Our Italian Mothers

By Patrizia Cucca

You grew up eating the best food around; For an Italian mamma, food is more than just a basic human need; its religion, culture, identity and love. Every time you return home, the first thing she’ll ask you: Have you eaten? If your mamma offers to prepare you a little something to eat, you can be sure it is not a sandwich, but a freshly made seafood spaghetti, which is better than any other you can have. You know the pressure never ends; while a regular non-Italian mother will accept your decisions once you’ve become an adult, an Italian mother will make sure you are constantly under pressure about finding a good job, getting good marks. She’ll nag you constantly with questions like: Have you done your homework? or, Why are you not at work? (Even if it’s your day off). She cannot comprehend why you are not doing something. If you are relaxing one afternoon on the sofa, she’ll make sure to let you know how upset she is about seeing you idle. Our moms always take our side…publicly anyway; Your Italian mom will nag you; she will expect you to be your best. She’ll compliment you and treat you like a hero only because you passed an exam, or because none of your marks are lower than the passing grade. In front of the other parents, she’ll publicly announce your ‘high grades’, even if it was only in Physical Education. She’ll always take your side, but once you’re home, she’ll keep nagging you. She is your constant clothing inspector; you can try to move out but even if you go hundreds of miles away, she’ll come to see you and, during each visit, she’ll wash and iron your clothes. Then she’ll complain about the way you folded your socks, boxers and even towels. Although some might find this a bit OCD, it’s not so bad. They say that on average an Italian woman cleans 21 hours a week. Where are they finding this kind of time? Why are they ironing underwear and socks? I know my mom will not forgo a clean house. It’s just part of love for the family. As always family comes first. Thanks to mom, I have most definitely inherited some of these habits, routines, OCD tendencies. When company comes, I magically turn into a good Italian woman, cleaning for 21 hours but for all the other times, I have some shortcuts. Put things back where they belong – immediately; the rule is not to touch anything twice if you don’t have to. Once you use it, put it back. Don’t leave the salt, oil and vinegar on the counter after making your salad, put it away as you go. Make your bed every day; I am not sure about you but I must make my bed every day. If I have ever had to go home to an unmade bed, I felt a little, let’s just say, BLAH. It only takes 3-4 minutes to make the bed and it just makes me feel nice when made. Beds take up a lot of room and if they are a mess, the whole room looks a mess. Empty and load the dishwasher; It is not fun to come home to a sink full of dirty dishes. So spending 10-12 minutes dealing with dishes is worth it. This makes all the difference in the world, coming home to a clean sink. OK, so you make your bed every day, dishwasher is loaded, sink is empty, and house is somewhat clutter free based on your daily habits. These habits will make you feel less overwhelmed and it inspires me to clean. What next? Even though cleaning is an incredibly sexy event in Italy, I think NOT. I do try to make it as pleasurable as possible. Something I most definitely inherited from mom is to blast upbeat and vibrant Neapolitan music, helping pass the time, even make cleaning fun. When I think back, we would be embarrassed when our friends came over to play or just hang out and mom had her Italian music blaring. Not sure what was more embarrassing; the volume the music played at or that we didn’t know the music or understand it for that matter. Perhaps, it was that my friends knew my mom was cleaning and would actually say your mom is cleaning again. Little did I know that year later, on a weekly basis when I am doing my deep clean, with that mop and bucket, this is something I would also find myself doing. Listening to Neapolitan singers, like Gigi D’Alessio, Mario Merola, Massimo Ranieri, Nino D’Angelo and so many more. When I hear the familiar songs of my childhood I feel energized, I feel happy and all because of the nostalgia. You will love the warm, winter flavors and the bright, cheery color this dish brings to your table. Butternut Squash Risotto Serves 4-6 INGREDIENTS
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, 1⁄2 large diced yellow onion, 1large diced clove garlic, 2 Tbsp. fresh chopped sage, plus extra for garnish, Salt and Pepper to taste, 1 cup arborio rice, 1 cup dry white wine, 3 cups vegetable stock, 1 cup roasted butternut squash purée (simply peel and cube; Toss with some olive oil; Place on a foil covered sheet pan; Roast in a 350 degree oven for about an hour; Squash is done when easily pierced with a fork; When tender toss it in a food processor (you can also just mash it by hand, if you’d like), 1⁄4 cup cold unsalted butter, 1⁄2 cup shredded parmesan cheese.
INSTRUCTIONS
1. In a large, deep pot or saucepan heat olive oil over medium heat. 2. Add onion and garlic to oil and sauté until onion is translucent, about two minutes. 3. Add sage, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. 4. Add arborio rice and toast for two or three minutes until the edges of the rice start to look translucent. 5. Add white wine to pan and stir to incorporate. Cook, stirring frequently, until rice has absorbed most of the liquid, about 10 minutes. 6. Add 1 cup stock and cook, stirring frequently, until rice has absorbed all stock. Repeat this process, adding 1 cup of stock at a time and letting the rice absorb it in between each addition, until rice is al dente. Taste the rice in between each addition of stock to see if it needs more; the final product should have a slight bite to it and not be mushy, and the rice and stock will have formed a thick, starchy broth. 7. Stir butternut squash purée into risotto. 8. Add unsalted butter and parmesan cheese to risotto. Stir until butter and cheese have melted completely and all ingredients are incorporated. Taste and add seasoning as necessary. 9. Top risotto with extra fresh sage for garnish and serve immediately.

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