time, Mangia! and Ciao!

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For more of my recipes do not forget to check my previous posts on EDN here:

http://eugenedailynews.com/author/purple13/

or go to my FB page

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Growing-up-Italian/1495225440728606?ref=hl

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