Be warned this blog post has little to do with anything gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan or vegetarian. Instead, it’s about family traditions that are steeped in food.
I’m Italian-American and, of course, food plays an important role in my family’s life. Recipes are handed down from one generation to the next. We celebrate all our joys with food and we mourn our losses with food.
Which brings me to Mom. Mom has been gone for 17 months now and I miss her more than there are words to describe. The last meal Mom and I made together was a traditional Italian Easter breakfast. Are you familiar with this meal?
Preparation of this meal began on Good Friday with an outing to Sam’s Italian Market with Dad. Walking through the door my senses were beguiled by the aromas of my childhood – fresh basil, tomato, garlic, cheese, cured meat, a hint of rosemary mixed with a dash of sweet almond. Tears immediately came to eyes. Living in Virginia Beach, I no longer encounter these glorious aromas, but in Philadelphia and the surrounds it exists in abundance.
We purchased fresh ricotta, sopressata – skinned and sliced, prosciutto, Easter bread, cured, wrinkly spicy black olives and, finally, a tomato pie. WHAT?! You don’t know what this is? Check out Philadelphia Tomato Pie it’s like manna from heaven.
Only the olives could I eat. I’ve had a problem with dairy since the very beginning of this life. I’ve been vegan/vegetarian in some form since I was 19 and gluten-free since 2007. But, absolutely, none of that mattered. I was helping to prepare a traditional meal for the people I loved and they could partake.
I awoke extra early on Holy Saturday. I did my daily yoga and meditation practice and then headed to the kitchen hoping to organize before Mom woke. She had started to slow down and slept later in the mornings. But, to my surprise, she was waiting for me. We spent the next several hours engaged in creating love disguised as food.
I played the role of sous chef. Every now and again, Mom would stop to make sure I understood all the nuances of the recipes. She told stories about our family as she added the ingredients to the bowls. We giggled like little girls.
That day Mom made two sweet Italian ricotta cheese pies and a la pizza gaina. I made a two layer gluten-free, dairy-free coconut cake and an gluten-free, diary-free zucchini quiche.
I know that many folks don’t put much stock in tradition, but I say give it a go. Make a pan of home made manicotti and have a chat with the older folks in your family. You may be surprised at what you hear. Who knows you might find out that your grandfather was a rum runner during Prohibition or that great aunt so and so was a flapper who won a Charleston championship – just saying. Happy Easter!
Mom’s Ricotta Cheese Pie (makes two nine-inch pies)
Pie crust – that’s up to you. Make it homemade or buy it. I’ll never tell.
- 4 pounds of ricotta cheese (mom used fresh)
- 8 eggs
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla
- 1/2 cup of milk
- 1/2 cup of sugar
- 1/4 of flour if needed
Preheat oven to 350. Cooking time: Approximately 1 hour.
Beat everything together in a large bowl. Beat until smooth. The batter should be a little on the thick side. If it is too runny add the 1/4 cup of flour. If not, don’t use it.
Cook for 15 minutes on the last rack in in the oven to ensure the bottom of the pie crust gets cooked. Then move up to the middle shelf for the remaining 45 minutes. The pie should be browned as pictured. Enjoy!