Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cooking with Mom

Over the years, my mother taught me a lot about cooking and I her. When I was very young, her cooking was pretty basic, at some point when I was about 12 or 13, she became very interested in "gourmet" cooking. She took all kinds of cooking classes - French, Italian, Chinese, and others. She immersed herself in learning as much as she could. Fast forward to my parents' retirement years and she once again took more cooking classes, watched cooking shows, read cookbooks and really mastered classic preparation and cooking methods, as well as the correct tools to use, their handling and care. I, on the other hand, always loved to experiment in the kitchen and was always comfortable just throwing things together or learning something in my own way, but definitely not the traditional way. My mother always used to say how jealous she was of my comfort in the kitchen (I wasn't afraid to make a mistake - and I made plenty!) I often resented her following me around the kitchen, watching everything I did. (Oh how I regret that today.) When I was older and more open to her ideas, I learned from her many basics that I was missing with my own methods. She taught me the best ways to chop, slice, peel, saute, etc. She showed me tools that I had never used, corrected my mistreatment of certain herbs and vegetables, showed me professional tips that I never would have had the patience to learn otherwise. We had an interesting exchange when I had finally mellowed and did not resent her presence when I was cooking. I was usually the one to discover some dish at a restaurant and then replicate it at home. The successful ones I always made for her. She was the one to study cookbooks and shows and pass those recipes she found good on to me. Sometimes we had both made certain dishes so much that we couldn't remember who started it or who changed it. In the end, we really inspired each other and taught each other much about food and cooking. For that and many other reasons, I am eternally grateful for her.

Mom and me her kitchen - 2000

One such recipe that we passed back and forth was a simple pasta that I created from a dish I had in Milan many years ago. After my mom passed away, in her recipe collection I found a 3x5 card in her handwriting with this recipe on it. She had named the pasta "Antonio's Radicchio Pasta". I felt a bit resentful that the pasta dish I had discovered had somehow been attributed to the Italian in the family - my husband - and not me. It gave me a good laugh, as my mom adored my husband and really put him on a pedestal - especially when it came to his natural abilities with food and cooking. So, in a way, it was a posthumous compliment to me from my mom!

This is my entry for Apples & Thyme.

Antonio's Radicchio Pasta

serves 4

1 lb. penne pasta
1 head chopped radicchio (For this dish, I prefer the Radicchio di Chioggia - the type with the round head)
1/2 lb. diced prosciutto
A pile (maybe 1 cup) of shaved Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano
Salt and Pepper to taste

Boil pasta in well salted water.

In a large skillet, saute' prosciutto with a good glug of olive oil for a few minutes, or until it appears to be cooked, then add the radicchio and cook until wilted. Add a little fresh ground pepper.

Drain pasta, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Toss pasta in the skillet with the radicchio and prosciutto. If it appears to dry, add in a little of the pasta water. Add salt if needed. Serve in a big bowl topped with the shaved cheese.

Of course, don't forget to serve it with a delicious Italian wine - try a Tocai from Friuli, or if you prefer red, try a Refosco.

Buon appetito!


Chris said...

What a lovely post about your mom! I love the picture. You're both beautiful! It funny how, as we get older, we become open to what our families tried to teach us when we were young. Mom mom often giggles when I do something that is identical to how she does it.

Absolute Vanilla (& Atyllah) said...

What a wonderful post and a beautiful tribute to cooking with your mom. I'm so glad you mellowed enough to let her teach you some of those pivotal basics, like chopping and peeling - we think we know it all and that our way works, but there are some basics that need to be taught and when we've learned them we wonder why we never learned them sooner!

Pasticcera said...

What a beautiful tribute to you and your mother. My mother and I had a very similar relationship, as many mothers daughters do, a bit tense at times, but very close under it all. I can completely relate to your story. I love the picture of you together, lovely. Marla

Rebecca Lemke said...

Nice article, Jeni, and sweet photo of you and your Mom. I'm going to make this pasta dish very soon because it sounds so easy and contains one of my favorite vegetables, Radicchio

Miss Eliza said...

Mmmm... sounds lovely. I'll have to try this one sometime this week!

The Passionate Palate said...

Chris - Aw, thanks for the nice compliment. You are so right about growing older and becoming more open. Thank God, huh?!

Vanilla - Oh, yes, thankfully we grow more mellow and hopefully smarter!

Marla - Thank you. Yes, mother-daughter relationships are not always easy, but when worked out can be beautiful.

Rebec - Thanks and it is sooo easy and very yummy.

Miss Eliza - I do hope you like it!

Anonymous said...

This was such a sweet way to give tribute to your mom. I loved reading about her.

Hope you are doing well. I was so busy this month with keeping my sister's kids so she and her hubby could go to Rome that I forgot to do my Apples and Thyme post!
Rocky Mountain Writer

Valerie said...

Such a sweet story and photo!

The radicchio penne recipe is very similar to one my chef friend, Giorgio, makes...his is with pancetta instead for a slightly different flavor.

The Passionate Palate said...

Tamara - no worries about your post. Hope to see one next month. Good luck with the kids!

Valerie - Oooo, I'm sure pancetta would be wonderful in this.

african vanielje said...

Jeni, this is just my kind of recipe. Easy and delicious. And I am just like you in the kitchen. I am forever starting a recipe, thinking oh I'll just change that, and that...and that...and when it doesn't work, thinking, well I don't think much of his / her recipes! Still, our mistakes are what teach us, and there is so much that I learnt from my mother about how to interpret recipes and how to trust my own judgement that I too sometimes wonder which recipes are mine and which hers. I know you still miss her but even finding 'Antonio's' recipe and that brief spurt of resentment must have made you feel almost as if she was there for a moment. The thing is, our mothers now how we feel, no doubt they felt like that about their mothers at some point, and I'm sure that with the wisdom of their years they would say: don't have regrets. It's all part of the wheel, and it comes full circle.

The Passionate Palate said...

AV - you are right on as usual. Yes, having no regrets is important. Your words touched me...thank you!!!

Susan said...

Lovely photo of you and your mom, Jeni. And what a great way with radicchio. I enjoy it raw and bitter, but mellowed in a cook dish is just as delish.

The Passionate Palate said...

Susan - thank you and do give the pasta a try - despite being mellowed by cooking, I still find the radicchio has some "strength" left to it.

Laurie Constantino said...

Two strong headed cooks in one kitchen is a challenge, but it sounds as if both you and your mom rose up to meet it. I absolutely loved this post; thank you for sharing it.