there are three generations of women at the table – vociferous and full of life. there is incessant translation from italian into english and vice versa. here is a sketch of a meal prepared by nonna, i’s grandma.
on the hob is a silver saucepan in which i mixed full cream milk into mashed potatoes, the heat reducing them to a perfect creamy consistency. in the pot behind that is home made pasta known as trofie being done to al dente in water at a furious simmer. on the counter sits a bowl of jewel green pesto along with grated parmesan. much as we all would have loved to take our meal in the kitchen i’s grandmother has taken out dinner china and set the table in the dining room. i’s grandmother has catered specially to my needs by making a tuna salami which is to be eaten with the home made mayonnaise that i’s mother had just made before coming. for i, there is tongue. i watch nonna take the boiled tongue and peel it carefully to reveal a dark reddish brown meat.
when the pasta is done i drains it reserving a couple of tablespoons of the water in which it was done to mix into the pesto. the drained trofie is placed in a shallow serving dish; the pesto is mixed in with a generous number of tablespoons of fresh parmesan. this is our first course for the night. dinner discussion at this point is about the etiquettes of eating bread with pasta. i’s grandmother uses it to secure the pasta on her fork. i’s mother maintains that bread is to be used to catch the remains of the pesto but only with the use of a fork. i and i rather unceremoniously use a piece of bread and wipe our plates clean.
the second course is boiled tongue accompanied by fluffy mashed potatoes and tuna salami (a roll of tuna bound with potato and spread liberally with home made mayonnaise). now i am not a tongue eater. or not at least in pakistan where the meat is a pallid color and looks far from cosmetically appealing. nonna’s tongue is far from that. it is a beautiful brick red and sliced like a roast. feeling adventurous (as well as well intentioned) i decided to sample some. i retrieved her camera to have a kodak moment of my first tongue tasting. the tongue tasted sublime, rich and meaty and tender together with the comfort of mashed potato.
a short pause after the second course led us to dessert - fresh strawberries dipped in sugar and an oblong cocoa powder dusted tiramisu. the strawberries were the soul of summer, sweet and flavorful, good even without the sugar. the tiramisu was in a league of its own. layers of light mascarpone and sponge fingers soaked in coffee and rum finished with a dusting of sweetened cocoa powder. it was heaven on a plate.