I don’t quite remember when my relationship with tomatoes began, but my earliest memories were around 4 or 5, watching my Italian aunt cook bucket-loads of sauce. My aunt was the dearest soul on the planet–clearly a favorite aunt. She was silly (every kid loved her), incredibly fun, generous, lively, and a great cook. She never really seemed like an adult to me. Perhaps it was the fact that she stood only 4′ 11″ tall. However, as short as she was, she was near as wide. If oompa loompa’s had been written about back then, I am sure that I would have assumed her to share their DNA. What I didn’t know until I was in my late 40’s, is that my aunt had horrible food allergies. In addition to obesity and food allergies, she also had a lot of rashes, which were also as a result of her food allergies. Sadly, she never did deal with any of these issues. It then was no surprise that she ended up with diabetes and lived in a continual down-hill health spiral until her death.
I frequently spent the night at her and my uncle’s house. You name it, she had it, not only was her pantry filled to overflowing, they had a lot of money, no children (I was like her kid), and she didn’t seem to know the word, “No.” Oh yea, it was my favorite place to be!
The truth is, I learned how to cook Italian gravy (pasta sauce) and Italian desserts from my aunt. While my father was an even better cook than her, she had that motherly patience to walk me through the process in the kitchen. Year after year, month after month I would hang out with my aunt and learn traditional Italian cooking–Chicago style.
Unlike my parents, my aunt was a queen at making famous Italian desserts like: Tiramisu, cannoli’s and pizzelle’s, and she made them frequently. Tiramisu, also known as “Tuscan Trifle,” the dessert was initially created in Siena, in the northwestern Italian province of Tuscany. The occasion was a visit by Grand Duke Cosimo de’Medici III, in whose honor the concoction was dubbed zuppa del duca (the “duke’s soup”). The former duke brought the dessert back with him to Florence. In the 19th Century, zuppa del duca became popular among the English intellectuals and artists who lived there Consequently, it is also known as zuppa Inglese. They took the dessert to England, where its popularity grew. Zuppa del duca eventually made its way to Treviso, just northwest of Venice, in the northeastern province of Veneto. Treviso is best know for its canals, frescoes and Tiramisu. Of course, it gradually made its way to the United States via Italian immigrants. Traditionally, Tiramisu is a pudding-like dessert, usually consisting of sponge cake (ladyfingers) dipped in a liqueur, then layered with grated chocolate and decadently rich custard. Originally, the custard was somewhat loose, but it has changed over the years. In fact, there are numerable variations on a theme.
I honestly did not have a favorite of these desserts, but the pizzele is probably the least rich and least fattening, since it doesn’t have any custard or creme filling.
Cannoli are actually a traditional Sicilian dessert, originating in Palermo. My family is not Sicilian, but hails from Campobasso, which is located in the Molise region of the Italy. At one time Compobasso was a part of two mountainous regions (Abruzzi and Molise) that were joined as an administrative district under the name Abruzzi e Molise but now separated, extend from high in the Apennines to the Adriatic coast. However, cannoli’s have become a very popular Italian dessert. These little deep-fried shells, filled with a mixture of eggs, sugar, ricotta cheese and chocolate were a temptation to all who tasted them.
Pizzele’s (Italian wafers) were a common mainstay in my aunts cookie jar. The name comes from the Italian word, “Pizze,” which means round and flat. In some parts of Italy, especially among the upper class, the irons would be made with the family crest on them, and would be passed down to each generation. While I don’t have an iron with our family crest on it, I did get my grandmother’s iron, and made these on special occasions and holiday’s for my own children, family and friends.
- Try an elimination diet for 3 weeks. Cut out the most common food allergens, including gluten, dairy, eggs, corn, yeast, and peanuts. Some people are sensitive to soy, so you can also cut that out.
- Eat a whole-foods, plant-based, high-fiber diet. This is essential to feed the good bugs in your gut and to provide the nutrients you need to functional optimally.
- Take probiotics daily to boost the healthy bacteria in your gut. Look for those that contain 10 billion CFU of bifidobacteria species and lactobacillus species. Choose from reputable brands.