click here for article
on Sicilian Cooking
by Marisa Viola
Comfort food stands for those favorite
dishes from childhood that were made with love and meant to elicit delight.
The comfort was not only in the eating of those meals, but in the preparation
of them. My mother was always very health conscious, and she would find
ways of nourishing my brother and I with loads of vegetables while all
the while we thought she was just making our favorite foods. She would
fill us with anticipation for her delicious all-daycooking minestrone
with freshly grated parmesan and hot wedges of fresh baked Anadama bread,
and we would fall into a wonderful calm as we obliviously ate every
vegetable she was able to get into the pot. It was a trick that we never
caught on to. Then one summer she changed her tactics.
I can distinctly remember the day
that I realized the refrigerator had turned green. I stood peering in
and found not one morsel that hadn't sprouted from the earth. She had
discovered the health food movement in the late seventies, and there
were no longer any efforts to disguise or conceal what she knew would
be resisted. There were simply no options. You dont want steamed
Brussels sprouts and brown rice, how about some steamed broccoli with
tofu? We put up a good fight, but eventually learned that we had only
to hope for the nights when she would indulge us with melted cheese
on top of our steamed vegetables. Or the nights when it was dads
turn to cook.
Fathers are masters of comfort food.
They are the meat preparers, the cheese enthusiasts, the indulgers in
dessert. They are the ones who favor yummy decadence over every day
nutrition. I lucked out and got a lasagna enthusiast. My father, of
Italian heritage, loves to see happy faces when people eat his food,
and who could be happier than a seven year old being given a chance
to eat lasagna instead of a bowl of sprouts? The announcement would
usually come in the morning on a Saturday. Well have lasagna for
dinner tonight. It made the whole day seem exciting. He would begin
at around four oclock, and Id be sitting on the counter
next to him while he began the ceremony. That counter time was the best
part. It was even better than the meal.
In those days, my father always
began cooking with a speech that was a sort of homage to the ingredients
and his Sicilian heritage. "Do whatever you have to do to get fresh
mozzarella," he would begin. "The packaged stuff isn't even
mozzarella. I dont know what it is. The ricotta, too. Dont
ever use anything other than fresh." There would be a digression
concerning why cream cheese became the spreadable cheese of choice instead
of ricotta. Then there would be the debate about where to get these
miraculous items in Los Angeles. This was a city wide problem, known
to all Italians. My dad had found the few good spots for authentic Italian
ingredients, and he never spared himself those trips, though they were
nowhere near our home. He knew what was important.
He told me to try to use half ground
pork and half ground beef, but most important was not to leave out the
fennel seeds. I loved watching him shape the meatballs with an easy
touch as he explained these important rules. While the sauce simmered
we would sit together in the kitchen and play cards. I would watch him
play solitaire and encourage him to cheat. He would grin and say he
would never do that.
Once the pasta was boiled, he would
drape the long sheets over the side of the empty pasta pot, and the
layering process would begin. Sauce, pasta, ricotta, mozzarella, meat,
sauce, etc. Heaven. Once the lasagna was covered with foil and in the
oven, the dipping would begin. Spare pieces of lasagna and crusty Italian
bread would be dipped into the sauce to get our appetites going. I hovered
around the kitchen for the half hour of oven time in order to stake
my claim to the choose which piece I wanted first. The torture time
was when it was out of the oven and setting for five minutes. That was
a concept I didn't understand.We would plow into the lasagna and eat
massive quantities of the delicious treat, but there was always enough
left for lunch the next day. That was my fathers favorite - always
declaring that it was even better the second day.
I have to credit my mother. I have
grown into an adult who eats an enormous amount of vegetables. Im
grateful that she instilled a love of fresh and healthy food in me.
But every now and then, only my dad's lasagna will do.
Al has contributed many recipes.
They are listed on the sicilian recipes page. Click
Note: Al Viola
loves his lasagna, which is made in his Sicilian family. Though made
all over Italy, the hallmark of a southern, especially Sicilian lasagna
is the use of ricotta cheese. He is an expert on authentic Sicilian
cooking and has contributed many family recipes. Here are his recipes,
all handed down in his Sicilian family. His daughter, Marisa Viola is
a loving daughter to both her parents. We thank Marisa for this love
song to her father. click to meet Marisa
You may also like to read about Marisa's mother in her less health-food
oriented moments -click to read about Diana
Serbe. And, since In Mamas Kitchen is a family affair, read about
Helen Viola, Marisa's grandmother .