the Italian issue

W hen I was a child, I did not understand that Sicily was part of Italy. “My grandmother is from Sicily” was equivalent to “My grandmother is from Mobile.” I knew that it was far away, but that was all. In the 1950s and 60s there were still the lingering vestiges of close-knit Sicilian families who spoke the Sicilian dialect with each other. I didn’t learn it, but it still seems comforting for me to hear it. It reminds me of the warmth of family and belonging. Those times also gave me a set of comfort foods that are firmly fixed in my taste memories. I remember daily doses of garlic, fragrant Parmesan cheese in hunks, black olives and salami. These things were always at the ready when a snack was called for. But there were also slow-cooked meals and dishes that are etched in memory. And one of those present-at-every-big-event dishes is bruccialuna. I can remember standing on the stool that my Nana kept by the counter just for me to stand on as we cooked together. She would butterfly the veal and place it between two pieces of waxed paper. I would use an empty wine bottle to pound it out to an even thickness. As I recall those simple tasks with my Nana, I am reminded of how the stories of the family, the values of life and the cautionary tales are transmitted effortlessly in the course of cooking together. Nana’s frugality was loudly unspoken, but I watched her save everything for stock, save jars for reuse and even make note paper of opened up used envelopes. And always there were bits of leftover, stale bread. Nana always kept stale bread. When there were not breadcrumbs, I would grate the stale bread into a big bowl until she thought that we had enough. My uncle had made a grater out of a piece of sheet metal that he punctured with a nail. The metal was sized to slide into a groove onto a box. By grating on the sharp side of the erupted punctures, the breadcrumbs would fall into the box to be collected. (I wasn’t allowed to use this tool — it was thought to be too dangerous for me — but I longed to be big enough to use it.) Nana would add grated Parmesan cheese, dried oregano and garlic powder, and I would get to stir it all up. She would add eggs until we had a good paste. I would get to pat the breadcrumb mixture onto the flattened meat. And then we became artistic.

Bruccialuna by Liz Williams, President &Director of Southern Food & Beverage Foundation



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