Monthly Archives: August 2011

Ratatouille or Giambotta?

Who hasn’t cooked up summer vegetables all together in a pan? Chinese would call it stir fry, the French: ratatouille and in my house it is giambotta. I found a recipe for ratatouille in a magazine and thought this sounds like a dish my mother makes every summer, give or take a few vegetables. Since we always had some form of a garden growing up, my parents would use every inch of dirt suitable to grow tomatoes, zucchini, basil, cucumbers, the list is endless. This meant that no matter what was served that night for dinner, a nice dish of giambotta accompanied that meal. This dish would consist of any vegetable of your choosing but for us it was mostly, tomato, peppers, eggplant, onion, zucchini sautéed in olive oil with fresh basil in one pan. The Ratatouille recipe that I used was similar but you sauté each vegetable in its own pan then throw it all together in one pan at the end with a little more olive oil under a low heat then served.
I had my radio show yesterday ( a little self promotion here Zumix) and my co-host an I were talking about food and the rataouille dish came up. So I went on to explain that it is a similar dish to giambotta. He looked at me with a strange face and asked what is giambotta? He too is Italian, in fact a native Italian and I just assumed he knew what it was.

Italy’s regions have many dialects and words that I grew up with can make absolute no sense to someone, say from northern Italy. But the word giambotta also means “a mess” or a mix of things, basically everything is thrown in the mix so it becomes a lovely mess. We don’t always use it for food. We laughed about giambotta and I vowed to never make ratatouille again but of the labor involved, but of course I broke my promise and made it tonight. I used what was in my refrigerator, … so maybe this was really giambotta and not Ratatouille? Either way my mother would be proud of me for attempting to make either dish. No matter where you are from the food is the same it’s just the way you cook them. I won’t even start on “panicolo”, I’ll save that for later 😉


Peasant food or not?

When I wrote about tomato jarring I never mentioned the food that was served for lunch. Food that you would find at an Italian picnic could be actually mistaken for gourmet at a fancy Italian restaurant was the special of the day.
I blogged about zucchini flowers earlier. In fact yesterday the meal consisted of those summer delicacies and artichoke frittata panini with a side dish of fried hot peppers. If you don’t know what frittata is, it is the Italian version of an omelet.
It reminded me of how food has evolved and how tastes have changed. To my parents and their friends this type of food is worth just as much as a dinner at the fanciest place in Boston but they would never pay that price. They do it themselves and do not fancy it up. Adventerous, my mother can be and good at it, but she is at her best when she cooks what she knows and loves. Food at its simplest form with the basic of seasoning, if any; you can’t get better than that. Observing the scene of the “workers” taking their lunch break, my Uncle joked, “You ready to join our union”. I seriously am.

You say tomato I say “tomahto” either way it’s time to jar!

You say tomato I say “tomahto” either way it’s time to jar!

It is August 8, 2011 and hot and humid in East Boston. It seems that every year around this time when my family gets together for the annual tomato jarring its ALWAYS hot and humid. So I made it up to my parents’ home for the tomato jarring and brought my camera to capture the moments. Although they say it’s an excuse not to get my hands dirty! Looking at the scene in my parents backyard, it reminded be a little of the I Love Lucy show when they formed an assembly line in the chocolate factory. The process at the house was not so fast but it was just as comical. My parents, Uncle Domenic, a few of their close friends Nicola and Mirella, Anna and Nicola and my mother in law Norma each had their job.
Washing, cutting, and boiling were the first steps. The second step involved putting the tomatoes through the pressing machine. On one end smooth bright red liquid would pour down the spout and on the other end the peels and seeds would spit out which would eventually end up as more compost for the garden. The last steps are to pour the sauce into jars with a sprig of fresh basil just picked from the garden and tightened. Then placed in the storage area designed specifically for the tomato sauce.
Some would wonder why would you go through all this trouble to preserve your own sauce? In today’s world convenience is everything. Time is time. Sure most of those involved are retired but they kept this tradition going since they set foot on this land over 40 years ago, even while working and with small children running around. This among other traditions that I wil touch upon are not only about food, it’s about family. It’s about spending time with your family and friends while appreciating our fruits of the earth. It’s about laughing and sharing. Ironically today would be the day that my grandmother passed 11 years ago. She along with my grandfather and my Aunt Teresa were always front and center in the process. Today my family is moving forward while preserving historic traditions.
I caught the conversations going back and forth, starting with my families Calabrese dialect, to my mother in law’s Avellinese, to their friend’s dialect from Frosinone. It didn’t matter what they spoke and how it was said, they just understood each other.
I called a friend of mine who suggested I post this and told him about the day. I said I want to write a few things that they did and said, but would it be offensive to the outside world who didn’t grow up this way? While telling him the stories he laughed. The response I expected. He said, “That’s what family is all about. Things are said and done and you get over it or just laugh at it. It’s expected.” He is right. This is my world. I understand it and I value it. I am taking their skills and talents and using my skills to put it out there. Old World meets new. I tried to explain to my mother about this blog and she just shakes her head and says just write it. At one point she would have gingerly yelled at me for not helping but I explain that I am, in my own way. What I am doing will preserve things for another hundred years if not more. Sure, someday I will get my hands dirty and hopefully teach my children these traditions. I hope you check out my blog often and learn.
It takes time. It take effort. It takes patience. And it tastes Good!
As for those stories about the day, well, I’ll save those for another day

