by Staci Troilo
Food traditions bring four generations into the kitchen.
Yes, the stereotypes are true. Italians turn to food for everything… we celebrate with it, commiserate with it, mourn with it. It should be no surprise that holidays in an Italian household are marked by the aroma of simmering tomato sauce, baking bread, and roasting meats. Tables will be laden with steaming soups, sautéed vegetables, trays of antipasti, and dozens of cookies and cakes. The most amazing part is that the meals are prepared by memory, the recipes passed down not on stained cards but at the elbows of mothers and grandmothers in crowded kitchens. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
The finished loaf is beautiful and festive
Easter is no exception. Every year since my first memory, my mother would take out her largest bowl on Good Friday and make Easter bread—a sweet dough, rich with egg. She taught me and my sister how to feed the yeast with the sugar, how to knead the mixture until it was smooth, how to bless the dough in Latin so it would rise. She had learned from my grandmother, and we learned from her. Once the dough had risen, we punched it down and let it rise again. And then we punched it down and let it rise again. Three times—for the three days between Christ’s death and resurrection. Then she taught us how to make cloverleaf rolls and braided loafs of bread, some of which we put eggs in. These eggs we’d color with food coloring, not dye, and we wouldn’t boil them first… the baking would cook them. They made the prettiest loaves. We’d refrigerate the rest of the dough for the next day.
Easter pizza: An Easter weekend tradition.
The following day, when we could eat meat, we’d take the leftover dough and make Easter pizza. We’d roll out a piece of dough and put it in the bottom of a pan like we were making pie. Then we’d fill the pizza with pepperoni, salami, ham, two kinds of capicola, hard boiled eggs, mozzarella cheese and ricotta cheese and put another piece of rolled dough on top. We’d put slits in the dough and brush it with an egg wash and bake it until it was golden brown and the cheese inside had melted. This was my favorite part of Easter… working with my family in the kitchen. We’d make an assembly line to complete the pizzas faster and then we’d distribute them to family and friends around town, saving a few for ourselves to eat during the holiday, and one or two to freeze and eat in the summer (what a treat!).
Rolling out the dough
I don’t live near my family any longer. But I’m teaching my kids to make the pizzas. We make the dough and bless the bread; we make an assembly line for the pizzas. But mostly, we talk about family tradition and how things used to be. I loved working alongside my mother—and sometimes even my grandmother—when I was young. That was how I learned the recipes, but that was also how I learned about my family and my culture. That was how I grew so close with my family. And that’s why, even though I live a thousand miles from home, I still talk to my mother every day. I still talk to my grandmother (who’s almost ninety-five) and my sister all the time.
Italians use food as a way to bring families together. I don’t live near my family any more, but every time I eat one of their recipes or share one with my children, it’s like we’re still together, like my ancestors are still with us. And isn’t that really what it’s all about?
Staci Troilo grew up in Western Pennsylvania writing stories in poetry in her free time, so it was no surprise that she studied writing in college. After receiving creative and professional writing degrees from Carnegie Melon University, she went on to get her Master’s Degree in Professional Writing, and she worked in corporate communications until she had children. She went on to become a writing professor, and now she is a freelance writer living in Arkansas with her husband, son, daughter and two dogs.
Her fiction combines dark, dangerous heroes and strong, capable heroines woven together into a contemporary tapestry of tantalizing romance. Compelling villains and gripping mysteries engage the reader from page one of her novels and her short stories feature ordinary characters conquering the odds in extraordinary situations.
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