My adorable parents taught me a lot about cooking. At first, just observing. It wasn’t until I started hosting the family holidays did I understand the great length they went to get me to think outside of the box. My father, born Quirino Genovesi, went by Queenie after he came to the United States. He was the critical one. No matter how hard I tried to prepare something to match his, I fell down. My mother Lucy, the saint, managed to endure this cooking war for 62 years. She was called hit and a miss! She still argues that she taught him how to cook and that he hijacked all of her mother’s recipes. I’m guessing that’s true!
We lost Daddy two years ago to a stroke during a huge snowstorm in October here in Connecticut. My brother and I have had some time now to think back to that day. He died during the storm of a lifetime in 2011, power outages, Connecticut paralyzed. He usurped the storm – Queenie got the last word! Over time, I have collected their wisdom. They now fall under Genovesi-ism’s.
Mommy is doing well for 89. We still have great talks about food. It pleased her knowing that I spent time in Naples to learn her heritage. The cooking is very different than it is outside of Rome where my father was from. More of these travel stories to come later. Now let’s get to the Genovesi-ism’s. I hope they will serve you as well as they have me!
1) “If you put it in there, you’ll find it” This always came after a statement like “Daddy, how come mine never tastes like yours?” Ponder that thought!
2) “Don’t be stingy with the salt for tomatoes and potatoes, they need it”
3) “Use enough oil, it’s not gonna make you fat” Refer to #1
4) “Don’t waste food – learn to cook with what’s on hand” This is the way they cooked way back when. They grew or raised everything they cooked like they did back in their country. My Grandpa Giacomo (John) raised pigeons – do I need to say anything more??
5) “Make more food than you need. Don’t embarrass yourself if you don’t have enough. You never know who will show up or how hungry people are” So you now know why Italians cook so much food, right?
6) “Clean up as you cook – it’s not good to have a mess in the way” A lesson to my daughter Kate: translated as A CLEAN WORKSPACE IS A HAPPY WORKPLACE. She still rolls her eyes, but I believe she buys in to it.
7) As I was sent out to the store to pick some things up, I’d hear… “Get the GOOD one” Yeah – okay – what exactly does that mean? They only used the best olive oil, cheese, bread – whatever it was. I believe it means refer to #1…See where this is going??
8) “Cook for people. It means you love them” Nothing else needs to be said…
9) “Use a big full pot of water when boiling macaroni, they need room to cook” That’s what they called all pasta shapes. “THEY” is what was referred to the macaroni, since it was plural…I’m laughing as I write this! Daddy used to use the same term when getting his hair cut… “I’m going to get them cut” Hahahahaha!
10) “Go pick the dandelion greens – and don’t pick where the dog’s have peed” Yes, you read that correctly! I was in charge of picking and you needed a carload of them because they cooked down, and you couldn’t take them if they have already flowered… Remember, they used whatever was on hand. When I was visiting my father’s family still in Italy, we were out in the olive groves one day and guess what? Yes, we picked them and ate them for dinner that night!!! You can buy them now at Whole Foods and I will include a recipe…
As time goes on or I talk to my cousins, I am sure I will have more to list – their parents came from the same place mine did!
Cooking was a way that our family bonded. The kitchen was a place of community where everyone participated, with a little yelling, of course, that’s how we participated. They were always critical, always with love – but I believe that is how I learned to be particular and do it properly. Refer to #8!