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About that pasta

Shep’s post about pasta brought forth memories of my pasta education a la mia mama Italiana, Tina Parisi. Growing up with a long haul truck driving father, a mother who owned a busy natural foods store – two wonderful, hardworking parents who owned a small horse and cattle ranch and finally, by being the youngest by 10 years, the majority of the family dinners I experienced were crafted by my loving Mama each evening around 7 PM. Mama was tall and slender, very health conscious, and like most women of her time, quite figure conscious. While she could create casseroles with the best of them, our usual fare was 4 oz of broiled lean protein, steamed vegetables and fresh fruit. Often, to my delight, we had just a nice bowl of canned fruit and cottage cheese-my favorite comfort food to this day. Mama did not teach me how to cook casseroles, pastas, nor the repugnant fried liver so loved by the rest of my family. She did, however, teach me to cook healthy, lean fare as well as “put by” or can fruits, veggies, relishes, pickles and jams like a whiz.

I will admit that other than baked pasta cannelloni , American style pizza and spumoni ice cream there was nothing about “Italian” food I cared for. Having the wonderful fortune of receiving orders to Naval Hospital Naples, Italy, the reason for my lack of gustatory appreciation became abundantly clear. There was truly nothing Italian about the “Italian” food I had eaten in affordably priced restaurants in the United States. I had never lived in nor visited cities such as New York, Boston, St. Louis, or any other place where you could get “real” Italian food. It simply just wasn’t to be had in the 60’s and 70’s in Yelm, Washington.

Tina Parisi was the tiny force that fed, loved, and ruled the family that adopted little 2 year old Lew and I into their hearts, teaching us an encyclopedia of culture, cooking and how to have fun like true Italiani. I will always bless the Parisis-Enzo, Tina, Salvio and (am embarrassed to say I have forgotten her name), their daughter. What I have not forgotten are the first two lessons Tina taught me. Number one is about gladiolas.

Walking from our little apartment in Arco Felice to the Parisi’s for our first Sunday family dinner, we stopped at a flower seller’s booth and spying my favorite cultivated summer flower, I purchased a large bouquet of gladiolas. I love how long they last but most of all, the wide variety of bold, beautiful colors they bear. As I thrust them into Tina’s arms, so proud that I could show our gratitude for our blossoming friendship Tina exhibited her typical grace and beautiful smile, thanking me. Enzo, only slightly less composed, smiled broadly but his bushy eyebrows were elevated in a position of curiosity. Then there was Salvio, who, at age 20, was overcome with hilarious laughter, gesturing, and trying to escape his older sister who was whacking about the head and shoulders with a magazine, hissing “Silenzio!”.

As this behavior was unusual, I asked the only English speaker, Salvio, if there was something wrong. The recomposed youth attempted to say “Oh no, Giovanna, nothing.” but it came out garbled in renewed guffawing and chortling. And thus I learned that, at least in 1984, gladiolas were strictly used for Italian funerals. I wish I could say that this was my only stumble or faux pas, but life wouldn’t be nearly so rich nor so interesting if there were no differences between cultures. The most wonderful thing about our four years living shoulder to shoulder with my beautiful Italian neighbors and famiglia is their hearts. They truly have generous and loving hearts, as well as a grand sense of humor.

Tina took it upon herself to teach me how to run a true family cucina Italiana and thus we leave my musings and return to the subject of pasta. One of the many things we Americans get wrong with pasta is how we cook it and how we incorporate the pasta with the sauce. I echo Shep’s thoughts and would add Tina’s educazione as well. What she taught me can be found in the post at the following link. Read and heed..your tongue will love you for it!

I suppose you might be wondering about some of the other lessons Tina taught me so I will leave you with number 2: When giving the the Italian greeting with a kiss on either side of the face, you don’t actually kiss the face…just the air. Poor Enzo – he was such a patient gentleman!

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