This has truly been the Summer of family for us. Children, grandchildren, long-lost cousins and girlfriends have graced us with their presence and enriched our lives. The memories of my childhood, growing up in a large family, immediately conjure up scenes of gathering around the table with good food made from sacred family recipes. It is in my DNA so it is beyond my control. I can’t help myself so I ask your indulgence while I again share that which I hold dear.
Since he was six our grandson has journeyed from California to spend a month with us during the Summer. We try to make our visits fun but also educational. At first it was swimming lessons and learning to dive. He learned to ride a bike here. The past several years we have concentrated on cooking and passing on the family traditions. For the third year in a row he has asked if he could make “the sauce”. You have heard me mention it before but for me it is the quintessential symbol of my heritage. The first year he made it with me, the second with my supervision and this year on his own. Now that he is sixteen, and his girlfriend was on hand, I believe he was aiming to impress more than his Nonna. He succeeded and now I can relax that yet another generation will carry on.
Toward the end of his visit, it happened that a cousin of mine dropped by for an overnight stay. Through the magic of technology and face book we have connected for the first time since he was an infant. He lives in Texas and being 19 years my junior, our paths haven’t crossed since he was in diapers. He was driving through this area with his girlfriend and asked if he could stop by. Thrilled to see him and so happy for my grandson to meet another member of our large clan, I was elated. He loves to cook and when we first connected, he had asked me for some of our grandmother’s recipes. I knew I had to prepare something special for him to carry on the family tradition. For the first course, I decided on “The Raffetto Family Antipasto”, a staple of every holiday and family gathering I can recall. I followed that with a large platter of “Noodles w/ the Green Dressing” (recipe will follow another time) and a hearty salad of fresh greens and tomatoes from my garden. For dessert, homemade vanilla bean ice cream and fudgy chocolate walnut cookies. We began eating shortly after the hello’s and introductions and continued around the table for hours. Although we did not see each other much during our lives, the stories and memories abound as we reminisced about our parents, grandparents and of course those cherished times around the table.
Antipasto (“before the meal” or first course ) was a favorite of the Raffetto family. It was prepared for Sunday dinner or holidays and was always abundant. Assembling it was a group effort allowing individuals to choose the ingredient(s) they couldn’t imagine doing without. Upon completion, we would gather and oooh and ahhh over its collective beauty. We were never permitted to dive into it until the appropriate numbers of photos were taken. We often took photos of our food which was a puzzle to many guests or perspective in-laws over the years. As a family we always admired the beauty of fine fresh ingredients.
Use greens for base (optional), enough to cover the platter. Ingredients can be placed and scattered around the plate, alternating and layering items to achieve a balance of color and flavors (the Raffetto method) or it can be assembled by giving each ingredient it own little space on the platter allowing more control to pick and choose what delights your palate.
Use as many or as few ingredients as desired. Choose from suggested list below or be creative and choose those you and your family most enjoy! There are no definite rules. Once I got together with a group of women friends and we all brought an antipasto ingredient of choice. We assembled it together and had a blast. It made for great fun and interaction.
Here are some of our favorites, but you should make it your own.
Olives, 2 or 3 varieties
Pickled beets, quartered or sliced
Tuna, packed in olive oil preferred
Cheese, cut into chunks (recommend provolone, fontina, or other Italian style cheeses)
Hard salami, capacolla, mortadella, prosciutto and/ or other Italian cold cuts
Asparagus, blanched or pickled
Celery, stuffed with herb cream cheese
Pimento or roasted red pepper
Red onion, sliced
Assorted pickles, bite size
Hard boiled eggs, sliced or quartered
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil
Red or white wine vinegar.
Select appropriate size platter. Arrange a single layer of greens, enough to cover, if desired.
Layer all selected ingredients and arrange artistically.
Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar or use a few tablespoons of the basic vinaigrette.
This dish can be as simple as some cheese and salami or as many ingredients as you desire. For us it was always abbodanza! I even served it on the same big platter used by our grandmother. My heart was full and so were our stomachs.
“La tua famiglia sara sempre con te” (your family will always be with you).
Grandmother Raffetto and her mother, Great-Grandmother Bonini.
Share a family recipe today. Spread the love, one dish at a time. Until next time.