Broccoli, Peperoncino, and Garlic alla Nana
Family heirlooms come in a variety of shapes and sizes, beloved reliquaries of an ancestral story. The measure of their worth lies not in their monetary value, but in the emotional story attached. The wedding ring, the stack of yellowed photos, the antique China cabinet, the tattered children’s book, the sterling silver set, the military medal, the freedom papers, and the vital documents hold memories, grief, love, sadness, history, trauma, all in that tangible item we can hold in our hand and bring close to our hearts.
My most beloved family heirloom? Nana’s recipe collection.
As I continue to unfold Nana’s story, you know, my grandma who was NOT born in Sicily, sifting through her vast recipe collection provides clues, hints, and history. I can hold one of her hand-written recipes in my hand and bring it close to my heart. Better yet, I can make the dish, following her directions to the letter, all the while remembering her green-tiled kitchen, me at her side. absorbing every iota of grandmotherly love.
After the trip to Sicily, I returned home still in the dark about Nana’s heritage. The time had come to reconnect with my Italian relatives on the East Coast. In my humble opinion, one of Nana’s greatest gifts had been to take me along on one of her yearly trips east to meet my extended Italian-American family in Boston and Maine and to attend Saint Anthony’s Feast. I was 15 at the time.
Having grown up thus far in the quiet suburbs of Northern California, meeting all of my loud, wicked, east-coast-tough cousins, aunts, and uncles shifted my sensibilities and changed my life, the knowledge of this huge extended family ricochets around inside even to this day. Sadly, all of those decades had passed, life went on. It had been almost 45 years since we had been in touch. Once Nana passed, the connection was not severed, but certainly suffered without her lively personality joining us together across the thousands of miles.
It took some courage to call Nana’s niece Mary Lou after so many years. What if she didn’t remember me? Would she feel hurt that I had waited so long to reach out to her? Had she passed away? Did she still live in Maine with her brother and sister?
After digging her number out of my ancient address book, I steeled my nerves and dialed the phone.
“Hi, Mary Lou. It’s Ellen. Aunt Ann’s granddaughter. I visited you many years ago. Do you remember me?”
“Of course I remember you! How have you been, whatsoever? Oh, my gracious! You know my sister, Rosemary passed two years ago. Skipper and I just rattle around the house. We get by, we’re the same whatsoever.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. I still remember eating lobster rolls and touring Bar Harbor with you. Such fond memories. Guess what? I’m doing family research and I wondered if I could talk to you about our family?”
“Oh, Ellen, I’m so sorry, I don’t remember anything, whatsoever. Oh gosh, my memory is gone.”
Just a bit crestfallen, I put my questions aside and we chatted on. Then, out of the blue, the memories came tumbling out.
“Well, our family is not from Sicily. Heavens no! My mother, your Nana’s sister, used to really dislike anyone from Sicily. She thought they were lower than us. Anyway, I think we are from Saint George of the Mountains. Or something like that, whatsoever.”
That single piece of information, that cryptic place, Saint George of the Mountains, somewhere in the south of Italy, led to the next stage in this unfolding adventure.
To be continued…
Again, I must segue into the recipe, lest I lull you to sleep and you lose your appetite. Stay tuned….. Now onto Broccoli, Peperoncino, and Garlic alla Nana.
Broccoli, Peperoncino, Garlic alla Nana
- 1 large head of broccoli, cut into florets
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and mashed
- ⅓ onion, minced and peeled
- ¼ tsp. red chili powder or chili flakes
- salt to taste
- 2 tbsp. water
- Wash broccoli and trim stalks.
- Heat olive oil in a large saute pan, add garlic, onion, and chili powder or flakes. Heat until onion is soft, then remove garlic and discard.
- Add broccoli and water and a pinch of salt. Mix, cover and simmer for 10 - 15 minutes. Check for desired doneness. Remove from heat and serve immediately, or mix into cooked spaghetti or your favorite pasta.
Serve with spaghetti!