New Year’s warmth with family culinary kinship
Do your New Year’s resolutions begin with fervor, then flame out by February? Instead, take this opportunity to have your resolutions be more than a checklist of personal goals for the year. Unite the whole family through a commitment to nurturing your body and soul and making it a way of life.
In my hometown of Campania, Italy, everything starts with a prayer to the Blessed Mother. The farmers use the phrase La Madonna ci pensa, meaning, “Our Lady will look after us.” The sunny climate and rich soil in Campania allow for multiple crop cycles in a year. The tomatoes there are sweeter, hazelnuts earthier, basil stronger, and peppers spicier. Our harvested fruits and vegetation made for healthy meals. When I was about 10 years old (the oldest of 5 children!) my mother had me help in making the family meal. Cooking together as a family using fresh ingredients was not a yearly resolution but a way of life in our native land.
So, how can we create healthy, delicious meals for families in this country without feeling like it’s a burdensome resolution? You do not need to live on a farm to do it. Today’s markets are attuned to consumer demand for healthier food — neighborhood and farmers markets have all the fresh ingredients. Just like the farmers in Campania, you too can invoke the help of Our Lady by reciting a Memorare for the physical and spiritual well-being of your family. Next, getting the whole family involved in preparing the meal creates a warm, close-knit family dinner table. I use simple ingredients so the whole family can help. Fresh produce involves trimming, peeling and cutting. Get your children involved and invested in the family meal: children can snap ends off string beans. Older children can rinse and cut zucchini, celery, peppers, etc. Children can even enjoy helping with readying the water pot and boiling the pasta! Working together creates a sense of unity, love for each other and for the meal that has been created.
St. Benedict says, “Ora et Labora,” meaning, “Pray and Work.” We should offer up all tasks or work as a prayer. Dinnertime should be a very special family time where all can voice an appreciation for each other and the food that has been provided and prepared together. This is a natural and joyful way to turn all thankfulness into a family prayer to God who has provided the nourishment for our bodies and souls. It is a very teachable moment and should be more than a 10-second thanksgiving. It allows everyone to acknowledge the value of a family meal, pray for those less fortunate and appreciate God’s love and providence for all.
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. His newly released cookbook is “The Main Ingredient,” with amusing and heartfelt stories about faith, family and recipes from his childhood in southern Italy.
Chef Neil’s Old-World Minestrone Soup
2 cups Cucina Antica Garlic Marinara Sauce
2 cups water
4 cups unsalted chicken or vegetable stock
1 15 oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1/2 tbsp. dried oregano
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp. salt
1 lb. elbow, ditalini or conchiglie pasta
2 cups spinach, coarsely chopped
Pepper to taste
4 tbsp. Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
Combine Cucina Antica Garlic Marinara Sauce, water, stock beans, carrots, oregano, celery, onion, bay leaves and salt in a large pot.
Cover and cook for 45 minutes on low to medium heat. Remove bay leaves.
When vegetables are tender, add the pasta and spinach.
Place cover on pot askew and cook pasta for about 10-15 minutes.
Ladle soup into bowls, add pepper to taste, and top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.