Nonno’s Words of Wisdom
“Vai Per Il Meglio”
“Mangia la stagione”
“Alza da tavola con appettito”
“Mangia con pane, mangia senza pane”
“Mangia poco vivi lungo”
“Meglio un pepperone che una bistecca”
“Vino, giusto un po’. Acqua quanto ne vuoi.”
“Zucchero biancho e farina bianca per un matrimonio bianco”
“Morte tua, vita mea”
“Le cose buone sono lente. (Sotto lu copp)”
“Mens sana in corpore sana”
"Chi paga poco due volte paga"
"Siamo troppo poveri per pagare di menno"
“Vai Per Il Meglio”
Like all Italian grandparents, my Nonno wanted to give something to his children and grandchildren to start their adult lives. To some, it was a jacket or a suit so that they might look their best on the job. To others he gave money to make a down payment on a house, a shop or a small piece of a land for a farm.
Every generation wants the one that comes after it to do a little bit better. They long to marvel at the wonders of the world in their old age. Maybe to complain as well but mostly to marvel.
But Nonno didn't realize that his greatest gift was not the material gifts that his sons, daughters and grandchildren surely appreciated. Only now are we starting to understand that Nonno's way of living, the same way of living that had endured for generations before him, was his most precious gift and lesson. The way he lived his life with his family and friends. His proverbs saying that he took to heart. His humility and respect for nature and the way he was amazed each day by the miracles all around us, provided him with the serenity and peace of mind to live the fulfilling life that many of us today are desperately seeking.
Nowhere is this more evident than how Nonno approached food. In a world suffering from obesity, diabetes and a host of other weight related diseases, Nonno's wisdom speaks volumes. He lived a long life as did most of his friends despite the fact that they suffered through two World Wars and the poverty that was rampant in southern Italy throughout the reconstruction period. Nutritionists and other scientists are now discovering that he did out of habit and necessity was, in fact, the healthiest approach to food and medicine.
In the next chapters, I would like to share the wisdom and knowledge that I was lucky enough to receive growing up from both my grandfather and father. I am convinced that these nuggets of wisdom along with the recipes can help feed a world starving for understanding and a healthier way to live. Best of all the recipes are simple, quick and inexpensive to prepare and absolutely delicious. Buon Appetito!
“Mangia la stagione”
One of the phrases that Nonno repeated constantly when it came to food was “mangia la stagione” or “eat the season.” Nonno was born, lived and died in a small hilltop village called Fara Filiorum Petri in Abruzzo, Italy.
Nestled between the mountains and the sea and blessed with water from two rivers, Fara remains an agricultural village to this day. It is most famous for its onions but a wide variety of fruits and vegetables are produced by farmers throughout the year alongside chicken, sheep, rabbits and pigs. Diversification is a way of life both in terms of the work that people do on the farm and in terms of what they put on the dinner plate.
Just as it sounds “eating the season” means growing, gathering and preparing the food that are naturally available at every time of year. Fresh salad and strawberries in the spring. Fresh figs and peaches in the summer. Apples and grapes in the fall. And hearty greens as well as canned and other preserved foods in the winter.
“Alza da tavola con appettito”
Another of Nonno’s sayings was to rise from the table with an appetite. In other words, you should never eat so much that you actually feel full or satiated to the point where you can't move. As a blacksmith this was critical. Farmers would come to see him day throughout the day to sharpen their tools, repair their ploughs or to show their horses. They couldn't wait for him to digest or take a nap.
But there was more to it than this. Eating too much puts a strain on your body. Your stomach, intestines, pancreas, kidneys and liver all have to work harder to cope with the strain. It’s much better to eat a smaller meal but do so few times a day. Just like a well oiled machine can run all day long the body can handle a slow steady stream of food. The rest of the body also can cope better. With the mind fed by a constant stream of calories as well as the other muscles of the body they never feel starved and never send a signal to eat more.
Allot of this wisdom cam e from the animals that Nonno had to deal with. If you observe the cow or the sheep or the even the pig, you'll notice that there natural state is to eat constant but in limited amounts. Only in living with and depending on man have they developed some nasty habits but for the most part they will tend to mangiare poco ma sempre. Eat little but frequently.
