Revenge of the Cultural Stereotype
I SHOULD have been an Italian mamma. After all, I come from a long line of Italian mammas. World War Two is what saved me from this genetic pre-determination because it was the direct cause of my father's emigrating to Australia. I've been back to the old home town a couple of times, un piccolo paese inland from Gargano, the peninsula that forms the spur on the boot of Italy.
They have a saying there, well, actually, they have a lot of sayings, but the one that seems relevant at the moment is "Chi parla, arriv'a Roma." Literally that means "He who speaks goes to Rome" but what it really means is that unless you're a completely tongue-tied hick incapable of asking directions then you can go far.
On one visit to il paese, I met a cousin who showed me what I might have been: she had married a local boy, was living with her husband and chldren and grandmother in her grandmother's house, and had never been anything like as far as Rome. There but for the grace of Ghu
So, how did we get onto this subject, anyway? It all came about with my having promised to bring the food for one of the meals at the next Plokta weekend, to make up for the fact that for the last several months we've gone to Alison and Steven's instead of alternating venues. Well, it's their fault for breeding and making their family increasingly less portable, I think, but anyway, I promised to bring somethinga huge vat of lasagne, I said airily.
Now, I do like to do things properly, and the cabal are one lot who can tell the difference between good, home-cooked food and microwave eezemeals, so I decided to make it the old-fashioned way. On the Wednesday night, I made the sauce. This takes a whileover an hour's preparation then cooking for at least three more, with frequent stirring. Don't forget the frequent stirring. Think of it as good exercise, I told myself grimly, as I trudged up and down the stairs for the eighteenth time that evening. Oh, and the bechamel.
That was the easy bit.
On Thursday I made the pasta. It's not difficult, and it's cheap, and there is a real satisfaction in kneading the dough by hand. Also, it gets your fingernails really clean. Only kidding. So, anyway, there I was, up to my elbows in flour, my thoughts wandering as my mind was lulled by the childhood smell of dough and the gentle, repetitive movements. I thought about what might have been, if my father had made a different decision all those years ago.
There's been a book published recently called "How to be a Domestic Goddess", by Nigella Lawson, which, according to the reviews, seems to be about producing the kind of comfort food you remember from your childhood. Eat your heart out, Nigella, I thought, wielding the rolling pin.
Yes, making your own pasta isn't difficult. And it's cheap. And it's messy, and takes all evening, and makes your back ache. Nigella, you can have it, I thought, when the vat of lasagne was finally assembled and I surveyed all the dirty pots, dirty tea towels, the countless used implements, the flour and mozzarella all over the kitchen floor. Give me a nice, clean relational database any day. And to top it all, George had gone off in a huff because, master of immaculate timing that he is, he had turned up in a rare affectionate mood just when I was at my flouriest. They'd better appreciate this damn lasagne. It must be about twelve years since the last time I made it and you can be sure it'll be another twelve before I do it again.
But at the back of my mind is the thought that, in an alternate universe somewhere, there is another Giulia, dressed in black with a floury apron and three or four bambini clinging to it, who does this kind of thing all the time.
--Giulia De Cesare