Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cooking With Grandma Far-Away

For those of you who have read some of my previous posts, you know I’m an “I”talian girl married to an Irishman.  

While attending the Association of Personal Historians conference just last week, participants were called upon to share “food stories.”  Well, I was first up.  I recalled my husband and my first holiday together at my in-law’s home.  My mother-in-law asked everyone to bring a dish.  Well, big shot that I am, I showed up with a special recipe from the best cook I knew…Gaetana Parrini Tomasetti (my paternal grandmother).  I carefully and proudly prepared Grandma’s stuffed artichokes.  I presented my dish at my in-law’s house, and it was received with…blank stares.  The silence seemed eternal.  Finally, my youngest brother-in-law (one of seven), with shock in his voice, inquired:  “What’s that?” “What’s that??!  It’s stuffed artichokes!”  “What’s an artichoke?”  What’s an artichoke??  WHAT’S AN ARTICHOKE??!   It’s a staple in every Italian household.  I looked over at my perfectly stuffed artichokes.  Sitting on the table next to them was pot roast where lamb should be, mashed potatoes where lasagna would normally be, pearl onions where I would typically see stuffed mushrooms.  Something called mashed turnips.  What’s an artichoke?  WHAT’S A TURNIP?!  Well, no one ate my stuffed artichokes that day (except me).  But in all honesty, I didn’t eat ANY turnips.  Although I will confess, just last Thanksgiving (2012) I *tasted* them.  Keep in mind our first holiday together was 32 years ago, so it took me some time to get used to the idea of a turnip.  (I still haven’t tried the creamed pearl onions.)  That’s okay.  My in-laws still haven’t ever tasted a stuffed artichoke.  

Once I came to terms with the fact that all families have their own style of cooking, I recognized my mother-in-law was an exceptional cook.  Sadly my dear mother-in-law passed away in 2004.  We took all her recipes (in her handwriting) and compiled a cookbook, making copies for each family member:  “Cooking with Grandma Far-Away” (“Grandma Far-Away” lived about 50 miles from us.  My mom – just plain “Grandma” – lives about 3 miles from us.)  

Tonight we prepared one of my mother-in-law’s favorite recipes “Mom’s Best Macaroni Dish.”  Here’s a picture and the recipe. Notice the ladle.  THAT ladle belonged to my *maternal* grandmother.  When she passed away, I promised myself I would use that ladle whenever we served a pasta dish.  Did I just say “PASTA”?  I mean “MACARONI”!  I’ll post some stories about both my grandmothers and their recipes very soon.  After all, Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and it’s all about the food…chow.  Till next time…ciao!

1 box of elbow macaroni - cooked
1.5 lbs ground beef
2 large onions
1 stalk of celery
2 cans of whole tomatoes
5 green peppers, sliced
2 tbs Parmesan cheese
½ tsp oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Brown ground beef.  Drain off grease.  Remove to bowl.  In pot where ground beef was browned, sauté onions and celery till tender.  Return ground beef to pot.  Mix in rest of ingredients, except peppers and macaroni.  Cook 30 minutes.  Add peppers.  Cook another 30 minutes.  Mix in macaroni.  Put mixture into an oven-proof casserole dish.  Sprinkle some breadcrumbs and extra Parmesan cheese on top.  Bake 350 degrees F until bubbly.  Enjoy!

Americans, more than any other culture on earth, are cookbook cooks; we  learn to make our meals not from oral tradition, but from a text.  The just-wed cook brings to the new household no carefully-copied collection of the family's cherished recipes, but a spanking new edition of the Fannie Farmer, or The Joy of Cooking" --John Thorne, American food writer
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  1. I can't leave everyone hanging without the stuffed artichoke recipe. So here it is:


    Makes four

    4 medium-large size artichokes
    ½-¾ c. seasoned bread crumbs
    4 tbsp. good, sharp Parmesan cheese
    2 heaping tsp. fresh oregano, finely chopped
    2 cloves garlic, chopped
    Olive oil

    1. Trim artichokes by cutting straight across the top of the artichokes (about an inch down) and cutting off the stems on the bottom.
    2. Using scissors, trim the pointy tips off each petal.
    3. Combine seasoned bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, oregano, and garlic in a bowl. Moisten the breading with olive oil (this is key to keeping the breading moist).
    4. For each artichoke, loosen the petals by spreading them apart from the center, so it looks a flower. Fill in each petal with a little of the bread crumb mixture, pushing down into each petal. Don’t pack it too tightly. (Lighter is better.)
    5. Place the artichokes (stems down) sides touching each other, in a pot that fits them snugly so they don’t tip over.
    6. Fill the pot with an inch or two of water (up to the top of the lowest bottom leaf). Pour some olive oil into the water NOT ON the choke. Squeeze some lemon juice into the water also (this keeps the chokes from browning). Put a slice of lemon on top of each artichoke. Cover with a lid, tilted so steam can be released. Steam the artichokes over medium heat for 1 hour until the petals can be pulled from the center of the choke without too much effort. Keep an eye out to make sure water remains in the pot. If it dries up, add more water.

    Enjoy the stuffed artichoke pulling out a petal at a time. Holding from the cut end, scrape the breading (with your teeth) along with the tender part of the petal. Discard the rest of petal of course, but keep the heart (the best part, in my opinion). If you’d like to eat the heart of the choke, after devouring the stuffed artichoke, clean out and discard the needles from the heart, sprinkle a little salt on the heart. Yum!

  2. Great post. My mother-in-law is also an excellent cook that prepares all her own recipes. No cookbooks in her kitchen. I have learned to hover over her and take notes when she is preparing family favorites because nothing is written down! :-)
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  3. Hi Theresa. My grandma was like that, too. We had to sit with her to get her recipes, and this is what I got: "Just a little bit of this. Then put in a little bit of that. Not too much." LOL! Thanks for your comment. :)