Tools of the trade


When I think about preparations for a great meal, I have to consider if I have 1. all the ingredients and 2. if I have the proper tools to make the meal I want. There are a few things I would love to own and add to my kitchen. I really want a pasta machine, a hand crank manual one would do fine. I don’t need another electric appliance and the manual one will allow me to contribute to the green movement.  I want a pasta drying rack, particular for spaghetti type of noodles so I bought the wood supplies and my son will be making me one for Christmas. I have a large stock pot, a smaller dutch oven sized pot, cheese grater, knives, cutting boards, rolling pins, etc….

 But the one thing I really want is a good quality fry pan. I have the

non-stick one but when you are browning meat, the best part of the recipe comes from the little bits of meat that stick to the pan. They are used for the sauces and add great amounts of flavor to any dish. With a teflon type of pan, you just don’t get those bits like you do in an aluminum or stainless steel pan. I am going to be doing some research for a pan that would suit my needs.

I also have a number of other tools that are more like family heirlooms to me and I use them on a regular basis. This bowl was my grandmother’s.

It’s a simple yellow pyrex bowl, missing the 3 bowls that nested inside, but it brings back lots of memories for me. I grew up going to my Italian immigrant grandparents’ home every other Sunday for dinner. I saw this bowl being used there all the time. My father acquired the bowl when both of my grandparents passed away in 1979 and 1980. Then I requested it from my siblings when our father passed away in June of 2004.  I also have some furniture that belonged to my grandparents and was also passed to my father then to me in the same manner I acquired the bowl. I have a red and white checkered tablecloth, I think that is some kind of pre-requisite for serving an Italian meal! 

I am about to get a wonderful wood drop-leaf table from my sister that was from my grandparents’ home. Again this table has been passed around. My dad had it, then my brother, my neice, my sister and I guess it’s my turn now. It was the “kids” table at the family dinners on those treasured Sundays at Grandma’s house. It was where she made her pasta and Easter ravioli and her delicious chocolate chip cookies. I guess I feel a connection to my ancestors by possessing some of these items. I even have a few of my grandma’s aprons, although one is in need of repair and I aim to do that soon. That connection is important for me.

The one thing I wish I had done then was ask more questions about the types of foods that were prepared in my family and now that information is almost gone. My father did teach me the family recipe of marinara sauce and meatballs, braciole, and other dishes. I have also become a self-taught cook with a family who loves to eat my “experiments” on a regular basis.

I called my mother last night and asked her about the foods my grandparents made. My grandparents had a garden in the backyard of their small city lot in Mt. Washington, which is the area that overlooks downtown Pittsburgh on the Monongahela River. The garden was their backyard. Carefully planned and crafted and tended to, my grandparents used what they grew and cooked those kinds of dishes. One particular dish is one that I don’t think a recipe exists for. My mom said it was called Minestra. But in my research, minestra seems to be more of a generic word for greens that are cooked. I could be wrong and might need to do more research on that but in my family it meant a dish my grandma made, which I did not like as a child. It consisted of polenta, dandelion greens, and potatoes. Each of the ingredients were prepared on their own, then mixed together and heated. My mother enjoyed this dish. She did not come from the Italian background, she is Macedonian Greek and Polish. She also did/does not like the sauce or meatballs that was served every week. My dear little grandmother made a pork roast for my mother almost every time we went there to dinner. I remember that being a topic of conversation the adults discussed at their table.

So my next task is going to be to try to make this dish of my ancestors. I have never made polenta or dandelion greens and I am not even certain it will be something I or my family will like. But I love to try new things. Stay tuned.

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3 thoughts on “Tools of the trade

  1. Michelle, I like to read your blog! As kids we had to gather dandelion for the land turtles who loved that stuff. I didn’t know we humans could eat it too, until I was in Ukraine, where it is used, amongst other greens, in the green borsh. I regret that I never learned to make green borsh. Even poison ivy was used :) And I loved it…… it tasted do good!

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