For Nonno, rising with from the table with some appetite was also a necessity. There without refrigeration and a large family to feed, there was never much food around. Our challenge today is how to deal with all of the abundance we have. Eating less while still eating well should be our goal.
Today scientists and nutritionist call this portion control. We’ve devised all sorts of ways to try to accomplish this from pre-weighing our food or counting every last calorie but that can be difficult to maintain. rather if we keep it simple we just need to stop eating while we still feel hungry don't worry we have to tell ourselves. We’ll make up for it later.
“Mangia con pane, mangia senza pane”
in respecting the seasons Nonno was also aware that sometimes you have a lot of food and sometimes you have a little but the number of calories is always more or less the same. A great example of this was his relationship to bread. Like most Italians and most people in general, Nonno loved a good slice of fresh bread. Sometimes he would eat a slice just with some olive oil and a pinch of salt that could be a snack or even an entire meal depending on how he felt. But he never ate more than a few slices at a time and. How much he ate depended on what else was available.
During the summer when there was lot of salad and other vegetables like zucchini or cucumbers available the order of the day was to eat with very little bread. To make the food there was abundance so there was no need to add more food to fill you up. He also understands inherently despite his third grade education that vegetables and greens are good for you. one of this favorite dishes during this time of year was incredibly simple to make called Ciboria
At other times of the year like the winter, there were few if any fresh vegetables to be had. During these times, then meat was on the menu. Pigs would be slaughtered during the month s of December January and February when there was no longer much to give them to eat and when the family needed to eat. In this way, pigs and other livestock were the first banks in a way. A way to accumulate and save energy produced during the summer to be consumed during the winter.
The slaughter of the pig was an all day affair. Nonno was perhaps a bit superstitious but he'd wait until the moon was growing -- luna crescente -- to slaughter the pig. It was a solemn affair whereby the pig would be raised up off of the ground by one or two legs with a rope attached to the ceiling or at the branch of the tree. One man would hold the pig steady or two men depending on the size of the pig and then another man -- usually a neightbor given the farmer's emotional attachment to the pig would plunge a knife into the pig's chest killing him instantly. the pig's blood would be collected in a basin as it drained and would be be preserved in jars and eatenn by pregrnant women especially under the theory that it contained mainy life giving nutrients. The internal organs of the pig would be remoed next and where usually cooked the same day if the liver was very important and would be ground up to mapke liver sausages with hot chili flakes and levem or orange peeels if they were available. thethe hair of the pig was shaved off of the skin with a sharp knife , collected and used to make paint brushes at that point the pigs body would be expanded by attaching two sticks across its arms and legs and allowed to hand in that position fr twenty four hours in a cool dark area so that the blood from the body would finsih draing. it was exemely important that the pig was as calm as possible at the moment of death otherwise the blood would be worced into the the pigs muscles making the meat especially tought. Farmers do care for the welfare of their animals and look to slaugheter them as quickly and humanely as possible. The next day the pig wouldppig's body would be cut up to make chops and ribs. The hind quarter would be carefully removed and cured with salt for about a month to make prosciutto but more abou tthat later.
most of the meat would actually be ground up to make sausages wohich would be hung up to dry andwould last for months without refrigeration. meat then was a precious resource so Nwhen it was on the menu then Nonno would give just the opposite instruction "eat with lots of bread" TThe reason then was twofold One the bread would make the meat last longer so that everyone could get some. Two, in the winter the body neeeded more calories to cope with the cold it all made sense
today however we have heating or air conditioning in our homes so our bodies dont need to wrk so hard to maintain the appropriate temporerature. This is a great advance although it also has lead d to some laziness on the part of our bodies. We don't need to eat as much as we used to in Nonn's day to deal with our environment but the ironic thing is that we are eating much much more. Qe also have the ability to eat much better quality food than the did in Nonno's day. But man of us voluntarily choose to eat much poorer quality food. From corn syrups anstarches and other fillers to even more artificial chemical sn and preservatives.
The leson her is not to elinate particular foods from our diet but to eat everything in moderation respecting the time of year and our environment.
