Appreciating my Italian roots

By Patrizia Cucca

Perhaps you haven’t given this much thought but I never really recognized the differences there were between US and THEM while growing up. You see the older I get, the more time I spend reflecting on my parents’ life and the many traditions they passed along to me and my siblings. I think back and I don’t know that my friend’s biggest fear was the wooden spoon or not being able to make plans on Sundays because of Sunday dinner. Which by the way also meant having dinner at one in the afternoon? There are many things that have remained constant; I cannot enter another Italians home at Christmas time without bringing a panettone or from time to time craving the first solid food any Italian child eats; pastina. I don’t know about you but how many Tony and Franks do you have in your family? Growing up Italian meant we had gardens, not just flower gardens, but huge gardens where our parents grew tomatoes, tomatoes, and more tomatoes.
We ate them, cooked them, and jarred them. Of course, they also grew peppers, basil, lettuce and zucchini. Look around your circle of friends, your co-workers, the businesses you frequent, the clothes you wear, the products you use, and the places you like to go to on vacation, I am sure that you will be pleasantly surprised to find that you have been living under Italian influence throughout most of your life.
Do you believe, as I do, that real coffee is always made on the stovetop?
Have you accidentally kissed a friend on the cheek when saying good-bye because you are so used to doing it? I love my Italian approach to life and the valuable lessons my parents taught me. Living la dolce vita is achievable for everyone. It is a life that focuses on good food, family, tradition and community. This is a way of life. It is not about depriving ourselves of pleasure, but rather indulging in it. In today’s fast food world, I believe these traditions are more important than ever. Almost as important is fostering the love of these foods from an early age and never having to go to the store for your tomatoes and basil.
Mangia Bene!
This quick weeknight dinner is a favorite. It manages to be light and bright thanks to the fresh lemon juice and zest. It comes together in the time it takes the pasta to cook. The ingredient list is short: farfalle (bow tie pasta) or any pasta you like. Salmon, peas (frozen are ok), asparagus, cream, lemon, and some Parmigiano-Reggiano is all you need to finish it off. Pasta with Salmon, Asparagus & Peas (Servings: 4)
Ingredients:
Kosher salt
Fresh salmon fillet (you can use leftover cooked salmon)
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
pat of butter
250 g. pasta
150 g. creme fraiche
3/4 cup heavy cream
Asparagus (12-15 medium to thick stalks)
1 Tbs. chopped fresh tarragon leaves
(reserved pasta water)
1 cup peas (frozen are ok)
Directions:
1) Set a large pot of water, seasoned liberally with kosher salt, over high heat and bring to a boil.
2) Pat the salmon dry and season one side with sea salt & pepper.  Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add the pat of butter to melt. When hot, place the salmon fillets seasoned side down and cook without touching them until nicely browned and turning opaque on the bottom half up to almost the middle, about 4 minutes. Flip and brown the other side until fully cooked through, about 3 minutes more. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest.
3) Add crème fraiche and cream to the skillet, mixing them in with the browned butter from the salmon and heat up over low heat as it melts together. Add tarragon and season with sea salt & pepper to taste, then turn heat off under skillet.
4) Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente according to package directions. Meanwhile, strip outer layers of the asparagus off with a vegetable peeler from below the tip all the way down, then break off the ends where they naturally bend. Chop each stock into 1-inch pieces and add the biggest pieces to the boiling pasta 4 to 5 minutes away from being done, then the thinner pieces a minute or so later.
5) Place the peas in the bottom of a colander. When pasta is done, scoop out a mugful of the pasta water, then drain pasta over the peas in the colander.
6) Add a few tablespoons of the pasta water to the cream in the skillet to thin it out a bit and taste and adjust for seasoning (rewarm if necessary). Add the pasta and peas to the skillet and mix well with the sauce, adding more reserved pasta water as necessary (the pasta will soak up a lot of the sauce).
7) Serve in individual plates with pieces of salmon and a sprinkling of freshly ground pepper.
Buon Appetito!

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