Growing up, I never had mac’n’cheese from a box, nor fried chicken, or meatloaf, or casseroles, or anything out of a can. At home, my mom cooked every night: Pasta fagioli, fritatta, meatballs, and fish on Fridays including calamari and bacalao (salted cod). We ate calves liver with sautéed onion and bacon, stuffed peppers, linguine with white clam sauce, mussels, and eggplant parmesan (my favorite).
As an Italian-American family, food was a huge part of our lives. I am the second of five children, and we shared our home with both of my grandmothers at different times, and with my aunt who moved in after losing her husband in WWII. Together, we’d begin discussing Saturday and Sunday dinners by Tuesday, and everyone was involved in making the food.
With the New York Times food section spread out on the table, my siblings and I would scan recipes for new ideas. On Saturday morning we would walk to the local market where the butcher knew us by name, choose our cuts of meat or fish, and watch as they wrapped them in paper and loaded them in a pickup truck with the rest of our groceries for delivery to our home.
Then we were free to walk on to the next destination, the Italian market, where sausages hung on strings, prosciutto was sliced from the leg, and cheese was displayed in large wheels or scooped fresh from vats of mozzarella. Today, you might call a market like this gourmet or artisanal, but that’s just the way everyone did things. Food was made by hand, by people who loved the food and loved each other.
Saturday and Sunday evening dinners were events, and all of my mother’s cousins were invited to join. We’d pour Italian wine and everyone was allowed a sip – even the kids – as long as it was around the table and in the spirit of pairing with food. And we always had a salad, with Romaine lettuce and tomato, maybe some gorgonzola or parmesan, dressed with red wine vinegar and olive oil (I never saw a bottle of French or Ranch dressing in our home).
Desserts were not “a given.” Sometimes we had dessert, sometimes we didn’t, but one of our favorite desserts was zabaglione (a very light custard) made with marsala wine or prosecco, which we whipped up over a propane burner, and served with sweet summer strawberries or white peaches.
As adults, with so much of our focus on health and losing weight, I think many of us lose out on the vital human experience of sharing food with those we love. It’s like we can’t enjoy our food if we want to fit into our jeans. As a chef and nutritionist, I’ve made it my mission to develop recipes that don’t sacrifice flavor, so everyone can enjoy them. This weekend, make Saturday or Sunday night an event that you, your kids, your friends, and your waistline will love by trying out my Eggplant Lasagna recipe on the Intelligent Gourmet blog.
Linda Baldwin, is a Credentialed Diet & Nutrition Expert and a Professional Catering Executive (CPCE) whose skills have been honed by 25 years in the catering, restaurant, and event production industry. She is know as local foodie, ultra healthy prepared foods specialist, educator – columnist and creator of Amore and Amore To-Go a lifestyle company, based in South Tampa since 2006. She leads a team of professionals that include chefs, and educators in the field of health and wellness.