Some years ago, I went on the most memorable trip of my life. And I had the most memorable meal of my life. It all started in Venice…

CG and Mama go for Italian lunch

CG and Mama at the train station

You see, my mother is from Vicenza, Italy, and she met my dad when he was drafted in the late 50’s. My dad, being a very smart man and having recently received his bachelor’s degree in music, got himself assigned to the Army band. He was playing with a small jazz band at a club when he met my mom. The rest, they say, is history. My Nonna’s cooking didn’t hurt to spur the relationship along.

Michele, our wonderful guide and my cousin

Michele, our wonderful guide and my cousin

So, 40 years later, my husband, my parents, and I set off for Italy to see family and enjoy a nice vacation. We had some time apart, some together, and just thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We saw aunts, uncles, cousins, and even some family that I had never met before. One day, while staying in Venice, we received an invitation from my second cousin to come for dinner (which is an Italian lunch). We boarded the train to Mestre with my cousin’s wonderful wife as our guide.

Italian lunch table

Italian lunch table

We arrived at my cousin’s family compound and were warmly greeted. We sat under their cherry tree, drinking fresh prosecco with a cherry branch full of fruit and letting their horse wander around, eating all the cherries that we dropped on the ground. It was truly idyllic. Then, we were ushered in for lunch. In true Italian style, the long family dining table was impeccably set. We feasted for many hours, starting with pasta with tomato sauce and ricotta salata, then a main course of spit-roasted goat with polenta and a variety of fresh vegetables from the garden that tasted like summer. The spit was in my family for generations, and my cousin adapted it to fit in the fireplace for roasting. Despite a family controversy and some family members refusing to attend because of the goat ‘assassination,’ our side of the family did not want to miss the event. We ate until we could not move, drank wine all afternoon, and ended the day with my husband showing everyone how to make an American mint julep.

The spit

The spit re-engineered by the engineer

Dad captures the moment for Italian lunch

Dad captures the moment

These are the memories that good food and wine should bring. I can still feel the soft country breeze, smell the wonderful kitchen aromas, and taste the fresh cherries and prosecco. I can still see the black horse wandering around the yard with no fence because he has no intention of leaving. I can smell the mint and basil from the open doors. Now that my father is no longer with us, I am so happy to have this memory. I can still see his smiling face that day because, like me, he thoroughly enjoyed eating.

Marinara Sauce

1 can of Italian San Marzano tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, minced very small
1 pinch of peperoncino or to taste
1.5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 bay leaf
1/5 teaspoon salt
Cracked fresh black pepper
1  wedge of ricotta salata
4-8 servings of pasta (4 for main course; 8 for first course) or 1 pound

In a bowl, pull each tomato from the can and shred it from the core. Throw out the core or save for dog food. Remove as many seeds as possible. In a saute pan over medium heat, add olive oil, garlic, and peperoncino from cold. Heat until garlic turns from bright yellow to dark yellow. Add tomatoes, bay leaves, and salt, and let cook for approximately 15-20 minutes. If desired, add a tablespoon of julienned basil after taking off the heat. Boil pasta and take out about 1 minute early when they are still a little extra al dente. Add pasta to tomato sauce. If desired, add a tablespoon or two of butter. Combine and keep on heat for 2 minutes or until desired firmness. Grate fresh black pepper over the top. Plate pasta in bowls and top with grated ricotta salata or parmesan.

Serve with Chianti Classico Sangiovese or another Italian high-acid red wine – bon appetito!