Friday, November 20, 2015

The Beauty of Traditions

     One of my favorite songs from a musical is “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof. I love how the song lyrics talk about the roles of the Mamas and Papas, the daughters and sons. I also love the idea that, even as children, when we have no idea why we participate in certain customs, we build memories of togetherness that tie us to the family and friends who share in our ways. Traditions remind us of who we are and where we’ve come from. They bring to mind those who came before us, those who loved us enough to share their unique spirits, in hopes that we would carry on their traditions when they were gone.

     And we do.

     Italians, like other cultures, have so many traditions. Some customs may seem superstitious – burying a statue of St. Joseph in the yard when you’re trying to sell your house or wearing a special golden horn around your neck to ward off the evil eye. My grandmother used to say you should bury a potato to make your warts go away. I wish she were here today so I could ask her about that one.

     One custom my family has upheld since long before I was born is making homemade ravioli for Thanksgiving. My Nana - Amelia Parmigiani, my mom, and her sister would get together some time in November to make “the ravs.” My grandmother was a strong lady. My mom always talks about how she made the dough and rolled it out by hand to pasta thickness – which is pretty thin and not an easy task when you have that much dough.

     What I remember most is the three of them, all talking at once (one louder than the other,) while they worked to make one of the most special family recipes we have. They’d fight over whether someone was making the ravioli too big or using too much filling. My grandmother would taste the raw filling and sometimes declare it too cheesy or too salty. Now that my grandmother and Aunt Ceil are gone, we make the ravioli at my house, and my mother inevitably forgets the juice glasses we use to cut the ravs. She always runs back home to get the special glasses, because God forbid we use something that’s a tenth of an inch off. That would change the size of the ravs, and that is a no-no. Nana Parmigiani and Aunt Ceil always come up in conversation, and I’m sure they’re smiling down on us as we roll, fill, cut, and press. They’re probably critiquing our form, and I can bet my bottom dollar that they’re shaking their heads at all the kids around my kitchen island. When I was a kid, I was not invited to the pasta-making party. It was serious business, and I was told to skedaddle. Now, we include all of the grand-daughters in the process. My kids have been making ravioli since they were one year old, as has my eighteen-year old niece, Cassie. After years of itching for the superstar role, Cassie’s now the leading lady of the pasta machine, rolling out the dough sheets like a pro.

     “The ravs” are the most coveted dish at our Thanksgiving table. We eat turkey and all of the traditional American fare as well, but our ravioli are the piece de resistance. Every year, my mom worries that we won’t have enough, but we always do. Maybe someone’s looking down on us from above, making sure we have just what we need.

     My Nana Parmigiani could make homemade noodles in her sleep. She didn’t have a food processor or a pasta machine. She had a rolling pin, a big wooden board, and some serious upper-body strength. I was lucky enough to have my Nana live with us during my teenage years. She was a special lady, always ready for a good laugh or a heart-to-heart chat, always there to spice things up in the kitchen. My brother and I loved her homemade macaroni, but I never picked up the recipe.

     Last weekend, when we made the ravs, we had leftover dough, as usual. As we have in the past, we used it to make some homemade noodles for the kids’ lunch. What a treat. A few days later, I was getting ready to make a pot of chicken soup for my Shaia who was home sick from school. She said to me - ”Mom, let’s make homemade noodles for the soup.”   I didn’t really feel like going through all the trouble, especially with a broken dishwasher. I imagined it to be a mess, and I told Shaia that I didn’t have the recipe.

    “3 eggs, 3 cups of flour and some salt,” she said matter of factly. “A little olive oil too. And you add water as you need it to get the dough to come together.”

     Bug-eyed, I asked her. “How did you know that?”

     “I watched Nunny,” she said.

     In that moment, I was so glad I included my kids around the kitchen island to help make the ravioli.

     Sure enough, Shaia was right on the recipe. The noodles were perfect, even if they were a bit thick. Next time we will roll them a little thinner. It wasn’t that messy. I’ve included some pics of Shaia watching my mom, intently, as she makes the dough for the ravioli and also some of our homemade soup noodle day.

Here’s the recipe:

Homemade Noodles

3C flour
3 eggs
A pinch of salt
1T olive oil.
1/8 to 1/4 C water

Combine eggs flour and salt in food processor. Turn it on and drizzle oil in as it’s mixing. Add water by the tablespoon until the dough comes together like a ball inside the machine. Take the dough out and work it with your hands into a smooth ball.
Flour your work surface.
Cut the dough into pieces that are a good size for you to roll into sheets.
Slice the sheets into noodles of whatever size you like. We did about ½ inch thick.
Let them dry for about 30 minutes.
Note: These take much less time to cook than dry pasta. As soon as the start floating around, taste them. They will probably be done.

     Visit my blog next week for the Thanksgiving ravioli recipe. My mother has given me permission to share it one here. I was shocked that she’d allow it. Her reasoning was this.

     “Nobody’s gonna make it taste like ours anyway.”

     She makes me laugh so much. I love her.

     But, I bet you can make them if you try.

     Until next week, eat happy!


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