The Literate Chef

How to Cook Like an Italian Grandmother

In General Articles on April 9, 2011 at 2:48 PM

Food, from its raw state to its ultimate consumption, is a sensual journey. From the acquisition of the ingredients, through the process of preparation, presentation and consumption, the senses of sight, smell and taste, almost always come into play. However, the two other senses, sound and touch, are no less important to our overall enjoyment of food, even though they are not always present during each food experience.

As more of us dine out, or purchase prepared foods, the sense of sound usually experienced in the preparation of food is lost, unless of course, you are eating in a restaurant with an open kitchen. Similarly, in many dining out experiences, formal or otherwise, unless it is finger-food like passed hors d’oeuvres, or hand-food such as barbecued ribs, the sense of touch is not necessarily evident.

Certain foods frequently take us back through time to our childhood, or to particularly memorable moments in our lives. Who among us having grown up in a large city, has not, when walking past a ‘Jewish’ deli, and inhaling that heady aroma of a combination of grilled frankfurters, steamed corned beef and pastrami, mixed with the pungency of dill and new pickles, recalled a time from their childhood when they were treated to a similar experience?

Having grown up in the northern Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood in the 1940s and 50s, living with my parents and younger sister, I, like many of my friends and contemporaries was fortunate to have had those food experiences, as well as others, many times over. I can still recall hot summer afternoons and the Jewish deli that used to be on the southwest corner of Vermilyea Avenue and 207th Street. Its aroma would hit me full in the face as I walked into the store, awakening my salivary glands in anticipation to the treats ahead. Then the crunch, the heat, the powerful salty taste, moderated by the yeasty freshness of the bun, as I first bit into a sizzling hot dog, just off the grill. To be followed by the greasy yet crisp feel of French fries served in a paper cup, each of which was coated with salt grains that clung to it and ketchup that cooled its heat. As I savored this combination of flavors, all five senses were certainly going strong!

Equally vivid in my memory bank  is walking into the Pizza Haven, inhaling the aroma of garlic, fresh basil, tomato sauce and yeast. I can still recall the sensation of that first slice of ‘fresh from the oven’ hot pizza, as the mozzarella clung to and burned the roof my mouth!

My forays into the pizza parlor were a secret kept from my grandmother and mother, each of whom took great pride in her ability to create a memorable meal for her family.

What we have attempted to do with theliteratechef.com is to entertain and share with you some of our memories while giving you some cooking ideas to introduce to your family and friends. Hopefully you will find them easy to implement and they will become part of your memories as well.

Please Continue to: Everybody Has a Story   


  1. What wonderful childhood memories of food. My memory is of growing up in a post war London with no memories of wonderful food. I didn’t really encounter the sensual side of food until I went to the South of France in the early 50’s, which was an epiphany:)

    • Thank you, Roger. We were very fortunate in the U.S., not having had to deal with what you did in the post war period. I was especially blessed to grow up in a close-knit Manhattan neighborhood surrounded by parks and rivers and having an extended family living in close proximity.

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