We called my dad's mom Nini. That's some version of grandma in Italian, although it's more the result of four grand-kids who couldn't say the Italian word Nonna (the real word for grandma in Italian) correctly when we were learning how to talk.
How adorable was this woman?
Nini knew how to cook like an Italian grandma should. She made her own pasta, all forms of it, and I am not lying or exaggerating when I say I was never served a noodle in her house that was not home-made. Her basement was littered with clothes drying racks strewn with long strands of spaghetti, fettuccine, and vermicelli. My cousins and I would eat untold amounts of tender dried pasta off those racks--because even dried--it was delicious. She had hand-crank pasta makers clamped to the edges of multiple tables and she had an entire second kitchen down there where her and my grandpa would make their own sausage, stuffed artichokes, spaghetti sauce (which no one can duplicate, I'm sure of it), canned figs, bagna cauda (check that out if you're not familiar with it--and then never make it--unless you're going to make it outside), pizzelles, flan, and tortellini.
And did she make tortellini. She'd grind up the veal and prosciutto herself, cut uniform squares of pasta dough, put the exact right amount of filling in the middle of them, and fold them up perfectly into little belly button shaped dumplings. And she'd have bags and bags of tortellini in her freezer at any given time. It was the first course of almost every meal that she made. Perfect tortellini's bobbing around in home-made chicken broth topped with generous scoops of parmesan cheese.
She really wanted to teach me how to make tortellini. She'd ask me all the time while I was in high school. But I didn't really want to learn. I wasn't that interested in cooking while I was growing up and I think that because she was so relentless in her asking I was equally relentless in my saying no. And I'm pretty sure it hurt her feelings. Cooking was her thing. She loved cooking for her grand-kids. She would have made every single person's favorite dish for dinner even if it was seven different things if our parents would have allowed it.
Every time I'd say no, she'd just shrug and say, "Maybe another time. It's okay." And you can guess......that 'other time' never happened. I went to college, and I still loved eating the tortellini she'd make and bringing bags of it back to college with me, but I was even "busier" than I'd been in high school and.........Nini wasn't feeling as good as she used to. She was sick. The only time that Chris ever met her was before we were even engaged and about a week before she passed away. She didn't really know we were there.
And I never learned how to make tortellini.
And that makes me so upset. With myself.
It would have been so simple to spend an afternoon in my Nini's basement with her folding pasta and it would have made her year. But I didn't do it. I just didn't do it.......for selfish and ridiculous sixteen....and seventeen......and eighteen year old reasons.
I still love tortellini. I buy the pre-made beef tortellini and boil it in chicken broth (not home-made) and I think about Nini every time we eat it. It's actually, ironically, one of Georgia's favorite things to eat. She cheers when I tell her it's what we're having for dinner. A dinner that took so much work on Nini's part because it was made from scratch......and love, takes me about ten minutes and I consider it one of my, "I forgot to think about dinner so this is what we're having," dinners. But Georgia loves it.
And I know that would make Nini so happy. She would love Georgia and all of her gregarious energy and zest for life. She'd think it was so amazing that Georgia was adopted......and Italian.......and ours. Because she loved what her grand-kids loved.
Even if her grand-kids didn't understand and place enough value on what she loved.
So when I'm dumping a plastic tray of tortellini into a boiling pot of chicken broth I think about spending time with people I love.....and who love me. And I think about how important it is to be with them, really be with them. And to do with them, what they want to do with us.......because they want us to understand them better; they want to give us a part of who they are.
And that means our own parents, our spouses, our best friends, friends that we're just making, mentors........our kids.
Don't be too busy to make tortellini with someone. It's probably just one afternoon of your life......and even if it's more...........who cares?
Love you Nini. You were an amazing grandma. A really amazing one.
Beautiful post, Maggie...and I think you totally look like your grandma!! (especially the left picture)ReplyDelete
I used to make tortellini with Nini and have her recipe somewhere. We could get together sometime and try to make some (it has been a long time) if you would be interested.
That would be awesome Michelle! Do you ever make it to Grand Rapids? Or the next time I'm down in Detroit area we should plan something!Delete
Invite me, pleeze...Delete
Oh, this made me cry. So very true. Thanks for sharing!ReplyDelete
What a great family story, Maggie. Thanks for sharing it.ReplyDelete
So sweet! Happy SITS Day.ReplyDelete
I love this post! I visit my elderly mother every weekend and sometimes I do not feel like making the one hour trip each way, but I know that opportunity will not always be there. Thank you for the reminder. I love that your daughter loves tortellini!ReplyDelete
My grandfather didn't like to share his recipes because he didn't write them down. He did tell me the secret of his fried apple pie. Thank you for the lovely post. I'm going to aim to do one thing before 2013 that I've held off doing. Thanks for the inspiration. Enjoy your SITS Day.ReplyDelete
Yep, I should have tried harder to learn how to knit. But I gave it a shot. Why not learn how to make pasta now, as a tribute to your grandmother? You could do it over Christmas break with your little girl and tell her all about how amazing her great-grandmother was and how she'd want you two do this.ReplyDelete
Also...my husband, after much whining that I never make HIS grandmother's Polish dumplings, set out to make them himself. Took all night and was delicious...but he forgave me for not making them. He couldn't figure out how his grandmother had the time to fix that dish so often! (You have to boil the little suckers in tiny batches.)
Beautiful...My grandmother made toffee. My dad makes it now, but none of my grandmother's grandchildren do. I have taken lessons and almost made it work, but I need a larger kitchen and more free time before it happens. I am determined to get it right one of these days.ReplyDelete
I loved my grandmother's cooking. Nothing can ever top it. Happy SITS day!ReplyDelete
My grandma was the most important person in my life. Thank you for reminding me to think of her by sharing a story about yours. I'm glad you are still able to share a love for that meal with your daighter, even if it's not the form you would wish for.ReplyDelete
Nice post! My grandma's recipes were not written down and I was the only one to take the time to watch her make her bread. But that was only once and before they had digital cameras. Now much of my blog is about gaining the knowledge and confidence to cook like my grandma and make sure it's all documented for my kids. I love the story of your grandma's pasta drying racks all over the basement - just fantastic! How I would have loved to have been there...ReplyDelete
Hope you are having a great SITS day!!!
Great! Now I'm hungry! Well, happy SITS day, late, anyhow :)ReplyDelete
Looks absolutely delicious! I love tortellini :)ReplyDelete