Then, for two glorious years we actually lived in Italy, and during the summer my sister and I took turns spending an entire week with Nonna. Imagine, if you will, a doting Nonna and her nipote americana, the two of them sewing elaborate Barbie clothes, shopping, visiting relatives, and watching black and white movies in bed with the bedroom window thrown wide open to catch the evening breeze.
Especially memorable were the mornings. To beat the heat, Nonna would do most of her cooking early so that by the time I entered the kitchen, something would already be bubbling on the stove. And because it was summer, meals were lighter (who wants a heavy meal when it's hot outside?) and quick (so as not to heat up the kitchen).
Today, living in the deep south, I take my Nonna's lessons to heart. Evening meals in our family are all about fresh fruits and vegetables, grilling, and pasta with sauces that require little or no cooking (see below for a few recipes).
A fresh garden salad, a chilled glass of wine, and something like pasta al tonno can be on the table in no time.
Pasta con Tonno (a favorite in my family):
Cook one box of spaghetti (reserve some of the pasta water). Mix one pouch of tuna (family size), juice of one lemon, 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and parsley. Toss with spaghetti (add some pasta water for moisture). To serve, sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
Variation: Sometimes I add half a can of cannellini beans for some extra protein.
Prosciutto e Piselli:Saute a little minced onion, olive oil, and green peas. Add fresh prosciutto which has been cut into small pieces. Toss with cooked pasta.
Pasta Estiva:Cut into small pieces the following: tomatoes, black olives, capers, fresh basil, and mozzarella. Mix with olive oil. Serve on cooked pasta.
Pesto: Blend the following ingredients in a food processor until it resembles a smooth paste: 3 cups fresh basil leaves, ½ cup pine nuts, ¾ cup parsley, 2 cloves of garlic, dash of sea salt, ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil. Toss with spaghetti and top with grated parmiggiano-reggiano. (Note: pesto can have a strong flavor, but the use of parsley in this recipe gives it a lighter flavor. Also, remember to lightly coat the pasta … a little goes a long way.)
Olio, Aglio, Peperoncino:Saute minced garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil. Remove from heat. Just before serving on pasta, mix in fresh parsley.
Finally, some words of wisdom from my zia Tiziana, who shared some of the above recipes with me: Naturalmente, ci vorrebbe sempre il grana da mettere sopra alla pasta. (Naturally, you should always have parmesan cheese to add to the pasta.)
And by the way, the stuff in the green cannister doesn’t count. Buy a chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano and grate as needed.