Sunday, August 29, 2010


A beautiful tomato sauce is the beginning of so many beautiful meals and so many perfect memories.

Years ago my now husband and I arrived home to my parents home up north to spend the Christmas holidays with them. My brother, Paul and my sister-in-law Sherry were there as well, having just arrived from Ontario with their baby girl, my sweet niece Taylor (my darling nephew PJ would be born 2 years later). As we sat down to a gorgeous meal of homemade lasagne, Kelly and I excitedly announced our engagement. Paul and Sherry and my mom all cheered and hugged us and clinked glasses, but my dad sat very still, thinking, not sure how to react, processing the news of his baby girl marrying this young Americano in front of him. The jubilation died down and a bit of tension crept in as we waited for my normally cheerful and good-natured father to react. He looked up at Kelly, slowly reached over, and took away his plate of lasagne.

A perfect, simple moment that brought gales of laughter from all of us.

Tossed with beautiful pasta, or as the basis of a lasagne or eggplant parmigiana, a rich tomato sugo is a little bit of old country perfection. My parents make what they call pomorollo - a meatless tomato sauce - in mass quantities in late summer, using up all of the produce from their vegetable garden. My dad carefully shaves all of the vegetables into thin slices on a mandolin and these paper-thin strips of leaks and fennel and celery and garlic dissolve and disappear into the sauce. It is a thing of beauty. They freeze it for use throughout the winter and I have been known to ration those little frozen bags of goodness over the long Canadian winters.

Here is a classic sugo, a Bolognese meat sauce. The recipe is a mixture of my mom's own technique and a recipe in a favourite cookbook in our family, Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

2 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons butter
Diced vegetables (about 1/2 cup each) - onion, celery and carrot are the must-haves, but add whatever you have in your garden (onion, green onion, shallots, leaks, fennel, zucchini)
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground beef
1 cup milk
pinch nutmeg
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken or beef stock
2 cups canned tomatoes
salt, pepper and grated parmesan cheese

Soften the finely chopped vegetables in the butter and oil until the onion is translucent. Add the meat, breaking it up with your spoon as it cooks. When the meat is just cooked through, add the milk and let it simmer away until the milk pretty much disappears. Add pepper and a tiny - really tiny! - bit of grated nutmeg (Marcella says about 1/8 of a teaspoon). Add the wine and 1/2 of the stock and continue to simmer about 15 minutes, then add the tomatoes, reduce to low simmer, and cook for about 4 hours, stirring occasionally and adding the rest of the stock when it starts to look too dry. Add salt and pepper to taste as you near completion. Serve over hot past tossed lightly with butter and topped with freshly grated parmesan or montasio cheese.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Back Home

16 Finch Street, circa. 1971. Paul, Elisa & Mom, Cindy.
Growing up, 'back home' always meant Friuli, the beautiful province in Northern Italy my father comes from. Even my mother, a Canadian girl from Saskatchewan with French/Scotch/Irish heritage, came to think of Friuli as 'back home". We spent every second summer there, and my mother made it her mission to learn the culture, the unique Friulano language and – in a soulful, natural, as-though-I’ve-been-doing-this-all-my-life sort of way – the cooking from my Nonna, Adriana.

Back home in Northern BC, she recreated not just the delicious dishes, but also the warm ambiance inside the walls of our little yellow house on Finch Street. No matter how high the snow bank outside, inside my parents filled our home with good friends, good food, hilarious arguments and endless funny stories. It was Little Friuli – a million miles away.

Now, when I talk about ‘back home’, that is where my mind is, not in the original Friuli of my father, but in the Little Friuli my mother and father created on the Pacific Coast. It was true fusion long before California chefs had ever adopted the term – Italian foods with Pacific Northwest ingredients; an adopted extended family of people who had all landed there from different parts of the world; and a warm and gracious way of living in a beautiful, rugged northern rainforest.