As a kid I used to be….let’s say chubby, to use an euphemism. My parents tell this story to everyone that asks them how I was as a kid: apparently when I was born, I spent the first week in the hospital. The doctors decided to keep me on a diet to verify if I had an allergy. I was so, so, SO hungry that I was crying so loud that patients staying in other wings of the Hospital could hear me and therefore would complain about that.
Since then, I have never lost my appetite. And my mom, Lina, has always fed me as if I was five kids in one body. As the way italian moms show they love is through their dishes. And since I was a kid, as most italian kids, I was educated to the culture of food. Food not as a need but as a pleasure. Flavorsome, healthy and OFTEN. On a normal day I have always been eating (who knows me can confirm) the 6 typical meals of the italian “diet”: first breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, merenda (afternoon snack), dinner and after-dinner snack.
What-to-eat has always been the main conversation topic in my family, as in most italian families. During lunch an italian mom would ask: guys, what would you like to eat for dinner? And during dinner we would decide the menu for the next day. It’s a FOOD-driven life.
Despite the hunger and the love for food, I had never really felt the urge to learn how to cook. As a kid I would “help” my grandma preparing pasta once every now and then, but that was it. Most of all, no one was really allowed to touch anything in the kitchen, as that was the reign of Lina, the Queen of the kitchen.
We used to have a small, narrow kitchen, and the rest of the family could never tell how she would manage to prepare those amazing, authentic, incredibly flavorsome dishes in that tiny place. She still has that tiny space as a kitchen, and with the years she has organised that space reaching a level of practicality that the most skilled interior designer would be impressed.
Now…I was not allowed to be an active part of the cooking act. However I was allowed to watch. When it was almost lunch time, and delicious fragrances would fill the dining room, I used to run in the kitchen with a puppy face, begging for a tasting bite. During these few minutes I would distractedly observe what she was doing, the way she would mix the ingredients, the way she would cook pasta…
It was only when I started University and had to cook for myself that I realised the time spent watching my mom cooking allowed me to learn a lot about cooking. And during those years at Uni, sharing a flat with up to 7 other friends, I started perfecting my skills: cook pasta for 8-10 people. Go on a study retreat/weekend with lots of other students before the exams and cook for 30-40 people. Experiences like those were a great practicing ground.
I failed several times though: the meat would not cook properly, the pasta would be sometimes sticky… or simply the dishes didn’t taste as the ones my mom was able to cook. So I used to pick up the phone and give her a call and ask her how she would cook that specific dish I was going to prepare. That’s how it all started. That’s where my passion for food comes from. And still today, when I want to cook something special, there she is, Lina, with her tips and advice over the phone.
For this reason, I would like to start a recipe section in my blog that I will call La Cucina di Lina (the cooking of Lina): as all the dishes I will propose to you, readers, even if made up sometimes by myself, will always be influenced by the interaction I have been having with the most fantastic chef in the world: Lina. Thanks mom.