“Mangia poco vivi lungo”
another one of Nonno’s rules involved what we consider portion control control. to him it was part born of necessity there simply wasnt' that much too eat but also out of the knoledge that people who tended to eat a lot tended to have worse health than those who ate in more modest proprtions. part of the motivation came from observing nature as well. a fat animal would have trouble moving around and was easy prety \y for a predator likea wolf looking for a shep or a fox looking to catch a chicken. food was neeeded for energy but nothing more. ithe human being was different from a camel also. whereas the camel can eat and drink and store fod for many many days the human cannot he needs to constanly replenish his energy eating too much will only make a person fat.
so nonno's rule much like his rule to rise from the table with an appetite was never to eat too much even when the harvest was especially good or there was food in abundance. better to save and preserve that food than to abbufara and feel sick, unable to move for several days.
Nonno had a great appreciation for pigs and called them the great transformers and the walking bank account. he understood that he could give excess table scraps and other food to a pig and and preserve that food for a long time or at least as long as the pig was alive. the depayed deposit and withdrawal worked just like a bank account he also was ahead of his time in terms of solar energy he recognized that the suns energey was captured by plants very efficeintly during the summer but he had no way to preserve all of the vegetables and grains that were produced. the pig acted like a solar battery by eating up all of that food and providing the energy back in a later date and ina nother more ergy dense form. the pig really was sacred to him for all of these reasons.
the pig in fara is so important that it is little wonder that the villagers chose saint anhony the abbot, the protector of animaals as their patron. eieach january they celecbrate his feast day on the 17th of january with a large celecbration of fire and food as well as dancing.
Nonno loved a good sausage with some bread but again, always in moderation. one or two sausages at the most made a meal and unlike our modern habits he ate his sausages with a little bread and some vegetables on the sid. there were no cheesesteaks aor heavily laden hoagies or submarine sandwiches packed to the roof with lettuce tomato, cheese peppers and whatever else we might fancy. those sandwiches may be called "italian" but they are really italian american. nonno's sandwiches were much simpler much healthier and much easier to eat.
“Meglio un pepperone che una bistecca”
Nonno would always say that he preferred a nice roasted pepper to a steak. and the science is now finally coming around to agree with him. he couldnt wait to getfresh peppers in midsummer and roast them up on a an open flame. after a quick peel and preparatio nwith olive oil, parsley and a little garlic he would again be in heaven.
thre traditional preparation calls for roasting peppers ona grill set up in the fireplace or in the background but today its very easy to make these peppers in any oven. because the outer skin will be peeled off and discarded you don't even need to worry abou washing the peppers thoroughly before prpearing them. simply heat an oven p to 400 degrees and then lay 4 to 6 nice bell peppers on the oven rack. (i prefer red peppers but green yellow orange or any other color will work as well). let the peppers roast on one side for about 10 minutes and then turn them over on the other side. repeat this for all four sides of the peper. in the end the skin on each pepper should blister and turn black. you don't want to burn them completely but they should look almost burned when you take them out. put the peppers ina bowl and cover the bowl with some plastic wrap or a tight fitting lid for about 29 minutes to let them cool. the lid will trap in the humidity in the peppers and loosen up the skin. at this point take out each pepper and peel off the skin with a sharp knife it should come off very easy. finally cout the core of each pepper and discard it along withthe stem and any seeds you cdon't have to get rid of all of the seeds unless you donnt like the taste. at this point cut up each pepper into long thin strips and collect them in a bowl. add about a quarter cup of olive oil along with two chopped garlic cloves. chop up about 10 sprigs of flat italian parsley into small pieces and add this to the ppers along with a pinch of salt to taste. give the peppers a good stir and and enjoy!
the beauty of this recipe is that it takes very little effort and is very healthy you can either eat these peppers alone or with a little bit of bread alternatively you could warm up wth peppers witha little bit of oil in a pan on the stove and use it as a sauccondiment for your favorite pasta.
the pepper mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for weeks in a tight fitting container or you can follow the more traditional route and put the mixture in clearn jars for longer conservation outsid of the refrigerator. as with all jar based preservations its important to make sure the peppers are covered by a a layer of oil so that no pepper is exposed to oxygen that can cause bacteria to grow. also insure tha thte jars you use are clean and follow typicical procedures to sterilize the jars before reusing them.
