I grew up in a very large Italian family on my Dad's side, and a much smaller Russian family on my mother's. Both lived in Mansfield, MA, so we were either on one side of town eating homemade macaroni, or on the other side of town eating borscht and stuffed cabbage. Eating, and coming together as a family, has been an enormous pleasure for as long as I can remember. Both sides of the family made everything from scratch. My Italian grandmother made pasta, by hand, on her macaroni board. There was a standing invite, to anyone in the family, for Sunday dinner. All you had to do was show up and Grandma fed you her delicious homemade sauce and gnocchi, or whatever pasta she decided to make that week. This pasta making tradition was passed down to her 15 children, and has been passed on to my generation, as well. It's a loud and boisterous family that just oozes love, acceptance and kindness. Once you're in their presence it's hard to tear yourself away. The food is always delicious and the family experience is just priceless. Oh, and everyone who shows up is considered family!
My Russian relatives were much more reserved but their love and devotion was undeniable. My great-grandparents immigrated to this country in 1912 and 1913. Papa came first and Nanny joined him the following year. Nanny was a peasant in the Ukraine (which was part of Russia at that time) working in the fields from morning until night. She witnessed enough heartache to give her the courage to sneak out of her country and immigrate to this one. They settled on a small farm in Mansfield where they grew their own vegetables and raised chickens. She cooked the peasant food of Russia, which I started eating as a baby, and I'm pretty sure it was love at first bite.
So where was I to go with this rich ethnic background? To the kitchen, of course. My family taught me the importance of taking meals together. Yes, the food is delicious, and so much better for you, but when you include the emotional and spiritual satisfaction that comes from being together as a family, you begin to understand what really matters in this world. This is where the real life lessons are learned, and it's why I love to cook. It enriches my life and those around me. Some say they don't have time, but maybe we need to make time as our health and well-being depend on it. I know it's time well spent.
Homemade ravioli continue to be a Palanza family tradition:
And Nanny's Russian Egg Bread lives on thanks to my mother who documented her recipe: