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!

19 comments:

Proud Italian Cook said...

I love potato salad like this without mayo, I've had all different versions of this, so good!! Nice memories you have of your Italian heritage, I'll look forward to reading more and seeing other great recipes.

Bridgett said...

What a perfect potato salad for summertime. I like the freshness of using vinegar instead of mayo, although I do like a light mayo dressing at times. The colors here are gorgeous though!

Jan said...

Hi Paula, thanks for stopping by the blog. Your tater and ta'mater salad looks good, very Mediterranean.

Although I've visited a few places in Italy I've never been to the Calabrian region. But I would love to go back to Italy one day.

Nita said...

Hi Paula, just stopped by to to say HI and thanks for stopping by my blog. I'm going to make that potato salad as soon as my tomatoes get ripe - it looks delicious.

MEDITERRANEAN KIWI said...

and now that i have so many tomaters in the garden, i really should try something like this!

Marjie said...

When I asked my grandfather "what" we were once, since I could name Portuguese, Italian, Armenian, Irish....(you get the picture) kids, he scratched his head, and said, "Honey, we're Methodist." How nice that you know where your mother came from!

Pam said...

This looks perfect! I love tomatoes and I love potatoes, but I've never had them together in a salad!

Jeena said...

Delicious salad the potatoes look so tasty.

OhioMom said...

Oh this sounds soooo good, my "to cook list" is growing very long, and what a wonderful memory of your family.

My memories of family are the same, except with southern roots. No matter when you came to visit there was tons of food and desserts.

meeso said...

Yum, this sounds so fresh and simple! Looks too good!

Lisa said...

My family was always the same. Same questions, different foods (my family was German). And I was the same shy little thing!

Thanks so much for sharing your sweet memories. Your story really makes me smile!

Dee said...

Congratulations on your award :) This is a lovely change from the usual capers and mayo for sure!

Astra Libris said...

Ooooh, your potato salad sounds incredible - I love the paring of the creamy tomatoes and the light, tart tomatoes... The colors are beautiful, too, and such wonderful memories of your relatives! (thank you so much for visiting my blog, by the way... :-)

Kevin said...

That potato salad looks fresh and good!

daphne said...

Hi Paula! I love the write up on your Italian heritage. Keep those coming! =)
And that potato salad looks like a healthier and tasty version!

Erika said...

What an interesting potato salad! It looks amazing!

Bellini Valli said...

We had Italian neighbours who were always trying to "fatten" me up as a child. "Let me feed you" and "let me pinch your cheek" were pretty common every day. I hung around a lot for all the attention:D

Linda said...

I've often thought of concocting something like this. I have a hot german potato salad that has some of the same ingredients in it but this most probably will replace it. I love tomatoes. Thanks!:)

Jude said...

I know exactly what you mean with the "have you eaten?" question. It's a form of politely greeting someone where I'm from.