Let me begin by saying that this post does not contain a recipe. So, for those of you who were expecting a recipe in your inbox, please stay tuned until next week!
For those of you who have been following me along on this food journey, more specifically my mission to document and preserve my mother’s traditional Sicilian family recipes, I wanted to share with you that my muse, the inspiration behind this blog, my beloved mother left this world on August 27th, 2023.
Without my mother there would be no Mangia Bedda, and I felt it crucial to pay tribute to her here.
I had the good fortune to be raised in a home where we enjoyed made from scratch, healthy and varied meals seven days a week. Of course, I didn’t always appreciate greens from the garden, legumes and sipping whey from homemade ricotta. However, I am grateful to have been exposed to them at an early age, and these are now staples in my diet.
From a young age, I observed my mother in the kitchen. I watched her roll meatballs on Sunday morning for the sauce. The aroma of simmering sauce still brings me back! She always made sure to fry a few tiny meatballs for us to snack on while we waited for lunch to be ready. Homemade pasta was usually on the menu and if I was lucky it was gnocchi, my absolute favorite food to this day. I participated by cutting the ropes of dough and rolling each individual gnocchi on the side of a box grater.
We enjoyed homemade pizza and bread on a regular basis. This was always a huge production resulting in a table full of goodies to enjoy at the end of the day! I imagine her wearing a handkerchief on her head while kneading an enormous dough with punching movements.
This feast always began with fresh hot bread drizzled with olive oil and oregano and then an array of stuffed breads and pizzas including olive and cheese buns ; paprika and herb bread; or chicory, egg and cheese filled pizza. A few loaves were turned into hard bread (friselle) for topping with fresh tomatoes, olive oil and oregano.
And what can I say about her ragu filled arancini, except that they were the best I’ve ever had. I would make an entire meal out of her arancini!
I purchased my first cookbook before the age of ten, the Peanuts Lunch Bag Cookbook which inspired me to bake my first loaf of bread. My mother always obliged my sisters and I in the kitchen, never shooing us away or worrying that we would make a mess in her kitchen. And so we explored various types of cuisines and she willingly sampled everything we prepared with an open mind.
The lessons she taught me in the kitchen are invaluable and can be applied to so many life situations.
She taught me patience. When I made our traditional Christmas Eve sfinci with her, after waiting for 2 hours for the dough to rise I impatiently decided that we had waited long enough and it was ready to be fried. No, she said. And alas after a total of 4 hours, she lifted the blankets she used to keep the dough warm and it bubbled right before my eyes! Be patient and don’t rush things, good things come to those who wait.
She taught me not to sweat the small stuff. Sometime in her last few months with us, we decided to make a batch of her white wine taralli. I had prepared the dough on this particular day and added a tad too much flour therefore making the dough difficult to roll. Frustrated, I was prepared to toss out this hard to handle dough and start over again. But she laughed it off telling me there is no need to become frustrated over small insignificant things. And the next day she handed me a bag full of the taralli she concocted out of that dough!
She was meticulous and never took shortcuts whether it was with her cooking or any other task she undertook in life.
Her approach to feeding our family was always “why buy it when I can make it at home” instead of “why make it when I can buy it”! And this rings true for me today.
As a result of my parent’s influence I still maintain a small vegetable garden in my backyard each summer. Although I don’t preserve vegetables nearly as much as she did, I do make my basil pesto each year; shell and freeze beans for our pasta e fagioli and I will now preserve my own hot peppers to serve on our pasta dishes!
Most importantly, my mother was supportive and did not question me when I gave up my previous career in social work to pursue my passion for cooking and create this blog. Each time I dragged my camera, lights, and notebook over to her home to document a recipe, she patiently waited for me to measure each ingredient and take my step-by-step photos of the dishes we prepared.
She offered advice and tips for me to pass on to my readers when preparing a recipe. On a regular basis, she asked whether I had shared a particular recipe. Until her final days she shared recipe ideas with me, some which I had never even heard of before. Don’t worry, I carefully noted each of them!
And so, dear readers, I look forward to sharing this collection of recipes she recited to me as well as continue to decipher her tiny, handwritten black book of recipes.
I hope I have made her proud in my attempt to preserve her legacy that will live on through Mangia Bedda and most importantly, through her grandchildren.
Ti voglio bene mamma.