Monthly Archives: March 2012

La Famiglia: The food and feast continuum

I suppose there is no real definition of “normal” when it comes to family.  No two people do anything the same, so family dynamics are certainly no different.  However, if I were to bring the “Normal” label into my family adventures, I would dare say that I grew up far from normal.

First of all, both of my parents were highly educated, trained classical musician.  My father was drama-driven–by that I mean he had the combination plate of sensitive musician and being Italian.  Nothing was ever simple; nothing was ever laid back or calm, and most everything had the potential of being catastrophic, especially if the sauce cooked too long, or he had glitches while composing, working on music or working with other singers and musicians.  Of course, his drama was familiar to us kids, so we chuckled at it for the most part.

Being raised by classical musicians was certainly different.  Whenever my parents had string quartet rehearsals, opera rehearsals (which were often times weekly), or just the continual stream of piano and violin students that rolled into our home, it was not only loud, but a topic of conversation throughout the neighborhood.  There was a family of 12 that lived next door to us, and several of the 10 kids used to call my father “The crazy Russian.”  I am uncertain where the “Russian” thing came into play, but that was his nickname among the kids in the neighborhood. The best I can come up with is that my father always wore black turtlenecks (even in 100 degree weather), he had semi-long wavy black and graying hair, and sported a goatee.  Even though he taught high school orchestra for many years, he was not your typical business suit kinda guy.

With these kind of dynamics, being raised in an Italian household only added more color to the already fully-loaded palette, and as serious as my father was about his music, he was equally so regarding his food.

I suppose I should share that my mother was not Italian.  She was predominantly Welsh and French, but had to pretty much learn the “Italian way.”  I think that’s the case for most non-Italian’s marrying into an Italian family.  Sort of, “My way or the highway” theory.  She was an exceptional cook–a gourmet by every standard, in fact, some of her varied sauces for pasta were actually better than all of my Italian aunts put together.  She could cook rings around most.  Well, all except my father.  Truthfully, no one could top him.  I still don’t know if I’ve ever tasted anyone’s Italian food that comes close to my father’s creations.

Every single day was a new adventure in the kitchen with my dad.  The only time he didn’t have his hands in dough, grating cheese, stirring sauce,crushing piles of garlic (the house reeked), or squishing tomatoes with his bare hands, was because he was either at work, conducting, running rehearsing or out of town.

There is no way I can discuss my growing up years without mentioning Calzone’s. While my father’s are certainly off-the-charts, mine became legendary as well.

A calzone is basically a pizza folded in two. Like pizza, it has ancient origins and can be traced back to the beginnings of flat breads, which were already present in Ancient Egypt. In fact, flat bread covered with herbs were served at birthday celebrations for the Pharaoh.

While there are mentions of dishes similar to pizza through the history of the the Mediteranean cultures, the pizza that we know today, and what is referred to as “real pizza”, was created in Naples.

At the beginning, pizza was made with a type of bread dough, flattened with your hands and covered with cheese or lard and cooked in a very hot wood-burning oven.

Only in the 18th century, and more precisely in 1730, did someone think to add tomato as a topping, giving life to the pizza marinara. This is how the pizza we know today came into being. It was then exported to America with Neapolitan emigrants and from there to the rest of the world.

Like pizza, there are a variety of calzones circling around the globe.  Our calzones are not just about the dough, but the sauce, the cheese, and often we deep-fried them as compared to some who merely bake them like pizza.  In a nut-shell… they’re seriously calorie-laden, and totally unhealthy.

Getting both pizza and calzones out of my diet has not been easy, and I cannot honestly say that I will never have another slice of pizza.  To exclude everything familiar from your life is not realistic, but I do believe in living a very balanced and controlled lifestyle.  That being said, “If” I choose to make pizza or calzones, which is rare, I use or make a gluten-free dough.  Instead of a meat and heavy cheese-filling, I use veggies and a small amount of organic goats cheese (if any).  Instead of deep-frying calzones, I bake them.  Using everything organic and fresh for the inside.  Believe it or not, making these kind of adjustments really do make a difference.

The truth is, you cannot live isolated from everything, but if you value your health and make a quality decision to eat healthy about 90% of the time, saving the small 10% for those moments you might want to have something like pizza or calzones, then you are still better off.

Because I have so many food allergies, wheat sensitivity, and gout, both calzones and pizza should be avoided.

Sometimes, it’s a bitch.  Food is alluring and just tastes so darn good, and especially good Italian food… You know?

Mamma Mia!