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Three Women - One Passion

I’ve had three women mold my culinary world. Mamma, my mother, taught me at a young age how to cook for the family as a necessity because she had to work. Later in life, she was happiest when her table was full of family and she had cooked up her pasta al forno and cotolette. Her passion for food was unwavering. She always had the freezer full of grated parmesan, breadcrumbs, meatballs and chicken cutlets. I never knew why she did that but now, I am my mother and have the same waiting in my freezer, for when the kids just pop by.

Nonna, my grandmother, lived with us and she taught me that cooking was about patience and passion. For example, making chicken soup didn’t mean just throwing everything into the pot. It was about boiling the chicken and patiently removing the skin and fatty bits because she said that would make the soup gross. It was about cutting the veggies large enough to know what they are but small enough that it didn’t overpower the pastina. Her chicken soup was comfort food at its best. I’m thankful I had the time to learn patience from her, and when I make her chicken soup, she is with me.

Zia Nina, my aunt, was magic in the garage. Yes, garage because that is where she had the stove she cooked on. When I was young, dad would drive the family to Fremont, California pretty much every year. Zia was so happy to have us there because all she wanted to do is cook and bake for us. I spent so much time in the garage watching her pull fresh veggies from the garden and whatever else she had in the fridge and just concoct a meal. I loved learning that mixing everything and anything is what makes cooking fun.

What Zia also used to make for me because she knew I loved them so much was Fritti, Squaratella and Cuzzupe. I would stuff a suitcase full of these and once at the Canadian border, they questioned my parents why were transporting so many of these. I told them my aunt made them for me to bring home because they were my favourite and no one else could make them. The agent asked if he could try one and when he did, he said you are right to bring them home.

Every time Zia would come to Canada, I would help her make all of them. The only recipe however that I had written down was the Fritti. The rest, I thought took just too much effort that there was no way I was going to make them on my own. Many years later mom learned how to make them and that was great. However again I never wrote down the recipes and when mom passed it took me many times to get them right.

The past couple of days I made Squaratella and Cuzzupe in honour of Zia and mom because on March 31st, exactly nine months after mom passed, Zia joined nonna and mom in the everlasting kitchen. I know them well enough that they are cooking up a storm for anyone that wants to sit at their table.

Zia, you were a second mother to me and I’m thankful you are finally at peace and free from the Alzheimer’s Dementia. I’m so blessed to have had you in my life and for instilling in me the passion of concocting recipes. Many times, when I cook, I think about our talks in your garage. Where we talked about family and life. Thank you for loving me like a daughter, I love you to the moon and stars and back. You are now an angel among them. Rest in Peace.

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