Food

Easter Pies

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Easter.  I’m not religious, so it’s not like I’ve been succumbing to the pressures of Lent or anything.  I just love Easter.  Spring is springing up around me, the sun is shining, the temperature is ideal, and Easter Sunday is the perfect excuse to eat and drink some of my favorite things.  Easter is the day when I drink a bottle of champagne with no shame.  It is also the day that I consume my weight in carrot cake, deviled eggs and lamb.  Yes, we are a lamb family.  I recently read in the NY Times that the average American consumes less that one pound of lamb per year.  Well, I probably consume that in one day.  

The days leading up to Easter are some of my favorite as well, as my dad always takes the day off work on Friday to make his family recipe of Easter Pies.  If you haven’t eaten a Vella Family Easter Pie, you haven’t lived…ok just kidding, but I would rather not live than go one Easter Holiday without the goodness of our pies.  

Chuck EP

So here’s the thing, they aren’t really pie – they are sort of like calzones, except they have a dense buttery crust, not fluffy in the least.  We make two different pies, one is filled with spinach, sultanas (golden raisins), a little salt, a little olive oil and lots and lots of red pepper.  They are spicy and sweet and so, so good.  We also make a sausage pie with loads of spicy sausage, eggs, ricotta, grated parmesan, and all the chopped parsley in the world.  Each pie is baked until it’s nice and golden, sliced into thin strips and served cold.  They.Are.Perfection.  But what’s even better is baking them with my dad.  A memory I’ll hold on to forever, we brown sausage, laugh a lot, mix our hands into ooey gooey ricotta, and roll out dough for days, it seems.  

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Our Italian “hello”

This is another recipe from my Vella Sbarra Family cookbook and my dad has been perfecting the recipe for years and years.  He has tweaked the recipe each year to increase the flavor, improve the dough, and bake them to the perfect temp.  So really, that one blog I posted a few weeks back about perfecting my family cookbook is old news — my dad has been doing it for ages.  Only now I’m old enough and care enough to help.  It’s just my favorite time of year, good food, good drinks and perfect family memories, all baked into a pie.

 

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My Grandma’s Cookbook: a collection of vague recipes

I’m a bad blogger.  I didn’t post anything last week.  It’s a lame excuse, but the truth is, I just got busy.  I didn’t find the time to write, which sucks.   The thing I did manage to do, however, was make dinner for my sister, my brother-in-law, and my husband to celebrate Tim’s birthday.

It’s a tradition in our family to make the birthday boy or girl’s favorite meal to celebrate their day.   The problem is, that excluding my sister (Natalie) and her husband (Jack), everyone else in my family hates, and I mean HATES Tim’s favorite meal: Chicken Tika Masala.  My dad lived in England for a little while as a young adult and got burnt out on curry, fair enough.  And the rest of my family doesn’t like “spicy food,” which is a damn shame, because it’s divine.   image_6483441

We celebrated Tim’s birthday with the rest of the family separately.  The four of us, however, broke naan and ate delicious curry.  We drank a big ass bottle of Schramsberg (my favorite, as you know), ate cake and ice cream, played cards and laughed a whole lot.  It was the kind of cozy night in, with a big bowl of food and good people, that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside; and it got me thinking about why I love food so much.

How cool is it that food can not only nourish your body, but your soul?  How amazing that food is a part of a person’s history, and a person’s future.  How lucky are we that food is something that we can create memories around?  Food brings people together, it becomes a conversation starter, and at least for me, I associate times of happiness around meals that I eat.

Several years back one of my uncles put together a cookbook full of Vella and Sbarra (my paternal grandmother’s maiden name) recipes.  When it comes time to do some real Italian, soul cooking, I turn to this book.  This book includes our family meatball recipe, stuffed squid, anchovy sauce…all the really good shit.  Some recipes haven’t been made since my grandma passed away, and that just can’t be.  I want my family food recipes to live on through the generations, so I’ve decided to cook my way through my family cookbook.  Food and family are one in the same to me, and I think that will make my grandma Jo very proud.  IMG_6826

Also, some of these recipes need some serious work.  Me thinks a few of my relatives were sipping too much vermouth when they wrote “Put in Oven and Bake.”  Ok, Uncle Nick, I get it…but for how long, and at what temp?  Or my favorite recipe for our the Christmas Eel:  “Peel Skin, put on pan, broil.”

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So in the process of letting my grandmother’s cooking legacy live on, and making delicious food, I’ll also be giving the cookbook a much needed edit.  I hope you’ll join me on my family food journey, and we’ll share some seriously good eats and some serious fun working out the Vella-vagueness of the recipes.  Ciao!

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Traditions Worth Holding Onto

Around the holidays people are very tied to their traditions.  My New Year’s Eve tradition has typically been serving semi-formally dressed couples prix fixe menus all night, sweating profusely as I get my ass kicked around a restaurant, chugging as much to drink as I can after my shift (thank you Chambong for making the process easier and more enjoyable), and then going home around 3 a.m. with the spins.   As you could imagine, I find much relief when the eve is over and a new year has begun.  This day I find myself at a bottomless mimosa brunch with friends, then a calm and comforting meal at my parent’s house.

Traditions are good.  Even if life is crazy and everything around you has changed, a tradition is something you can hold on to, it’s reliable.  I like to think of holiday traditions as a warm pillow to rest your head, and out of all of the holidays, New Year’s day is my warmest pillow.  

My mother is German and my Father is Italian, but due to Germany’s not so proud history, and because Italians are typically louder and pushier people, we embrace our Italian heritage to the max.

We start our first dinner in the New Year with a lentil and pancetta soup by Marcella Hazan, the Italian grandma you wish you had.  Her book “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” is the closest thing that my family owns to a bible.  The soup is soul satisfying; salty and savory, complex in it’s flavors and textures, and as I mentioned above, there is pancetta in it, so really, what else do you need in life?

In the Italian tradition, people consume lentils on the New Year as a sign of wealth and prosperity for the year to come.  The lentils, small and circular, represent coins and eating them prepares you for the year ahead with hope of a little extra clink in your pockets.  And who couldn’t use a little bit of that?

This tradition is as pure as it comes: sitting around a table with my favorite people in the world, eating a humble soup dish, tearing apart crusty bread to ensure every bit is savored, and we state our intentions for the new year.  No need to hope for fame or fortune, on this day, we hope just to cling on to each other a little longer.
Happy New Year to you all, I look forward to eating and drinking with you in 2017.  Ciao, Cheers, Salute, or as my family says:  Cent Anni!

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Mia Famiglia