Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Don't Throw That Away!

I can still hear my mother say, on those rare occasions when there was food still on my plate, 'Don't throw that away.' In our house, nothing edible ever went to waste. Italian mothers were in the forefront of the recycling movement. Stale bread with a little parsley and garlic powder added became bread crumbs, soon to make a comeback as the coating on fried veal cutlets. Leftover vegetables of any kind found their way into dinner omelets, a nice dish in the days of meatless Fridays. My father-in-law, Ray, used to talk about local bakeries making something called Washington Cake by crumbling together old, stale cakes, moistening the mixture, and selling it at a reduced price. The link below references something called Washington Pie that sounds similar.
Interestingly enough, some of the most delicious dishes I ever ate came from salvaged food. The most amazing homemade soups often started out as poultry carcasses.  Stale Italian bread cut into large cubes, toasted and served with cooked escarole will take the chill out of any winter day. And if there are any leftovers from that dish, the escarole can be mixed with garlic cloves, olive oil and calamata olives and baked in a pie. Someone told me that their grandmother used leftover Sunday spaghetti to bake into a pie. Never had it but it sure sounds good. Linda's Spaghetti Pie Recipe - - 254585  My mother-in-law, Belle, was known to make a sandwich out of anything on its last legs.

The culture of poverty raises culinary creativity to new heights. In the nineteenth century, Italy, like other countries, consisted of the haves and the have nots. The aristocratic haves dined lavishly on food and wine grown mainly by the have nots. Poor peasants could not afford to eat meat or even some of the more commonly available vegetables. They relied on fish and eggs for protein, and found ways to make some less expensive vegetables edible. The more adventurous ones took the parts of animals that nobody else wanted and put them to use. Dishes like tripe, now served in trendy restaurants, were born from the desperation of poor people to feed their families. One of my Aunt Anna's specialties was a dish called Sanguinaccio, a chocolate pudding made with pig's blood as a thickener. I'm surprised Jello never latched on to that one. 

Dandelions are a nuisance to gardeners. Italians took the yellow flowers, battered and fried them, and viola, a tasty appetizer. Lambs' heads, lambs' heads for God's sake, are cooked, brains, eyes and all, and served on a big platter. Don't believe's the recipe for this traditional Italian Easter dish. Buon appetito. Capuzzelle di Agnello (Lamb's Head) Maybe Old Buttercup is slowing down, not able to pull that plow as easily as he used to. Does Giuseppi send him to the glue factory? Not on your life...into the pot! We ate some salami made with horse meat in Venice, and it was quite delicious. If salami's not your thang, how about a nice horse stew. horse meat recipes - The Italian Taste

In old Italy, and in old Brooklyn for that matter, being poor didn't equate to being a victim, dependent on the government for everything. You found a way, and that process made you stronger. You didn't whine about it, join in protest marches, or vote only for politicians who promised you a free lunch. You tightened your belt, made the best of what you had, and worked hard so your kids would have more. We as a people are losing that willingness to fight our way out of poverty, and do what it takes to better ourselves. That, my friends, does not bode well for the future.


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