Challenges Bring Progess and Tomatoes

On a recent trip to my garden with my husband I accidently plucked three green tomatoes which were very far from ripe. A bit bummed by it my husband suggested I put the tomatoes on my sticks which stand as a structure for my Sicilian (cucuzza) squash. He said they may ripen in the sun even though plucked from the vine, it’s source of life. After a week or so, I discovered one very red ripe tomato and another on its way. The third is still fighting to ripen. I viewed the progress of these tomatoes as not only a source of nourishment. To me they symbolized endurance and overcoming challenges. This brings me to a an article written by Sal Giarratani from the Boston Post-Gazette. His view on life, challenges and tomatoes is something I want to share with you all.

“Challenges Bring Progress”

by Sal Giarratani

I’ve seen the above on billboards all over the place advertising the Prudential Insurance Company. Recently, while over at the East Boston Community Gardens, I looked up to the highway separating me from the airport on the other side. Challenges bring progress? Such a simple statement of fact, yet quite profound, isn’t it? The gardeners in their tiny urban garden were tending to their crops. I was talking with a friend of mine by her patch of soil. She was watering her plants and plucking off a tomato here, a cucumber there and a little Romaine lettuce in between. It had all the makings for a nice siding of salad. Everything produced right there in the neighborhood’s front yard. It was grown with love which meant you really needed to wash it before eating, otherwise that little extra fiber you’re chewing might be a bug or two. It was a nice evening with the heat wave departed, and the two of us were talking about personal challenges.

She is 30-something and waiting for the career she wants to begin. Right now, she’s working for a paycheck wishing to be in another time in the job she dreams of starting. Me? I’m getting ready to retire. Working for my paycheck, too. I await my retirement date and the hopes of getting another job to ease my financial burden of a pension. Right now, the two of us are like lots of other people out there facing daily challenges with daily dreams pushing us onward. She’s about to get on her train of life. I’m approaching the last stop in a long career. Progress, that’s another thing. I used to think it was just moving forward. However, moving forward to what?

Too often our lives feel like two steps forward and one step back. Things that grow in gardens don’t have any problems or challenges. They blindly progress from planting season to harvest. These things have no joy, sorrow, happiness or lost dreams. They await the daily sun and its nourishment and that of its gardener too. I wake up every morning and plan my day. I do the best I can. I get through it. I thank God for this day of mine. However, if there was any progress made in my life’s journey is never clear to me or any of us. Sometimes the best challenge is to get down to the 303 Cafe in East Boston for my vanilla latte made there as they say with love. Every day is progress. Every day is a new chance to progress forward. I hope my friend finds that job she searches for, and I hope I get to retire and not live off food stamps. However, even more so, I hope neither of us just works to get the eight hours a day over with because that doesn’t sound like a progress strategy to me. Prudential is into many things but usually I think life insurance. Progress is in a funny way a form of life insurance. Something to make our life go by with ease.

Picking tomatoes is a lot easier than picking the right road to our futures. Bottom line, we make a little progress every day even if we don’t recognize that fact. Whether, we are a greyhound dog or a snail, eventually we do get from point A to point B. If we didn’t feel challenged in our lives, now that would not be progress. Once they throw dirt on you, the only progress made is that of a plant inside a community garden where we race against the crawling bugs around us. “Challenges bring progress” are three words that either go unseen by us or become words to grow by. Take door number two on this one.


It looked like an avalanche hit the backyard. I am not talking about snow because we are in summer, I am talking about the hundreds of tomatoes gracing the table in my parents backyard. It’s August 2 and this will be the beginning of the tomato jarring season. My parents each pick up tomatoes and sort them out looking at them as if they were sorting out pieces of gold. To them this is more valuable and to me it is as well. Maybe this year I will bit the bullet and actually help instead of take my usual pictures to savor the future memories.