Being born and raised in Italy has been a huge part of my life. My upbringing is deeply rooted in the Italian culture and its traditions. Of course, a huge part of my diverse cultural upbringing is Italian food. In my family, and as in most Italian families, cooking isn’t just a way to enjoy good, wholesome food. It’s also a comforting part of life, a way to bring everyone close together. Growing up, I’ve seen my grandmother, mother, aunts and even my father cook traditional Italian recipes, at times spiced up with their own different flare, with so much gusto and pride. It made cooking—and of course, eating!—a much more interesting affair, one that left a mark in our souls, a sweet story to tell each time we all gathered together in the kitchen.
Now that I’m a wife and mother, I share the same interest and pride in the kitchen. It isn’t about ‘cooking a meal’. It’s about creating a memory, sharing a story, honoring my Italian ancestors and bringing their presence back in the kitchen—an in my life—by reproducing, and at times revamping, generation old recipes.
One of my favorite meals to prepare is Involtini, or Le Braciole, as we call them in the Southern Apulia region. This is a delicious meat dish well known and loved in Italy. The traditional time to cook Involtini is on Sundays. Of course, there’s a reason for that. In Italy, it’s very traditional to make Il Ragu’ or Salsa di Pomodoro—spaghetti sauce or Italian Gravy, every Sunday. It’s considered a Sunday staple dish and most people stick to making the sauce on this day. Involtini are then made when we have a fresh, homemade pot of spaghetti sauce.
I remember waking up in the morning and taking in the delicious smell of sauce cooking slowly on the burner. While it slowly simmered, Mamma chopped freshly picked parsley from our home garden. Fresh eggs, mortadella and Pecorino cheese waited on the counter. A white bundle of wrapped up papers gave away what was on today’s menu. Involtini. Papa’ had gone to the local butcher and purchased thin steak meat. My eyes lit up, my mouth watered, my nose inhaled deeply to savor the magnificent aroma filling up the kitchen. To see the recipe for Involtini, click here.
One of the recipes that my family has grown very attached to is Torta di Marmellata—homemade Jam Cake. My kids love to make (and eat) this easily baked cake. To add to its appeal is the way we can get creative with it. I’ve always loved to bake but often I do not have enough time to make complicated, multi-stepped desserts. Torta di Marmellata allows me to bake a quick and easy cake that is known to make mouths water. What makes this cake easy to make is that there’s no need to make a pie crust, in all its delicious but at times tedious glory, and only a few ingredients are needed—ingredients we always have in our fridge. I think this is one of my favorite Italian desserts to make because, although easy, I can get really creative with it. From choosing a different jam each time, to adding sprinkles, powdered sugar, slices of fruit, or even Nutella, the possibilities are endless. To see the recipe for Torta di Marmellata, click here.
My love for cooking has been passed down from my parents. The kitchen is by far my favorite room in the house and it encompasses a variety of comforts. I love sharing my family’s Italian dishes with my husband and kids, but most of all, I love the way cooking and baking brings us close together. I believe that it’s during these times that my kids learn to explore, try new things, and imagine what they can add to an already established recipe. But in our kitchen there’s so much more than just that. It’s a place where we grow, we trust one another, we find out who we really are. We’re a family who bonds and learns together as we allow our ancestors and our culture to create new moments and memories.
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