Sundays, we would typically visit the grandparents in Brooklyn—the Irish in Flatbush and the Italian in Canarsie. There wasn’t much to do at the Italian side — the house was tiny, and the adults spent all their time in the kitchen. But there was a lady down the street who ran a candy shop from her garage, and along the way, we passed a little house with a fig tree (wrapped up in winter) and a goat, which was endlessly fascinating. The Irish house had a basement and attic and garage to explore, and there was always the chance of running into some of our innumerable cousins. But Irish-American cooking, back then, was not very appetizing. My grandmother boiled everything — even hamburgers (or meat patties, as I think she called them).
The Italian side, of course, was a different story. My grandfather made the best meatballs (though my father always insisted his were better). Meatballs were supposed to be fried and then simmered in the tomato sauce, but we’d typically lurk nearby and grab them just as they came out of the frying pan (as soon as they were cool enough to handle, of course). My grandfather would yell at us, “Don’t eat all the meatballs! Eat the bread!” We would happily oblige — the Italian bread from Brooklyn in those days was legendary — but when my dad saw us tearing at the bread, he’d yell, “Don’t eat all the bread! Have a meatball if you’re hungry!” The Italian household was always more animated, and no visit would be complete without someone saying, “Salt the water? I thought you salted the water!” Or “Whaddaya mean you salted the water?!? I already salted the water!”
Those days are long gone, and in the course of time, I’ve taken my place in front of the stove, like all those who came before me. Much of what I know, I learned by cooking alongside my dad — very few things were ever written down. But I also discovered that Italian cooking is entirely intuitive. Some things, it seems, were just meant to go together on a plate.
I’ve got kids of my own now, who are getting a little older and a little more self-sufficient. And at least one of them has shown some interest and aptitude for cooking. So, to be sure they don’t starve (or subsist solely on ramen), I’ve decided to record some recipes for their reference. Some day, perhaps, when I am gone, they will sit down together with a bowl of rigatoni and a glass of chianti and reminisce about their childhood meals, and the dad who believed that even the simplest dish was a profound gesture of love.
Oh, and about the site name…. When the kids were tiny, I used to read a book to them called “Daddy Makes the Best Spaghetti.” We probably still have it somewhere in the house (not that we need it — I’m sure we can all still recite the whole thing from memory). I was surprised to find the domain name was available, but decided it was too long, and didn’t want to confuse anyone or upset the author. Still, I pay homage.
And the tagline? Anytime my dad would prepare a dinner that made him exceptionally proud (and which maybe wasn’t garnering the applause he deserved), he’d always say, “You know how much you’d pay for this in a restaurant?”
Well, no. Memories like that are priceless.