Shauna from Gluten Free Girl posted a tweet last week asking everyone “What was the first thing you learned to cook?” and “How did it make you feel”. She then did a follow up tweet along the lines of….if you have a blog do a post on Monday and we’ll see what everyone comes up with.
I got excited about this because when it comes to cooking and cooking memories I always go straight back to my grandmother…
My Grandma Lu is amazing. I love this woman, more than words can express.
Lucretia Ferranti is my sweet little Italian Grandmother. I have always admired my grandmother. She married my grandfather young, had six children and even raised many of them herself. She may be little be she is one tough lady. No matter how hard life could get she always remains positive, saying things like “this will pass”. Wise way beyond her years she has been a rock in our family through the generations.
I have always looked like a mini me of my grandmother…from the day I was born. My dad used to joke about my nose saying I looked like I was window shopping all day long because it was pressed down a bit (he was just joking around because I defiantly looked like the Italian side more than the French). From our height, to curly hair and our very poor eyesight. I wish I had photos from of us when I was little, but those are in a box some where right now (I’ll post them eventually). The photo above was taken two Christmases ago. I was telling her she should get some new, fun glasses and told her to try mine on when I tried hers. She cracks me up…and I think she looks good with my frames! When I was born my parents even tossed around the idea of calling me Lucretia after her, but we ended up with Jenny instead. There are many days that I regret not taking her up on her offer to help me go to culinary school, maybe someday I’ll do it. I’m looking forward to being close to her again.
Growing up I remember her most in the kitchen. Either preparing a huge holiday meal, Sunday dinner or doing one of her many catering jobs. But my first memory of her in the kitchen is this:
We were living in Rochdale, MA. I was about seven years old and my older sister was out side playing on a sunny day. I wasn’t feeling all that great (which was normal when I was younger) and my grandmother was there visiting. She pulled up a chair next to her at the counter and taught me how to make chicken soup from scratch. (Granted I don’t fully remember the recipe, but she taught me how to cook). A very typical thing with my grandmother is she doesn’t normally follow recipes, she has them but she doesn’t use them much. So her version of chicken soup was pretty much “what is in the refrigerator?” “Oh, well just add a little of this, and a little of that” I remember peeling and cutting the carrots, celery and many other veggies to be added to her stock. I wish I had that recipe to share today with you because that is my fist memory of cooking with her (cooking in general). She taught me how to cut the veggies up and made me watch her make the stock and the remainder of the soup. Back then, I wasn’t so thrilled to be doing this on a nice day, but one thing is for sure I will never forget that.
Like I wrote above, my grandmother doesn’t use recipes often but she has them. Actually she kept them in this brown folder that every female in my family has coveted. We covet this brown folder so much that my Aunt Sue, my sister Sara and I decided that one year for Christmas we would get the folder, take a bunch of the recipes and make a “book” out of them for all the ladies. We knew this brown folder could not be given to all eight of us so we had to find a way to share them. We covet this for many reasons: there is only one copy of this, we all have memories of my grandmother in the kitchen cooking with each one of us and teaching us her many tricks/secrets and because sadly she has Alzheimer. We are happy that she had as many recipes written down as she did because sadly at this point we wouldn’t be able to get all of our favorites from her.
One of my other favorite recipes of hers (which is in this brown folder/cookbook) is her Red Sauce (Red Gravy) and Meatballs. I actually had to e-mail my sister today to get these recipes because my cookbook has been shipped back east already. After I asked Sara for it today she sent me a message on facebook saying “funny that you asked me for those recipes. I took out some turkey burger for dinner tonight and now I’m going to make grams sauce (sugar-free) and meatballs”. My gram would have to count how may meatballs she added to the sauce to cook because she knew we would all try to steal one! They are just so good that its hard to resist the urge. My dad told me a story one time about her sauce. Like I said we all tried to sneak one and one day he attempted it but instead of pulling up a meatball he pulled up a pigs foot! Ha ha ha he never tried to sneak one again.
1 large can crushed tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic
1 onion chopped
1 can tomato paste
water as needed
1 -2 tsp(s) of red pepper flakes (I like my sauce a little spicy)
Add oil to large sauce pan and cook garlic and onion together (if using red pepper flakes add them now). Add crushed tomatoes and 1 can of water blend and add the tomato paste and 1 can of water. Simmer over medium to low heat until the sauce starts bubbling. Lower heat and simmer for 10 to 15 min. longer. If you are cooking meatballs with the sauce simmer until the meatballs are done.
(just a little bit of a note: my grandmother has made this recipes for so many years, none of us are quite sure of the exact amounts, but I’m going to include some that I find work best in the gluten-free version)
1 lb of ground beef (or 1/2 hamburg 1/2 ground pork – the method I prefer)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh parsley chopped
1 cup gluten free bread crumbs – use 2 slices of gluten-free bread and pulse in a food processor until fine.
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper (freshly ground)
In a medium bowl combine all ingredients and mix well, but do not over mix.
Roll meatballs to your desired size.
Stove top: cook the meatballs in tomato sauce on a low to medium heat until the meatballs are cooked.
Bake: you can bake the meatball in the oven to your desired likeness.
I always cook mine directly in the sauce and let it simmer for a few hours, stir occasional so nothing burns or sticks to the bottom.
Serve with your favorite kind of pasta.
Gram if you ever get to read this, I love you and am very thankful that I am your granddaughter. You are truly an amazing woman who I will cherish all the days of my life. You have taught me many things in life besides cooking and enjoying food. You taught me about forgiveness, acceptance and true love. Thank you for always being the solid rock in our family and always bringing us together. You are my inspiration!