When I was a little girl, both of my parents decided to return to university during summer session to complete their Masters degrees. So over three summers, I spent a lot of time with my “Nona”, which is what Italians call their grandmother. And those summers were spent in two places, her garden and her kitchen.
Now, as a grown woman with a shelf full of glossy cookbooks, a cable subscription to the Food Network and an addiction to at least three (ok, five) reality cooking competition shows, I still feel that the best cooking lessons I ever had were as a little girl in my Nona’s kitchen.
Nona was the original farm-to-table chef. Meats came from the corner butcher who had his farm 30 minutes from his shop. Eggs and poultry came from the neighbor three doors down who had a coop in her large backyard. Fruits and vegetables came from Nona’s own garden or, for the few things she didn’t grow herself, from the Saturday morning market. She only used in season and fresh ingredients and knowing that each year she only made her blueberry pie for six weeks made it taste even more special and delicious.
Because she used such fresh ingredients, the simplicity of Nona’s cooking was what made it so fantastic. She would make Caprese salad with olive oil and hand pulled fresh mozzarella from the Fiorini Italian Market along with basil from her herb garden and her own tomatoes still warm from the summer sun, with a tiny sprinkle of salt and pepper. The freshness and the simplicity made each flavor come alive and to this day, I’ve never made or tasted a Caprese salad that compares to hers.
The final lesson my Nona taught me? That having a glass of Pinot Grigio while cooking makes everyone a better chef. Thanks for that one especially, Nona!
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