I love food, especially Italian food. Rigatoni, ravioli, ziti, lasagna, vermicelli, I like it all. All though my absolute favorite is spaghetti and meatballs. Pasta is the national dish of Italy. Olive oil and tomato sauce is used widely in Italian cooking.
Papa walked out on Mama when I was seven after twelve years of marriage, leaving her alone to raise six children. I have two older brothers, Alberto and Gaetan, two younger sisters, Maria and Bianca and one younger brother, Samuele. After the divorce, we moved in Mama’s brother, our Uncle Dominic who just happened to own an Italian restaurant.
His restaurant was named Angelina’s, after Mama. She became the head cook. It was just as important to have good people as well as good food. It was in that kitchen where Mama made the best spaghetti and meatballs in the world.
Every morning before dawn, Mama would get up and start cooking. I remember always waking up to the smell of fresh baked bread. The bread at Angelina’s was always made from scratch and served hot and fresh.
The tomato sauce was also made fresh. Mama would pour the sauce in a big pot and add things like onions, garlic, oregano and basil. Then she would grate in Parmesan cheese. She would let it simmer all day. Lots of customers asked Mama for her sauce recipe, but she never gave away her secret. She just said it was an old family recipe.
She made her own meatballs every other night. Maria, Bianca and I helped her. It was like a small assembly line. Binx (Bianca) would roll the meat into balls, Maria would roll the balls in a mixture of flour and paprika and I would put them in a pan with butter and stick them in the oven.
Sometimes Mama would get an idea for something new. My siblings and I were her guinea pigs before she would think about adding it on the restaurant menu. One time she got the idea to make raspberry flavored brownies. She got some dark chocolate raspberry flavored Hershey kisses, melted them down and added them to the brownie mix. I took one bite and immediately thought they tasted like menthol eucalyptus cough drops. I started calling them fat free brownies. After eating one, you didn’t want anymore. Mama has never made them again.
Sometimes Mama would have to work late and wouldn’t get home until 11:00pm or midnight. Being the oldest girl, it became my job to make supper for my siblings. I have to say I have had my share of cooking mishaps. One time, I put potatoes in the microwave without forking them. They exploded. Another time, I tried to make poached eggs. They exploded, too. I figured I couldn’t mess up spaghetti and meatballs. I got the meatballs out of the freezer and put them in a pan with tomato sauce. I turned the heat on the stove all the way up. I guess I thought the higher the heat; the faster the meatballs would cook. They ended up sticking to the pan and the sauce also burned. They tasted fine, but they looked absolutely disgusting.
At Christmastime, I decided to surprise Mama by making her favorite: custard pie. I followed all the instructions, but when I took the pie out of the oven, the crust was sitting on top if the filling. I still have no idea how it happened.
One year, I wanted to make Uncle Dom a banana cream pie for his birthday. The first time I made it, I made it a week in advance. On his birthday it probably looked and tasted like bathroom caulking. He ate the pie so he wouldn’t hurt my feelings. The second time everything turned out pretty good. Uncle Dom put three more tablespoons of cool whip on top of what I had already put on. Later on he got a stomachache, but this time it was not my fault.
Binx wanted to take Rice Krispie treats to school for her birthday. Mama said she didn’t have time to make them so it was up to me. I melted marshmallows down and added butter, sugar and rice krispies. They turned out tasting fine except for the fact they were as hard as rocks. I am surprised Binx’s class didn’t break their teeth.
Brownies and I never got along. The first time I made them, they were as hard as hockey pucks. I must have over cooked them. The second time I made them, they fell apart. It took me four times to finally get them right.
My best friend in school was from China and her mother always sent her Chinese food for lunch. I thought it looked really good. So I attempt to try and make my own. When I got pretty good at it, I invited Ping over for supper. Unfortunately, I had used baking soda instead of baking powder. It ruined the entire stir-fry. I did it twice more before I figured out what I had done.
I was in the drama club at school and at one of the meetings we had to sign up to bring in either cookies or brownies for a bake sale. I signed up for cookies. Mama said since I had signed up for it, I had to make the cookies myself. She suggested I make a double batch. I decided to make shortbread cookies. To make a double batch instead of just adding two of everything, I tried to add the measurements together. Math had never been my strong suit. I must have added wrong because the cookies came out being too thick and too salty. I put little white, green and red M&M’s in the middle and took them to school anyway.
When I was seventeen, I had my first real boyfriend. When the restaurant business was slow, Uncle Dom worked laying sod. Gabe helped him and at the end of the day, Uncle Dom would bring Gabe back to the restaurant to eat. Mama cooked for him a couple times, but didn’t really like him to well. Even after the sod job was done, Gabe still came to the restaurant to eat. When Mama found out I liked him, she said if he still wanted to come and eat then I would have to cook for him. That was fine by me.
One time, I made tomato salad. I put three big spoonfuls on his plate and he ate it all. I figured he must have liked it so I made it every time he came. Only later on after we had broken up, I found out he really hated tomatoes, but didn’t have the heart to tell me. By the end of our relationship, he had actually come to like them.
Another time while I was still dating Gabe, I wanted to make him a birthday cake. I knew Gabe favorite dessert was chocolate cake. I tried to make a chocolate fudge layer cake. When it came out of the oven, it was lopsided and I thought it looked horrible. I put it on top of the refrigerator and told Uncle Dom, “Don’t you dare tell him about it.” He did. Gabe ended up eating it with a spoon.
Later on, I decide to become a vegetarian. Vegetarian diets can be quite satisfying and can improve health, mood and mental ability. I moved to Florida and started my own vegetarian restaurant. I still wanted to stay true to my Italian roots. I took all the Italian dishes I had learned to make as a child and turned them into a vegetarian dish. I named my restaurant Veggie Villa. I served vegetable lasagna, meatless ravioli, a variety of pasta salads and pasta with meatless sauce. Ravioli was one of my best sellers. As far as I was concerned you can make whatever kind of ravioli you want. I stuffed it with vegetables and served it with a side of hollandaise sauce. When I made fruit ravioli, I served it with fat free yogurt. My personal favorite was when I stuffed it with mashed potatoes and sautéed onions and served it with sour cream. Delicious.