“Vino? Solo Per Baniare Le Labre”
when we think of Italian cuisine we often think of coffee and wine. While these beverages are certainly ppular in Italy, it's ismpoortant to note that they have traditionally been used in moderation. Nonno was not much of a coffee drinker. First of all, it was very expensive when he was growing up at the start of the 19th century. SEcond, he prefered the taste of orzo which is a traditional barley drink that had been consumed for centuries in abruzzo and throught italy. it's very simple to prpeare. he would take kernals of barley and roast them either on in a pot on the stove or in a special device he constructed in his blacksmith shopp. Basically it looked like a can on a iron rod the can had a little door in it where he fill it up with bthe barley. then he would just need to put the rod inover a fire in the fireplace and tturn it so that the can would rotate he constructed a small wooden handle to make it easy to turn the rod without burning your fingers. after about 0 to 15 minutes ina hot fire, the barley would b roasted to a dark brown and look like small roasted coffee kebeans. he would empty the kernels onto a plate and let them cool once they were cold enough to handle he then would place them in a a small grinder at thehat poin they would be ready for use just like ground coffee. he used a neappolitan coffee pt that consisteed of two cyclindrical pots that were dconnected to each other with a third cyclinder with a fileter attached at one end. this filtered section had a screw top on one end that held a small champer where the ground orzo would go. with the orzo in place snnonno would fill up one of the pots with water and tand connect the three pots wot and connect the empty pot upside down using the filtered cycler as a connector. he then would heat up the water in the bottom and once it was boiling he would flip the two pots so that the whot water now traveled thorugh the filter and into the empty bottom pot. he would wait a few minutres for t filtration to finish and then pour the orzo liquid into a cup to enjoy
it has a nutty taste that tastes much like a light coffe. it may take a few cups to develop a taste for it but agian, science it now discovering all of the benefits of this orbarley beverage. it contains many nutrients and besand no caffeine. Nonno went to sleep with the sun and rose with the rooster so he didnt need the caffeine to wake him up.
inscoffee instead was trated byas a drug by the farmers in the village if they felt a little under the weather or needed a bit of a boos t they would prepare a coup of coffee using the same method. because they didn't drink coffee everyday, their bodyies responded to it very quickly. the caffeine boost was enough for many of them to get past a cold or a light flu and continue their work day.
Alcohol too was used sparingingly. Nonno would have a small glass of wine with his meals, a wine that he made personally. But the wines made for daily use tended to be very light. they were harvested and drunk every year without giving time to ferment too much. the prupose of the wine was really to quench thirst and proivde a bit of additional energy. as noon' liked to say, he preferred his fruit squeezed. (actually he would say piggiata which literally means stepped on given that the wine at the time was still crushed by foot in Italy). doctors today recognize that this use of wine may also have some health benefits. but remember, Nonno was not abusing his wine. one glass a meal -- no more as the wine had to last all year long until the next harvest. and if it wasn't a particularly good year in terms of the grap harvest then hwould be drinking water rather tahn wine in wlate summer. that was ok too.
“Zucchero biancho e farina bianca per un matrimonio bianco”
When we thnk of Ialian cuisine what do we think of? Pizza, pasta and bread. But agian this is a misnomer. WHie these were are are staples of the Abruzzzese and ITalian diet, they wereactually eaten in fairly limited quantities.
Pasta couild either be made fresh by combinedning four with eggs or could be purchased dried Time was limited to make fresh pasta every day and more over there often wasn't flour available to make it. Fresh pasta was for special occasions like a wedding or a birthday. Chirstmas might be celebrated with a lasagna and Easter could be celebrated with some ravioli as was Carnevale or Mardi Gras or Fat Tueesday.
