Growing up, family dinners were incredibly important to me. I fully comprehend the importance of it now that I am an adult. Before I continue, I want to mention that I grew up in an Italian family where both grandparents were born in Italy. My grandmother, who was from the northern region, came from an aristocratic family, while my grandfather, who hailed from the southern region near Potenza, was a peasant farmer. He was responsible for cooking for the family. Despite the fact that I am said to look like my grandmother, I never had the chance to meet her as she passed away before my birth.
Nevertheless, I grew up with my grandfather planning the entire day around our evening meal. I titled the post after the famous Sunday Dinner from England which includes roast, mashed potatoes, and vegetables. Not once did we have a roast in all the years we ate as a family. Perhaps having a ham on Easter and eventually a turkey on Thanksgiving. The meals we had consisted mainly of peasant dishes from the Campagna region.
Sunday was the day Pop took a break from cooking. Our Sunday schedule was: church, light brunch, and leftovers for later. To keep them from being found, we used to conceal our leftover stuffed artichokes. Later, when the card games started, we would bring them out of hiding and indulge in them.
A strong patriarch kept our family together. Saturday night dinners with my grandfather were a special tradition where he shared tales from back in the day.
Once we cleared the dishes, Pop started a few word games to get us going. My vocabulary improved. I even learned some inappropriate cuss words, if you catch my drift. However, they were words not appropriate to say during a meal.
We had chores to do, while my schoolteacher aunt collected bells ranging from silver to bronze to Waterford crystal. The rings signaled either dinner preparation duties or the 6pm mealtime bell. And it behooved us not to be late. The household had many people to feed, including six children, seven grandchildren, and the cousins. Sometimes, my father's cousin and her children, who we considered a part of our family, joined us for meals. They were always there afterward if not for dinner. It was necessary for everyone to help.
Pop, a peasant farmer, cooked peasant food, which, looking back, was much healthier than anything I’ve ever eaten. The dinners held more significance than just the food. I grew up in a dysfunctional immediate family where love, comfort, and discipline were absent, leaving only fear.
Food wasn't the most important thing for me, once again. The preparation work, which often resembled an assembly line to get the meal ready, was something I loved. We had an abundance of everything. More importantly, I felt connected to a greater purpose than just my own struggles of abuse. I was lifted out of the dark times by these experiences. I thank God every day for the blessing I had in my life.
Despite what some may think, we didn't have pasta on a daily basis. Making sauce was a special treat, which will I share with all of you. We'd often visit the farm and collect bushels of tomatoes. We resorted to using only san marzano canned tomatoes when we couldn't get our hands on fresh. Even now, I can differentiate between the metallic taste of canned tomatoes and the fresh, juicy flavors of ripe tomatoes.
The glue that held me together was the stability of the greater family and all the summers we spent together. Our conversations were animated yet seldom argumentative. Politics sparked some differences of opinion. Despite our differences, my family's love taught me to tolerate and accept each other. Those family gatherings were my source of hope. The time was sacred and the memories will last a lifetime.
For the Sauce:
When using fresh tomatoes, we had to cut slits in the skin, put them in boiling water and then grind them in a food mill. The skins and seeds that make the sauce bitter were removed by the mill.
If using the cans, we did not have to boil them but still processed them through the food mill to remove the skins and seeds. We always flavored the sauce with various cuts of meat. The dish we refer to as Bolognese was never a part of our cuisine. It's a sauce that originates from Northern Italy. Our sauce originates from the Campagna region. The five-hour variety.
The first thing we’d do is brown the meats: short ribs, country pork ribs, and occasionally a piece of boned lamb. Meatballs and Braciole were put in at a later time. Plus, never sausage. Pop always cooked it in a smaller pan with sauce since the seasoning for the sausage had a tendency to make the sauce too fennel-tasting or salty.
After pan searing the meat, he would sautee onions and garlic in the same pan with the drippings then throw in some tomato paste to scrape everything up from the pan. Put the scrapings and meat into the eight quart pot followed by the tomatoes, then cover with a lid and stir occasionally. Next comes the Braciole, which takes around 2 hours to cook, followed by the meatballs made with fresh breadcrumbs, added at the last minute. Additionally, we grated the cheese fresh.
When I was young, one of my jobs was either grinding tomatoes or grating Parmesan cheese that had been hanging in the stairwell to the cellar. The problem was that I would eat more cheese than I grated. I had a rebellious nature. My time in the cheese grating business was short-lived. Shucks.
I didn't last long at the job of plating olives either.
Pop would let the cooked sauce cool, remove the meat and plate it; once the grease floated to the top. Then, we would freeze any remaining sauce in labeled containers, often using old milk containers with wax interiors, which helped preserve the sauce. Finally, we'd store the dated containers in one of three freezers in the cellar.
And Voila. An insight into our family dynamic and the basics of the Corrado Family Sauce..