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Una Mamma Italiana
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by Tiffany Longo
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I like the idea of combining different ingredients together to create something new, but I always seem to get drawn back to just the regular stuff, you know, comfort food. I remember Sunday mornings when I was growing up – my mother would wake up at what seemed to be the crack of dawn to start cooking the gravy. She'd always start with a leg of lamb. She'd cut pockets into the meat and stuff them with a garlic, lard and parsley paste. Next, she'd put the meat in the oven on a slow roast while she started the huge pot of gravy. A few hours later, the leg of lamb came out of the oven and was immersed in the already bubbling pot of gravy – lard drippings and all. By 2:00 the pot of water was boiling just waiting for the spaghetti.
I knew once that box of pasta was on the counter, dinner wasn't far behind. She'd break that pasta in half and cook it until just right and soon after we were sitting down to Sunday dinner with Sunday pasta. So that's how I always cooked my long spaghetti, breaking it in half so it all fit in the pot just right. Which brings me back to all these cooking shows I've been watching. According to these chefs no "self-respecting Italian would ever break their spaghetti in half." I have to admit that hearing this comment from all these different Italian cooks made me more than a little mad and confused me too, because no one was a better cook than my mom and if that's how she did it, then there was no other way to cook spaghetti.
Fast forward many years and I'm in my dad's hometown of Alessandria del Carretto, in the region of Calabria, and I'm about to cook my first spaghetti dinner for my dad's cousins. As soon as it's time to put that spaghetti in the pot I'm faced with the dilemma – to break or not to break. I decide to just do it my mom's way and hope no one notices that the spaghetti isn't as long as it started out to be. No sooner do I plate up the food for my guests, cousin Rosa comments " – oh my God, you break your pasta in half just like a real Alessandrini would." I'm thrilled, I'm delighted and I'm as proud as I can be because in my mind, there is no greater compliment, but once again I am confused.
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