This is my grandmother, Dora [Barbaresi] Donroe, at my wedding in 2000. She hates this picture because she thinks it makes her look old. But, I love it because this is mostly how I’ve always known her. She forgets that I wasn’t around when she was young, stick thin, and flawlessly beautiful. As much as I love the old pictures, I barely recognize her.
I knew her in the later stages, still fiercely independent with a wicked sense of humor, but capable of more love than I thought humanly possible. She has a favorite skin cream, which she uses liberally, that kept those wrinkles at bay for as long as nature would allow. But, I wouldn’t trade in a single one of those wrinkles because there’s a story behind each one. (Although, now that I’m getting of an age, maybe I should find out what brand it is.) (So, then, I guess it is actually possible to miss your own point.)
Growing up, Nonni got me hooked on crossword puzzles, Alfred Hitchcock, and seven-layer cookies. We’d spend hours wordlessly working on nine-million-piece jigsaw puzzles. She had a weakness for scratch tickets. I had a weakness for chocolate. We worked out an arrangement. If you were sleeping over and she heard you cough, she’d crank the heat up to 85° until you woke up thinking you were dying in the Sahara. Then, when you finally cooled off and fell back asleep, she’d be up banging pots and pans at 5 a.m.
If you piss her off, you hear about it. If you make her happy, you hear about that, too. She isn’t perfect. And you wouldn’t want her to be. This is starting to sound like a eulogy. Fear not, she’s alive and well. But, why wait for a funeral?
Here, have some chicken.
Unrelated, as far as I know, to the French-Canadian meat pie by the same name, this Italian peasant dish is equally hearty. Serve with plenty of Italian bread to mop up the juices.
¼ cup olive oil
1 onion, sliced thinly
1 medium package boneless chicken breasts, cut into thirds
2-3 potatoes, cut into medium cubes
3 cups Nonni’s homemade tomato sauce
1 15-oz. can peas (you can substitute frozen peas, but they won’t taste murky enough)
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 300°F. Pour oil onto the bottom of a 9x11-inch baking dish. Add onions, then arrange chicken breasts on top and potatoes around them. Sprinkle salt and pepper, and add just enough tomato sauce to cover the chicken. Bake uncovered until chicken is cooked through and potatoes are tender, maybe 2 hours (depends on how big your chicken and potato pieces are). Then, take the can of peas, water and all, and throw them in the pan as soon as it comes out. Let sit a few minutes to warm the peas.
Dora [Barbaresi] Donroe
New Haven, Connecticut
And that's the end of the Italian Cookbook Friday, folks. (If you missed the beginning, it starts here.)