The Why

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with food and cooking.  I grew up with an Italian-American mother—and her mother, a Sicilian so in love with being in the kitchen that she actually self-published hundreds of copies of a cookbook in the early 1980’s, titled “You take a little oil and fry onions… Recipes from a Sicilian Kitchen”.  All the rage, it sold out completely in grocery stores, specialty food stores and bookstores around St. Louis, where I was raised.  To this day, nearly 30 years after its release, people still request it .

Parties were the norm in my family, and the food served was the cornerstone of each event.  No matter how many people were there (aunts, uncles and cousins alone numbered about 20), food was the main attraction; the kitchen was where we gathered to laugh, yell and nibble.  My grandmother-and-hero Antonina Capasso (affectionately known as Toni or “T”) churned out ravioli and chicken scallopini and artichokes and struffoli as though she were a machine— incredible food crammed every inch of the table, all created by a woman with daughters and grandchildren as sous-chefs… and, unbelievably, no dishwasher.

T and me, Capasso Christmas, 1978

And in 2009

T now has Alzheimer’s.  She still knows who I am, but has a lot of trouble with the details—who stopped by yesterday, where she put her wedding ring and when and why I moved so far away.  Most significantly (and heartbreakingly), she can no longer cook.

The kitchen once filled with the smell of olive oil and frying onions is mostly filled with cereal and simple cold cut sandwiches.  The pots and pans are put away, the dishwasher finally purchased in the mid-90’s rarely needs to run.  Her grandchildren are grown, her daughters now have their own grandbabies to dote on and T’s presence and absence is palpable in everything that we do.  Every meal, every holiday, every fig cookie and minestrone is a tribute to T.  I actually can still smell the scent of her kitchen as I sit right now typing away at my desk.

This is the place where I honor her and her recipes– ALL of which are from “You take a little oil and fry onions…”  (Martel Publishing Company, Copyright 1983).  The title was born from the fact that nearly all of our recipes started this way– a little oil, a little onions.

I’ll also give you a little peek inside the lives and mostly laughs of a typical Italian-American family.  Ridiculous and resplendent, we talk loud, fight hard and love even harder.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this (the quote T chose for Page One of her book):

“Open my heart and you will see graved inside of it, Italy.”
-Robert Browning

Mangia!

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5 Responses to “The Why”

  1. Susan Mallon November 9, 2011 at 4:51 PM #

    Great job Katherine… love it! Although I won’t likely be cooking any of the recipes (you know me and cooking) I’ll thoroughly enjoy reading your stories and set my mouth watering.

  2. Tallee November 10, 2011 at 4:10 PM #

    I can’t wait to see everything you post! Congratulations!!

  3. Lisa November 13, 2011 at 3:00 PM #

    “Who loves ravioli?” is the cutest video. Although Gia IS blonde and blue-eyed, her soul is all Italian. Wait till that child tastes my lasagna.

  4. Michele November 18, 2011 at 8:59 PM #

    Well done. I like this already. And I’m hungry. Damn.

  5. Adele December 5, 2011 at 7:54 PM #

    Katie, this is a fabulous tribute to T. My autographed copy of the original cookbook is a bit stained and tattered, but still treasured. Your website brings your family’s culinary legacy into the 21st century–and is great fun for Capasso wannabees!

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