I can remember the evening quite clearly even though I couldn’t have been any older that 7. Every Christmas would be spent at my Grandmothers house in southern California. It was the one time of year when all of my family would get together under one roof; 15 cousins in total. It was a mad house, full of laughter and love and of course, good cooking. It was traditional that the ladies of the house did the cooking while the men played cards in the cigar room and talked sports. This year I was finally old enough to help in the festivities. I was never a huge fan of foreign cuisines as a child, my palate ranged from McDonalds chicken nuggets to my dad’s grilled cheese. Any kind of spice or peculiar flavor revolted me, but my grandmother was set on making me to be the true Italian I was born to be. The Christmas meal always consisted of her famous spaghetti and meatballs as the main course. This was the first time she wouldn’t make a special batch of buttered noodles just for me.
I can remember standing on the stool stirring the spaghetti sauce in the giant pan, enough to feed an army. The sauce bubbled and emitted such rich aromas I can smell even as I write this. The delicious ripened tomatoes, garlic, basil, it was enough to make me tempted to actually try it. By the time over an hour had passed of cooking in the kitchen, I had worked up an appetite, it was time for the feast. All of the grownups gathered around the long main table while the kids had their own table. The smell of the sweet garlic and herbs filled the house and as we sat down to pray for God’s blessing all I could do was salivate as I looked in owe at my beautiful plate of food that I had helped prepare. The vibrant red sauce steaming on top of my homemade noodles that put perspiration on my face when I came in too close to smell it. The garlic bread and meatballs by its close side complemented the smells both overpowering and complementary. The taste had to be as good as it smelled.
I attempted to pick up my noodles with my fork but its slippery consistency made it impossible. I sat there with so much motivation to try my dish only to be stopped an annoying obstacle. Trial after trial and I was having no success, I had to finally ask for the assistance of an older cousin to show me the ropes. They showed me how true Italians spear their spaghetti with a fork in one hand and a spoon in the other; easy as pie. Now with nothing stopping me, I put the entrée to my mouth. I could taste it, I could taste every single ingredient that was carefully picked and chopped and put into that giant saucepan. The garlic, the basil, the tomatoes, the onion; I was in heaven. The noodles so soft that they melted in your mouth and you could feel its warmth as it went all the way down. I had never tasted anything like it before. This was the meal that changed the way I think about food forever. There was a world beyond the kitchens of McDonalds and my dad’s grilled cheese. There was a way to make food into a masterpiece and I now held the keys to this recipe and wanted to learn so much more.
From then on I was my grandmas number one assistant in the kitchen, always eager to help and to learn from her as much as I could. I had learned to cook and eat like a true Italian. Now every time I made her spaghetti the smell and taste always take me back to this very day and I am reminded of the power of food and how it is not just food we are making, but experiences.