Wednesday, February 25, 2009

That's Amore

Ahhhh, my mama. She’s the oldest child of a pair of good Catholics who birthed seven children they couldn’t afford and would have had more if cancer hadn’t claimed my maternal grandmother’s reproductive organs. Mama is also the mother of five children, because after escaping her childhood household she decided she hadn’t had enough clamor and destruction. For a long time, she was also caretaker to two crotchety old in-laws, whose dietary no-nos fit on a list that ran for a mile. My mom’s cooked for a lot of people in her life, with not a lot of money in the grocery budget, and under some pretty tight dietary restrictions.

It is probably fortunate, in a way, that she hates to cook.

Were she a budding gourmand, I think she would have been frustrated by having to serve spaghetti with ketchup on it instead of pasta sauce, as she did for her siblings. I think the usual of frozen fish sticks, frozen peas, and boxed macaroni fare of my youth would have hurt her soul as she dreamed of serving frissons of fillintheblank topped with finely whipped crème fraiche and a fresh herb garnish. But she didn’t. In that arena, at least, my mother was well-served by being underfunded. A small budget reduces the pressure to perform in the kitchen arena.

I’m not telling you anything she wouldn’t tell you herself, here. In that game where you get to pretend you’re rich and pick either a chef, masseuse, chauffeur, or maid, my mother has never hesitated in her answer. She has often told me that if she never had to cook again, she would die happy. She raised a couple of cookin' daughters, because as soon ever as she could get us on our feet and chopping in the kitchen, we took over.

That being said, then, I remember that my mother always made her own spaghetti sauce. I grew up never knowing about the convenience and ease of bottled marinara. When I discovered it in college, I found it shocking that people took such short cuts. Could these be genuinely caring mothers buying the Prego and Ragu? How could people eat that disgusting stuff? Some mornings I would get up for school and see the dozen or so jars of tomato products on the counter. The big pot would be on the stove. Bay leaves, oregano, basil, sage would have been plucked from the oft-neglected spice cupboard. And on the really extra special days, next to all of these cans and bottles and jars would be resting a box of lasagna. And I would know that this was a day to skip lunch in anticipation of the best food ever known to humankind.

My mama’s lasagna is kind of like a Supreme Pizza – it has everything. She includes your standards: the noodles, the homemade sauce that bubbled and cooked all day, the ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan. She includes tasty fresh vegetables, like sliced mushrooms, diced green peppers, chopped whole tomatoes. She throws in the meats: ground beef mixed in the sauce, pepperoni slices, hot Italian sausage chunks. She layers this in a way that I have never been able to duplicate, perfecting the distribution so that every bite you take has some special chunk of delicious in it. And she slices it up into enormous squares that are melted, crispy-on-top and surface-of-the-sun hot inside. This is always complemented with a bowl of fresh salad of lettuce, raw mushrooms, carrot slices, pepper rings, and celery. She serves up a covered basket of steaming garlic bread, for mopping every morsel of her delicious cooked sauce, and then puts on her football pads and helmet before battling her way through the slathering, viciously hungry children and to the table.

I have never, not once, been able to wait and avoid burning the roof of my mouth. And, let me tell you, it tastes even better heated up the next day.

1 comment:

Caki said...

As soon as I saw the "wonder" this week, I had no doubt what your answer would be! Yeah lasagna!