Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Home Cooking

I didn't start out loving to cook. I didn't start out noticing the many different cuisines in the world. 
I started out hungry.

For the first seventeen years, I was just plain hungry all the time.
Then, I became hungry for food that tasted like home.
Finally, food that nourished, felt like home, and fulfilled more than one hunger.

I'm in a good place at this time, exposed to many cuisines; able to download and learn how to cook many different dishes; rich enough to travel and taste authentic foods in their  native states.
Yet, I feel that most of us are just getting acquainted with local, sustainable food and its value.

During a marathon cooking session with my daughter in law and her sisters a couple of years ago, women in the kitchen, each making sure that the food we prepared could be eaten by all of our loved ones, those with stomach problems, those with heart issues, those with tastes that hadn't changed since childhood. On this day, if I can decipher the food in front of us, there was an eggplant parmigiana, accompanied by an eggplant without parmigiana for the relative who couldn't eat cheese, accompanied by a vegetable strudel for those folks that couldn't eat tomatoes or cheese or eggplant. Not on display was a roast, for those of us who still crave meat and potatoes. My cooking companions were most surprised not by the fact that I could change a dish to accommodate a special diet, but by the fact that an older cook like me still makes a backward time schedule, so everything gets on the table close to the same time.

 Ah, the life of the cook!

When I was a child, and until I moved to the United States, I had not tasted any other food outside of my house without a bit of skepticism. I remember the spaghetti e vongole in Naples, where my big brother and I visited often the last few years before my emigration. The American Consulate was studying my application and finding one thing or another was amiss every time we visited. The spaghetti was the best tasting thing I had ever eaten, and consoled us after each visit that was not successful.

When I told my mother how good the food was in Naples,  she dismissed the thought entirely. "It's good because you didn't have to do any work to get it to the table!"

Not really, I thought then.

Something is either good or not, and our spaghetti at home was made the way my father liked it, without seafood. He liked seafood fresh, he kept saying, and nothing else. If you are going to eat something that has been gathered the day before, has traveled miles, has sat around, even on ice, for hours before it was bought or delivered to the cook, that something had lost its very soul.

I stored that in my future drawers, for those times when I would be responsible for my own food, and my own preparation of such food.

Lately, I don't even attempt to order seafood inland. Not that I don't understand the fact that most fish is caught and iced and transported to shore and sold and shipped in refrigerated or frozen containers until they reach their destination. If you have ever tasted fresh seafood, from a fisherman that has caught and filleted that fish, you know the difference. You will not ask for your favorite; you will ask for what was caught that day.

Freshly caught trumps everything else.