Sunday Lunch: A True Italian’s Childhood Memories
A tavola! is the call that brings everybody to the table, a place where Italians like to linger. A tavola non s’invecchia, my father liked to say. Literally: “one doesn’t grow old at the table,” meaning that we should take our time to eat, enjoying the company and the conversation, which are also nourishing.
Growing up, the main meal of my day was lunch, il pranzo, prepared by my mother for our family of four. We followed the traditional structure: primo (pasta, rice, or soup), secondo (a meat, fish or egg dish), contorno (side dish), and frutta. The Sunday lunch – il pranzo della domenica – was richer than the weekday ones and included dessert (dolce).
On Sunday morning, my mother would make a pot of ragù di carne, tomato and meat sauce. She would use some of it to dress her handmade egg pasta (usually tagliatelle) for lunch and the rest during the week. The smell wafting from the kitchen changed as ingredients were added in sequence. First came the soffritto, the traditional mix of minced onion, carrot and celery (cipolla, carota e sedano) gently cooked in olive oil (also used as a base for other dishes).
Carrot and celery were elements of gli odori. When I went grocery shopping for my mother I always had this item on my list, and I would get it for free from our neighborhood fruit and vegetable store. The owner prepared it on the fly, choosing among what we had available: sprigs of parsley, a carrot, a celery rib and a rosemary twig were a constant presence.
To the fragrant soffritto, my mother added ground lean meat (half pork and half beef) and the smell took on a meaty character. She splashed the meat with some dry white wine and, when it had evaporated, she poured into the pot a bottle of her homemade strained tomatoes. As that boiled gently, the smell slowly took on the familiar character of the final sauce.
She cooked the ragù in a tegame di coccio, earthenware pot that allows slow, gentle cooking. She had pots in many sizes, from the small tegamino in which she cooked one or two eggs sunny side up to the larger ones which she used for the the ragù stewed artichokes and other dishes.
The roasted meat that always made up the Sunday main course was also cooked on the stove and ranged from arrosto (roast beef) to chicken or rabbit cut into pieces and cooked with rosemary and black olives. My mother didn’t like to turn on her oven so not much was cooked al forno (oven-roasted) in our house. She usually made mashed potatoes (purè di patate) as a side dish, using her food mill to process the boiled potatoes, then adding milk, butter, and Parmigiano-Reggiano to turn them into a flavorful cream.
Special occasions called for cappelletti in brodo as primo and when that happened, my mother prepared the broth the day before, using half beef and half chicken meat plus various vegetables. The boiled meat (bollito misto) was the main course that followed the rich soup and the boiled vegetables were served as part of the side dish.
My favorite spring dessert was fragole con la panna (fresh strawberries with whipped cream), a popular option even at restaurants. My brother and I were thrilled when my father brought home a tray of fresh pastries (paste) – but those deserve a whole new post, so stay tuned.
With a specialty in handmade pasta, Simona provides detailed, accessible tutorials teaching readers to cook like an Italian right from home on Live Like an Italian as well as on her own blog, briciole.