Everyone has a food memory. You know what I’m talking about - the smell or taste of something that transports you to another place in another time.
Every year my mother makes the Christmas cookies my grandmother used to make, and even though my mother’s really aren’t exactly the same as the cookies from my childhood, the mere scent of them brings me back to my grandmother’s apartment in the Bronx, to her bedroom, where the cookies were laid out on clean white sheets on every available surface. My grandmother in her housecoat, chuckling as everyone quibbled over how many cookies each sister or cousin was packing up to take home. I can’t see a stuffed artichoke without remembering how my uncle used to sit next to me at Sunday dinner, ready to scoop up the artichoke heart I always left on the plate, as I savored only the leaves and the stuffing!
Food is so much more than just sustenance. It connects us to our families, to traditions that have passed from generation to generation. It brings forth our memories with amazing clarity - the perfume of a baking pie, the sharp aroma of onions browning in butter - just close your eyes, and you’re transported to a wonderful place.
But lately I’ve been wondering what is going to happen in our world of fast food and never enough time. What kitchen memories will our children’s children have if we don’t maintain these traditions now?
So many handed-down recipes are in danger of being lost forever unless we make a conscious effort to preserve them now. So I implore you - the next time your grandmother, aunt, mother or any relative starts talking about a family recipe - listen to them! The day will come when you’ll be glad you did.
This Crostata recipe (an Italian cake) was passed to me from a wonderful lady who is no longer with us. I’m so glad I listened when she told me how to make it.
4cupsPastry or Cake Flour (14 oz)
10TablespoonButter (5 oz)
2Teaspoons baking powder
zest from one lemon
13ozfruit jam or marmalade
Instructions: Put the flour into a mound on your counter. Cut up the butter into small pieces. With your hands rub the butter into the flour until the butter is the size of small pieces and is evenly distributed in the flour. Add the sugar and baking powder to the flour mixture. Make a well in the middle of your flour/butter/sugar mixture.
Put eggs, egg yolks, lemon zest and marsala in the well. Mix with a fork and gradually start to incorporate the flour mixture into the eggs. As the mixture comes together use your hands to form a dough. Do not overwork the dough or your crostata will be tough. Divide the dough in two - roughly 1/4 and 3/4. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for about 1/2 hour.
Remove both pieces from the fridge and unwrap the plastic. Sprinkle some flour on your counter and roll out the larger piece to about 10 inches in diameter. Place it in a tart pan with a removable bottom, or alternatively on a sheet pan (you can make the crostata free form if you don't have a tart pan).
Cover the crostata dough with jam. Then roll out the second piece of dough a little thinner than the first, and cut it into strips. Layer the strips on top of the jam in a criss cross pattern. Brush the crostata all over with beaten egg.
Bake in a 350 degree oven until the crostata is lightly brown all over, about 25 minutes.