A tavola non si invecchia — Italian proverb.
Translation: At the table with good friends and family you do not become old.
When I married into a big Italian family, I initially underestimated the love affair that Italians have with food. The weekend meal (because really, they don’t stop eating) waxes and wanes, but never quits. As noted in the standard cookbook in most Italian households, The Talisman Italian Cook Book, “Breakfast is a meal of which the Italian, like the Frenchman, approves only half-heartedly…Many Italians take nothing but black coffee on rising, and wait until noon to begin to eat.” We nibble a bit at cheese, salame, and bread at about 11:00, settle into tomato pie for lunch, then mid-afternoon we pull out a bit of wine and more cheese, olives, soppressata and prosciutto, and the rest of the bread. Occasionally, there is a quick run to the deli down the street for subs and pizzelle cookies. And where there is food, there is animated conversation and old stories that get funnier at each telling. This all happens before dinner. We break bread together through the day.
And day after day they regularly assembled in the temple with united purpose, and in their homes they broke bread [including the Lord’s Supper]. They partook of their food with gladness and simplicity and generous heart. Acts 2:46 (The Amplified Bible)
Then dinnertime arrives and again, we eat before we eat. After all, we need something to sustain us while we wait for the sausages to simmer and the pasta water to boil. One of our favorite recipes originated from the Jersey shore at a local Italian restaurant on the boardwalk. We usually start a meal with Italian mussels and bread. I was able to duplicate the recipe after ordering it a few times and analyzing the ingredients. So many Italian recipes have their history based in the simple food of the peasant kitchen, using basic ingredients and adding in extras if they are at hand.
The delightful thing about Italian food is the ease of prep and flexibility in creating the recipe. Rustic Italian Mussels is a dish prepared in layers. Bring people to the table while you cook by laying out some of your favorite cheeses, sliced apples, olives, sausage, and loaves of good Italian bread. Serve the mussels as the meal, ladling them into bowls, with more bread for dipping into the sauce. This recipe is gluten, dairy, sugar, and egg-free!
What you need:
1 2-lb. bag fresh mussels (Give them a sniff. They should smell like salt air and ocean.)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Several garlic cloves, coarsely chopped (I use about 8, but adjust to taste.)
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes (Make sure there is no sugar added.)
1 15 oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (Beans are optional, but it bumps the dish up from appetizer status to a meal.)
Pinches of salt and coarse ground pepper
10 leaves or so of fresh basil, coarsely cut
Red pepper flakes (Optional and add to taste.)
1/2 c. dry white wine (Optional)
What you do:
The featured image is courtesy of Annie Nardone and used with her generous permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Annie Nardone is a flannel-clad, cowboy boot-shod adventurer who seldom travels with a map! Her passion is the reintegration of the arts and humanities with theology and Christian imagination. Annie holds a Masters Degree in Cultural Apologetics from HBU, is a founding member of The Society for Women of Letters, and is Managing Editor of The Cultivating Reader for Cultivating magazine. She also writes for Literary Life, and An Unexpected Journal. Annie resides in Florida with her Middle Earth-Narnia-Hogwarts-loving family, & her wild assemblage of cats.
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