Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Tater's and Ta'mater's
I've been a bit nostalgic lately. Joining the blogsphere has rekindled all things ancestor related. It's been a joy remembering traditions and dishes lovingly prepared for me years ago by my mom or grandma. Those Southern Italian roots have sprouted again, and I've enjoyed retelling the stories and preparing the recipes that were part of my everyday life.
Whenever I would visit my relatives, the first thing always asked was "have you eaten?". Of course, no answer was expected ... because food was already prepared and waiting no matter what the time of day. Steaming bowls of pastina soup with made with big pieces of chicken, homemade bread with that crisp crust and soft interior, and those lovely anise flavored pizzella cookies. Even if an answer was expected, it would never have come from me because 1) I was a shy little thing, and 2) I was recovering from the onslaught of double kisses on each cheek from the line, yes line, of relatives waiting for our car to pull up. The minute we exited the car, the language changed from English to Italian, and although I couldn't speak it fluently, I could understand and follow the conversation when I was little. We visited my grandparents in West Virginia every summer for two weeks at a time, and we were always greeted as if we'd been apart for decades. Words can't even begin to describe the scene when it was time to head back to Indiana. Let's just say that my grandma alone was responsible for Kleenex tissue stock skyrocketing during that time. We Italians are a passionate people!
Preparing and sharing food is a big deal in an Italian household, and meals were always eaten together ... no matter how many of us there were. There was no "kids" table ... everyone always sat together at tables where leaf after leaf was inserted until all were accommodated. The food and wine flowed freely as did the conversation. It was loud and fun and some of the best times of my youth.
And so, spurred onward by all the great food circulated on the web, my Calabrian ancestry has come alive in my household. Oh, it was always there in my life, but now has taken a front seat in everyday life for my kids, too. My mom, who has been enjoying her Heavenly reward since I was a teenager, lives on in my memories and in the great traditions that I can now pass on to my own brood.
This potato salad is something that I ate regularly every summer of my youth. I remember my mom making it, as well as seeing it on my grandma's table, my Aunt's table, and my Godmother's table. Once when I was very little, about 4 or 5 years old, I remember watching my Grandfather, who we called Pap Pap, eat this salad. I saw him put a slice of tomato in his mouth -- seeds and all -- and became very distressed. I sought refuge with my mom and explained that I was worried that a tomato was going to grow in Pap Pap's stomach. My mom, God bless her, did not laugh at my dismay and in a way that only a mother could, assured me that no tomatoes would grow in his tummy. Being the mom-trusting mite that I was, I instantly believed her and from that point forward ate the salad with gusto along with everyone else.
Back to the potato salad ... It is surprisingly light and goes with everything. Pair it with burgers, seafood, fried chicken, sandwiches, steak, and even pasta. It holds up great on picnics, and tastes better the longer it sits ... which is never very long because it's so good!
Calabrian Potato Salad
About 4 large potatoes, boiled in their jackets, peeled, and then sliced (not diced) about 1/4 in thick
About 3 ripe tomatoes, sliced 1/4 in thick (you don't have to seed them, although I tend to remove about 1/2 of the seeds).
1/4 of an onion - sliced 1/8 in thick and left in 1/4 ring size pieces
5 large basil leaves - rough chopped
3 oregano leaves - chopped
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
Sea Salt to taste
Olive oil and vinegar in 2 to 1 proportions
In a very large bowl, combined the potatoes, tomatoes, onion, and the oil and vinegar. Toss gently. Add the remaining ingredients and toss again. The potatoes really soak up the oil and vinegar, so add more according to your own taste. You can also add some thinly sliced celery (I didn't have any.)
This can be served cold or at room temperature, but store it in the fridge. It's really good if you can hold off eating it for a day. When allowed to sit, the tomatoes give up a lot of juice, and add much flavor to the oil and vinegar. It's yummy!