Memories of Our Italian American Sunday Dinners
I have so many fond memories of being a first generation Italian-American! However, if someone were to ask me if I had a favorite memory; if there is one recollection that other ethnic groups might not remember with such intensity; if there is one reminiscence I hold closest to my heart, my response would be quick and filled with love and smiles – Sunday Dinner when I was a child!
I was born in the Bronx to two amazing parents who came to this country a few years prior. They met through friends and family, fell in love, got married and lived a very happy life together with me, their only child – the embodiment of their love, values, integrity, inspiration and of course, their culture. Not long after my birth, my maternal grandmother (Nonna) made the immense sacrifice to relocate to our Bronx home from her small hometown in Italy. Her goal was to help take care of me while both of my parents worked so that they could put money aside to move up the social ladder. As a result, we were eventually able to make a move from our tiny rented apartment to a comfortable and owned two-family home where we would spend many years creating great memories!
As far back as my memories go, Sunday was always the Special Day! Whether it was just the three of us, the four of us or a house full of guests - family, friends, friends who became family, children, teens, adults and elderly – it was a day of celebration!
Of course, we began the day by going to Church! Nothing good would happen unless we were blessed by Our Lord! Sometimes, some of the men had to work on Sundays. Many immigrant heads of the family we knew worked in some facet of the Construction Industry. They were members of the designated Labor Unions. The Unions dictated that Sunday Work meant Double Time. No one turned down the extra hours. Early or late, we always ate Sunday Dinner! It is a true fact that Italians have always had a love affair with food!
The table was always set as if it were a Holiday! An Italian crisply washed and ironed, lace trimmed tablecloth with stains that didn’t wash out from the previous use (everyone’s looked the same so no one minded), everyday dishes that didn’t match, and forks, spoons and knives all placed on the right side of the plate with a folded napkin on the left. No need for formality! We were “familglia” after all!
A cacophonous symphony of Italian music playing in the background, loud voices getting louder, sounds of children fighting playfully, dishes clinking, utensils clattering – oh, what amazing flashes from the wonderful past!
No table would be complete without a bottle of homemade wine in a recycled glass soda bottle, a huge bottle of Ginger Ale and a vintage Seltzer bottle. How I wish I liked Seltzer back then! Of course we had to have our baskets of sliced Terranova Pane di Casa Bread straight from Little Italy in the Bronx on each end of the table.
Our first course was always an Antipasto which usually included all the cured meats and fresh cheeses bought at the favorite stores visited after church on Arthur Avenue, accompanied by olives and roasted peppers and so many more tasty goodies! After each course, we would change plates. God forbid any of the food from the prior course would touch the food from the next course and ruin the flavor!
Our next course had to be Macaroni! It didn’t matter what kind of pasta it was - ziti, spaghetti, rigatoni - we referred to it all as Macaroni! The gravy had been cooking for hours along with delicious tasty homemade meatballs (which I still haven’t been able to match my mother’s exactly!) After we finished, again, we would change plates.
The third course would change weekly, but my favorite memory was “Roast Beef alla Genovese” (almost like Italian Pot Roast). A beautiful cut of meat from the Italian butcher simmered with white wine, garlic, rosemary and parsley. Imagine that smell wafting through the house! The vegetables were freshly picked from the garden and the potatoes precisely roasted with just the right amounts of imported homemade olive oil from the family back home, salt and herbs from the garden. Guess what happened next – we would change plates.
Next we were given a bowl of homegrown salad immersed in a homemade dressing simply of olive oil, vinegar and salt – to help the digestion of the previous courses! Change plates.
By now, we had run out of all the real dishes so the paper plates came out for fruit, lupini beans, shelled nuts and the metal nutcrackers! We learned early on that if you wanted a nut, you better know how to use one of those metal contraptions!
Sunday Dinner ended with coffee and Anisette. The “real” Italians only drank Espresso. But a pot of “American” coffee was always perked on the stove, just in case. Hard, homemade biscotti were always available for dunking (and I mean, always!) My Nonna gladly made that part of her weekly ritual!
Finally, it was time for the kids to go out and play! The men would play cards or attempt to watch TV and innocently fall asleep on the couch, their heads drooping forward with the occasional snort. The women proceeded to the kitchen to hand wash all those dishes and gossip about the latest scandal on the block or in the family.
And when it was time for the evening to end, the kids were called inside in a language only we could understand – half English, half Italian and loud! Everyone left and the house was so quiet. And so ended another wonderful Sunday Dinner – until next week! Italian Sunday Dinners made for the most fascinating and unforgettable memories in the world!
© 2019 lisanna