What Inspired Me to Create This Site
I’ve always known I love Italian food, but when I reflected on why I recalled some specific memories I have that involved Italian food. One of my earliest memories, when I was probably three or four years old, is watching my grandmother using her long thin rolling pin to roll out pasta and then watching her cut it into uniform strips to be hung up and dried. I was fascinated. I recall a few years later when visiting my grandmother, I took a knife out of a drawer to cut a garden-fresh, summer tomato. My aunt, admonished me in a loud stern voice, “put that away – that’s your grandmother’s spaghetti knife.” It was a long, very sharp knife, and only used for one purpose. There was a magic involved that I didn’t understand, but my grandmother knew it. That knife was like her magic wand. Cutting the pasta was like casting a spell.
I grew up in a large, extended Italian family (eight aunts and 4 uncles, with a multitude of 1st and 2nd cousins). There were many memorable events along the way that involved my extended family. It didn’t matter what the occasion, some were very happy celebratory occasions – holidays, graduations, birthdays, or a simple Sunday dinner. Some were sad times, dealing with different life difficulties. Italian food was a key part of all those memorable occasions. While I thought I loved Italian food, I realized it is the positive memories from all those occasions that I have come to associate with Italian food.
When my son Dave, was barely out of the toddler stage, we spent an afternoon making potato gnocchi “together.” By the time we were done, he was covered in flour. He eagerly mashed the dough with his hands, and mushed the gnocchi he was “rolling.” It was the start of passing on a homemade pasta tradition that wove its way back to my father and my maternal grandmother.
A bit later, when my daughter Laura came along, it was time to pass on the family meatball recipe. As is typical of Italian families, all my aunts learned to cook from my grandmother, and they were all excellent cooks by the way. Yet each of their sauce and meatballs tasted distinctly different. This was a result of two key elements in preparing Italian food. In Italian food recipes, you will see “qb” short for quanto basa, which translates “to taste,” or sufficient, or what you like, for things like salt, olive oil, herbs, etc. A second element, is “until it feels right,” which is the response you would get from an old-school Italian cook when you ask them how much to add, to get the right consistency.
Back to meatballs. My mother’s meatballs were quite simple, with one “secret” ingredient. But the key was the proper consistency from the amount of meat, eggs, and breadcrumbs. This is where the “feel right” element comes in. I spent many Sundays with them feeling the raw meatballs to learn what “until it feels right” feels like. Today, they have their own versions of the meatballs that are their interpretation my version of my mother’s. We still have a good time and lots of laughs talking about a meatball sub-only shop with the “world’s best meatballs.”
Trips to Italy
During one period of my life, I had 2 -3 week stays in Milano for some work I was doing as an adjunct Professor at Bocconi University, thanks to a friend and colleague of mine, Alberto. I was fortunate to develop friendships with some of my Italian colleagues which led to some meals together.
On one trip, my family was with me. We were invited to Guido and Gabriella’s for a home-cooked meal. There was a first plate of pasta, with a sauce that Gabriella prepared from fresh tomatoes in an incredibly short amount of time. It was followed by a second plate and finished off with Tiramisu and coffee. Over twenty years later, Dave and Laura still talk about “Gabriella’s sauce” as the best they have ever tasted. And I have yet to have Tiramisu that is better. The meal was great, but the company better – an enduring memory for me.
On another occasion, when I was there alone, I was invited home for what turned out to be a fabulous meal with a Bocconi colleague, Nando, and his wife. The food was fantastic, but my favorite memory of the evening was a discussion/debate between the two of them about which olive oil was best with sun-dried tomatoes. It sounded like two world-class wine tasters rating vintage wines.
Another colleague, Christina Isolobella, was kind enough to show me around and introduce me to her favorite Milano restaurants. One, whose name I have forgotten, served a really special pasta e cozze (mussels). Their grilled swordfish with rosemary and dashes of olive oil and lemon was spectacular. As was the conversation.
My multiple trips to Milan were a cultural and professional highlight. The warmth of those Italian colleagues is most memorable. And yes, the Italian food was a cornerstone that many of my fondest memories are built upon. Even simple things like grilled panini verdure, porta via pasta dishes, and gelato from small side-street shops are etched in my memories.
So what is my inspiration for this site? Ultimately, I want to learn as much as I can about the “magic” that my grandmother knew. This means learning and perfecting as many recipes and techniques as possible, and sharing them with you.