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  • Meatballs for Breakfast
    Preserving Italian culture in our generation, one meal at a time
    Una Mamma Italiana

    by Tiffany Longo

    The day my four year old son asked for meatballs for breakfast, I happily thought to myself, 'this boy's definitely got Italian blood running through his veins!' At this moment I realized the importance of passing on to my children the love of everything Italian.

    When I was young my parents didn't have to work very hard to keep Italian traditions alive because it just came naturally - it was in their blood! As our grandparents and relatives pass, a little bit of the tradition sadly dies with them. Now the responsibility lies on our generation to keep it from being lost. No pressure, right?! But really, any true Italian-American knows that the culture is far too beautiful to ever be truly forgotten, no matter how many generations go by.

    Over the years, there have always been two things that Italians know best - family and food. So when it comes to my own family, food is usually the center of attention. My husband, Dominic, and I have three children, ages four, two, and one. And even at such young ages, food is already more than sustenance to them - it is a passion. Needless to say, every white t-shirt my children own has been ruined by marinara sauce. And I'm not sure if too many two year olds eat grated Romano cheese by the spoonful. So it looks like my children will undeniably follow the footsteps of their grandfather, who went to school with sopressata and leftover chicken parmigiana in his lunchbox. To them it might be embarrassing. To me it is fulfilling because I know that they too will grow up knowing that being Italian is special.

    Growing up, we were always told we should be proud to be Italian, but looking back, no one really had to tell us. The examples from our parents and grandparents filled us with Italian pride. Italian families possess what is sadly lacking in today's culture - true love. The love of an Italian nonna is like nothing else. I remember visiting my grandma in New York and boarding the plane home with a thermos full of tortellini. The memory of making homemade bread and gnocchi with my father and grandmother will never leave me. My brother still reminds me of the times we'd wait for Mom's first batch of meatballs. After all, our 'taste - testing' is the only reason I know how to make meatballs today!

    As we got older, family gatherings were even more unforgettable because we could stay up for the pasta at midnight. Usually the adults were always up late talking or playing cards. So at midnight, even if we just finished dessert, we would hand everyone an apron and make pasta! It became a tradition that all of us have continued with our own friends. But until my own children are old enough to stay up that late, we just try and make cooking (and eating) as much of a memory as possible. Even today when I make meatballs, they mysteriously disappear into three little mouths that wait by the stove just like I did. Let's just say I have learned through experience to double the recipe!

    It is now our generation's responsibility to keep these valuable recipes in the family. So do what we did, and make a family cookbook while you still have access to the wealth of information that your nonnas and bisnonnas can give you. My aunt took all the family recipes from her childhood, and some new ones from each person in the family. Then she compiled a book of recipes and family photos and had it bound under the name “Cucina Di Rosa,” after my grandma Rose. Today, a copy of the cookbook rests on the kitchen counter of every one in my family. It is our way of preserving those recipes that have meant so much in our lives. Every chance I get, I put on some Italian music and bring my kids in the kitchen to cook these meals and create the same tasty memories I had growing up.

    Looking back in our lives, a picture, a song, a scent, or a special meal can bring you right back to a memory in an instant. That is what we need to create for our children, so that when they grow up and their own children want meatballs for breakfast, they will never forget where it came from. After all, our Italian roots and relatives were the building blocks of who we are today, and it is thanks to them that we have the privilege of passing on this beautiful culture. So hand your kids, your brothers, sisters, cousins, or neighbors an apron and get in the kitchen. Because food brings everyone together, and will help create the Italian traditions in your own family for generations to come.


    Article Published 4/21/2009

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