Dried pasta could be purchased from the general store in the village but it too was costly. Nonn told the story of buying pasta on credit perhaps buying a kilo of spaghetti to feed his family as needed if there were no other vegetables or food available. that was the fast food he would give his children if he had to work late or didn't have much time to preapre. a full meal. pasta is sucha simple dish to make that i'anyone can do it. and i mean anyone. even the sauce is simpl e to make using either canned or fresh tomatoes some oil garlic anbasil. if your in a bind, pasta is always welcthere ready to help you.
white flour and white sugar were luxuries that Nonno simply could not afford on a reqregular basis. These were ingredients used for special occassions. Weddings were and still remain a cause for celebration. The white color of the food was just as symbolic as the brides' white dress. The dleicate pastas along with the the sweet cakes make from refined wheat and sugar were dleicious and Nonno enjoyed them but it was only a few times a year not an everyday occurence. and the portions were smaller as well. food at a n italian wedding was abundanet but it also was distributed wiedely to the extended village family. moreover, itw as very common for the wfor guests to leave the wedding with some food in tow so that they could contininue the celeration fora few days as they ate leftwover meat, pasta and wedding cake. agian, the idea was to conserve adn extend food without feeling the need to eat everything in site.
if nonn were alive today, im sure he would be amazed by the abundance. he wasa futurist in many regards being one of the first in the village to experiment with fertilizers and to open a checking account. but he would undoubtedly be shocked with how we approached this graceof God. Saving the excess was sucha natural part of Nonnos day that theis notion of super consumption would just not mak sense. Feed the rest to the pig if you are full i'm sure he would say.
“Morte tua, vita mea”
When you live as close to nature as Nonno did, you respect life and death much more. Nonno had a large family to support, 7 children along with a wife anda unmarried sister lived witht hem . furthermore he had his parents, mother and father in laws and other family memebers to think of. A bad harvest or a sick pig could make all ofthe didference between an ea well fed family and starvation. From this fear, his values of saving and being ready for the the unthinkable grew. Because of this, he may have been ready for the two great wars more than most. without a doubt both wars were hardships that affected him and his dyoung family. it was n't easy to make ends meet but Nonno had diversification on his side.
In Fara, there is a saying that says, "impare un arte e mettila da parte" that is learn something and put it aside because someday you may need it. so Nonno was a blacksmith by trade and training but he also knew how to farm, how to make wine and how to buy and sell in th e market. People were always impressed by his ability to look at an animal for sale in the marketplace and be able to judge which famfemal e was going to produce several young or which male would be most resistanct to disease. When the war came then he had several escape routes. WHen the Germans threw him out of his blacksmith shop he took his wok on the road. He recruited his oldest daughter to carry his hammer and other tools and he would bring his anvil through the countrysside to work on farms to shoe horses and make repairs onsite. He didn't let a little thing like a war stop him from feeding his family. There was no money at the time so he would barter providing services for meat, vegetables or whatever else the farmers had to offer.
In one epepisode, there is the story of how Auora was walking back from a trip to one of the farms with her father are saw a lovely field of greens growin gin the a meadow. She know that if she asked her father to stop to pick them he would refuse. He was a worker and needed and a planner and unscheduled breaks were not part of this plan. Instead she told her father that she was tired and just wante dto stop to rest her feet. HThisher father could not refuse. After all , his daughter carried heis hammer work that ould usually go to a boy.
Sittinng in the field, Aurora picked as many of the wild grewing greens as shee could and tield them intoa bushel that she carried on her head. The greens she picked werere chicory which grow in early spring. These greens can be a bit bitter but when prepared with some oil and garlic they sweeten up to the point tyou can eat them raw or eat them on their own or as a side dish. Here's the recipete.
This dish dish is filling and provides a good source of fiber. It also has diuretic properties that can help filter out the toxins that can accumulate in your body. Its a wonderful dish to prepare and enjoy with friends.
“Sotto lu coppe”
Along with farmers, there are a good many shepherds that live in Fara and surrounding villages. These shepherds would take their sheep out each day to graze on the rich grasses that grow in the Majella mountains. Tradittionally, the shepherds would leave early in the morning with their flocks and return late at night leaving their weives to care for the home and children. Fire was central to the home Alzare da tavola con appettito Morte tuum vita mea Meglio un peppe rone che una feta di carne Mangia con pane, mangia senza pane Mangia poco e vivi lungo Little pasta. Bought on credit Coffee as a Drug
Vinegar just enough salt enough oil never enough Piñata of beans White flour and sugar for weddings La cicoria and Zia Aurora