Being part of a large, extended Italian family means tons of family celebrations. And it always impresses me that the food is always homemade, delicious and plentiful…no matter how many guests we are! From a young age, I observed how to feed a big gang, beautiful food.
In the olden days, this took an enormous amount of time, as the ladies insisted on doing everything the day of and preparing all the dishes simultaneously. You can imagine the chaos and excitement in the kitchen, and why I was intrigued by it since I was a wee girl. It’s where all the action was. And maybe why Italians always have multiple kitchens?
Let’s face it; making homemade, delicious food takes effort, but it’s extremely gratifying. And what a Modern Italian Mamma knows now is how to break things down in a recipe or menus, so it looks like she’s slaved in the kitchen for hours!
To maintain our traditions, I learned that to create homemade food with a growing and very active family, I needed a rethink a new approach. I created a process for planning and timing. Breaking down the components of a menu or a dish into 4 categories.
- Make way ahead – refrigerate or even freeze if possible (i.e. fresh pasta sheets)
- Make a few days ahead – refrigerate
- Day before – refrigerate
- Needs to be completed on the day – finish & serve
The amount of work depends of course on your menu. When planning for a special dinner I take this all into account. I choose a few very simple dishes and ONLY 1 complex dish that can be broken into the components being made ahead of time.
For example, a menu for Easter may include; Assorted Antipasti, a baked pasta dish such as Ricotta & spinach stuffed pasta shells (recipe in our cookbook & coming to our Online School) , roast lamb with vegetables, salad, and Italian Colomba di Pasqua, assorted Italian pastries & espresso and a fruit platter.
An Impressive & delicious meal, and here’s my secret plan of attack:
- Making lists. A grocery list and another list divided into 4 columns…. The subtitles are “way ahead”, “a few days ahead”, “the day before” and “day of”.
- I review the dishes on the menu and start to place the tasks into the appropriate column. The further ahead I can do some of the tasks, the better. The more family members you can assign tasks to, the better as well!
- Italians are also famous for leaving tricky, complicated desserts to the professionals. We all have a favorite bakery that makes authentic Italian cakes and pastries, and to save time we may opt out of making dessert.
An example of breaking down a main dish into smaller tasks would be the Ricotta & spinach stuffed pasta shells:
- Make the sauce 3-4 days ahead.
- The day before make the filling, boil and stuff the shells.
- The day of, assemble the shells with sauce and cheese and bake. (Don’t assemble the day before as the shells will soak up all the sauce and they will be dried out when you bake them)
Prep your vegetables 1-2 days before & refrigerate. Prep your salad fixings the day before & refrigerate. Prep your lamb the day of. Set your table the day before. Open the wine & welcome guests as everything comes together. Organize your timing of the dishes, so that they are ready at approximately the same time.
Cooking like an Italian Mamma means planning the dishes and choosing the menu based on how much time you have and what will work with your schedule. I suppose when one comes from a large family that loves to cook these tips are passed from one generation to another. If you have a small family it may not be second nature. It’s tips like these that I love to share with my students. Cooking homemade everyday or for special events can be easy with a little help and tips from an Italian Mamma.
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Happy Easter to you and yours!
Ciao for now, Natalina