Let love flavor your holiday table
It’s that time of year when our hearts and thoughts focus on family gatherings, and the food we will share. We bring out favorite recipes, plan menus and gather the perfect ingredients.
Growing up on a small farm in the Campania region of southern Italy, we celebrated a sort of Thanksgiving every day. The ancient Romans used to call this area Campania Felix, Happy Valley. The harvest there made for happy meals. We worked the land with the constancy of the seasons. The earth’s fruits were our livelihood, so we cared for it with the same attention you might extend to a dear family member. Hard work was a part of everyday farm life, and we were careful not to take for granted the gift of a good harvest, food on the table, or the family gathered together. In Italy, we take our time preparing food … and enjoying it! Meals stretch for several hours, lingering into the night with drinks and lively conversation. As a child, I remember meals around our worn, crowded table, often boisterous with my father’s stories and our laughter, and it made every hour working in the hot sun worthwhile. We cherished the earth because we cherished time together, and each other.
Our little village was very poor. Before emigrating to America in 1972, we had no running water, refrigerator or automobile! We didn’t have modern plumbing for cooking or cleaning. The local ladies would meet at the village fountain, then return home carrying big tubs of water on their heads. Looking back, it seems so archaic, but we didn’t know any differently; we were poor materially, but rich with family love!
Mt. Vesuvius, the ancient but still-active volcano, presides quietly and moodily over the Campania valley, giving the soil its unmatched fertility. Vesuvius serves as a constant reminder of the beauty and unpredictable power of nature, that the only time we have is the present. As St. Augustine says of time, “How can the past and future be, when the past no longer is, and the future is not yet? As for the present, if it were always present and never moved on to become the past, it would not be time, but eternity.” Therefore let us embrace the now, the present, with a sense of eternity.
This appreciation for time and food is also an appreciation for the earth itself. In Campania, we know the land is not truly ours, no matter how many hours we spend tilling its soil and picking its crops. It is a gift, which we care for knowing it has been entrusted to us. We know we cannot call our food, or the crops produced from our labors, our creations. We merely put together what has already been created by the Creator.
As St. Thomas Aquinas describes in his Five Ways: there must be a First Cause, one that was uncaused and made everything else to exist. Our appreciation for existence and nature becomes an appreciation for that First Cause: God, who has spread the earth before us like a table … who has caused this abundant feast and invited us to it. And since it has all been shared with us, our greatest joy comes in sharing it with others. Let us always place LOVE as the main ingredient at every table!
Chef NEIL FUSCO is founder of Cucina Antica Foods, Corp., a specialty Italian food-products company. Raised on a farm in San Marzano in southern Italy, he learned his family’s production and cooking with the renowned San Marzano tomatoes they’ve grown there since the 1800s.
3 cups Cucina Antica La Vodka or
Tuscany Pumpkin sauce
1 lb. fresh or dried lasagna sheets
¾ lb. fontina cheese, thinly sliced
½ lb. prosciutto, thinly sliced
½ cup Pecorino Romano, grated
Fresh basil leaves
Preheat oven to 450 F. Cook lasagna sheets al dente, drain, and cool in a chilled water bath. Once cooled, remove and dry. Layer lasagna sheets with prosciutto and fontina cheese.
Roll each sheet into a 2-inch thick tube. Slice each tube into 2-inch wide “cartwheels” and lay them on their sides. Place the cartwheels in a medium-sized baking dish. Add ¼ inch of water to the pan and cover with foil. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until cheese is melted.
Meanwhile, simmer sauce in a small saucepan. Remove the lasagna cartwheels from the oven and plate 3 per dish. Top with warm sauce and Pecorino Romano. Garnish with fresh basil leaves