Vincent Black

My peasant foods of choice…


It seems that my taste buds have come full circle from my youth and what my personal food preferences are these days. Growing up in a very ethnic household and growing up on my grandmother’s and my mother’s homemade food and baked goods seem to have spoiled me, but I never realized how good these foods were until about five years ago. At the time l took these special peasant foods for granted and never realized how pure and natural they were because most were all prepared and served naturally and with love.

I have to admit that l never realized and appreciated at the time what went into preparing these homemade meals from homegrown gardens to preservatives that were prepared throughout the years and stored because we either could not afford these foods or were not available to my family. My grandparents and extended family would get together throughout the years and prepare several different items such as boiling and bottling tomatoes that would last us for the entire year without ever going to the grocery store to get tomato sauce. The preparation of cured meats that would feed us for several years at a time and preservatives such as jams and antipasti.

The culmination of more than 80% of all our food that was consumed was indirectly all hand prepared and with all-natural ingredients. And in retrospect, although l never appreciated it at the time, I so much graved and appreciate what was done, and to this day, it’s still very difficult and time-consuming to duplicate. To this day, l continues to search and attempt to try and replicate not only the tastes but the experience. Food should be memorable, and l will share my peasant foods of choice with you.

Making tomato sauce has to be at the top of my list as this is the secret ingredient to any pasta, pizza, or meat dish that you may want to prepare. The primary secret to the tomato sauce experience is using the San Marzano breed of tomato. This type of choice of tomatoes is imperative. Basil and a touch of olive oil with a small splash of anisette is the secret to this recipe. The boiling process is also very sensitive, and the jars need to be laid and covered with the proper insulation. And when they are done, no acid flavors and only magnificent tastes throughout your pallet.

The preparation of soppressata and capicola and dried sausage are to die for if prepared and cured the old fashion way. This event occurs only in the month of January and the entire process takes about thirty to forty-five days to complete the preparation process. Once the drying process is completed, some of the inventory is prepared in oil and jarred for future eating one to two years later. In the meantime, you enjoy the fruits of these products that were prepared years past. This art is very simple to do with a great deal of physical labor associated with the preparation, but knowing the techniques is a lost art. My grandfather was a master cured meats master of never been seen again…. close, but no cigar.

Eggplant, peppers, green tomatoes, and garlic with a sprinkling of olives all combined in one preserved jar was something that we did every two years as it was more of a specialty item. But when this combination was prepared and prepared properly, it was out of this world. The smell and taste were so memorable that l would only feast on one of these jars with some fresh bread and a glass of wine. The other Jared item would be leathery black olives that were purchased raw, baked in the oven, and marinated with olive oil and oregano and Jared for six months. This combination is worth trying if you have never had this before.

My parents would buy bushels of peppers, both green and red and we would roast or BBQ them in our garage and smell up the neighborhood and then jar them with a marinated receipt that my grandmother had taught my parents. These delicacies were used throughout the year on sandwiches and other combinations with pasta and more. We would on occasion also take these peppers and stuff them with ground beef and other ingredients that would spice up the presentation and how they were served.

I could go on and on, but the last food that l loved was the preparation of pears and peaches that were preserved with vermouth for the desert part of my past. These two simple Jared sweets were eaten out of the jar or used in baked goods that were entangled in a turnover or an Italian sweet pie with ricotta.
The simple, peasant approach to food and eating it was a thing of the past that l still search for not only for the memories but to re-create some of my past. Good, bad, or indifferent these are my choice of food and why l still miss and crave it.
Buon Appetito !

Vince Nigro/MS

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