A Meal to Remember- Elise Miranda

Posted on January 17, 2013


Some of my favorite and most vivid memories involve food and family. On one occasion My parents, sister, and I went to the home of some relatives whom I had never met in Northern Italy. When we walked in the door the first thing I saw was a giant copper pot filled with golden polenta bubbling over the sides. I immediately knew that we were going to be eating well. But I didn’t yet know quite how well. Meeting so many new cousins was very overwhelming and not knowing Italian was even more overwhelming. All I could do was sit and listen with my Dad and sister to the conversation my mother carried on for the four of us. I could not wait to eat, and I had no idea of what was to come. There is something about eating with people, even if you don’t speak the same language, that brings everyone together.

The first course that we were served consisted of many typical Northern Italian “antipasti” dishes. As the dishes came out of the kitchen my mother translated what they were to me. My favorite was the assortment of dried and smoked meats, “i salumi,” that some of my cousins had made themselves. My favorite of these meats was the speck. It was salty and rich with a smoky flavor that I had never experienced before. We were also served insalata russa, which was filled with things I didn’t want to eat like hard boiled eggs and mayonnaise but I stomached it anyway. There were also dishes of pickled zucchini, white beans, tuna, and bread being passed around the table. At this point I was quite full but I knew there would be more food coming. I did not want to be rude so I cleaned my plate and hoped that the next course would be light.

We were served the second course as soon as the plates from the next course were cleared off the table. Again my mother translated everything I was served. First on the plate was the polenta I had seen bubbling in the kitchen earlier. The next was a piece of meat that I assumed was pork, but I was mistaken. It was deer or “venison” that my cousin’s husband had hunted for us the day before. I think my mother was somewhat amused by my disbelief that someone would serve deer. Then came the mushroom sauce. I never really like mushrooms but I was told that another cousin had gone out into the woods and hand picked them for the special dinner with the Americans. I knew there was no way out of eating those either. On the same plate we were also served a helping of fried potatoes and veal, in the event that we did not want to eat deer and polenta. The polenta was thick and the deer was better than I ever would have expected. It had been cooking all day so it fell off the bone and melted in your mouth. The mushroom sauce was a perfect complement to the neutral polenta. I had never had mushrooms that I had liked before. However, these were so buttery and smooth that they turned me into a mushroom convert. The veal and potatoes were flavorful and fresh, but not nearly as delicious as everything else on my plate. Despite the fact that the food I was eating was better than any I had ever had before, I was ready for the meal to end. My sister looked like she was going to be sick, but we just kept eating so as not to insult the hosts.

When our second plates were taken away, my family was praying for our bountiful meal to be over. We knew, however, that no good Italian meal is complete without a cheese course. So out came a salad of finely chopped endive and an assortment of local cheeses. The salad was refreshing after the heavy meats. Most of the time I love cheese more than anything else, but on this particular day the cheeses were just about the last things I wanted to ingest after such a large meal. I managed to eat some and was rewarded by some of the best, most pungent hard cheeses that I have ever eaten. Next to cleanse our palates came a bowl of mixed fresh fruit. My mother informed me that some of my cousins picked the fresh currents from the nearby woods that morning. I fervently hoped that the fruit bowl was our only dessert. Then I saw a fruit filled tart and a jam filled tart making its way around the table. Both desserts were also accompanied with fresh cherries and espressos.

By this point even the Italians were full, so we went outside to enjoy the view of the mountains. I was so satisfied by the meal and thrilled for it to be over at the same time. My family walked around in the hopes that some mild exercise would help us digest our food faster. We had been sitting for at least three hours so it felt good to be moving around again too. When it got too cold to be outside we went back to the table, and my relatives served us juice and tried to push more of the tarts on us. Later that night at the hotel my parents and I gushed about how wonderful the food was; it was just that there was so much of it! This was a meal I will never forget for more than one reason. I can still taste the mushroom sauce and the cheese but I never want to eat that much in one sitting ever again.


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