We had two kitchens in our house when I was growing up, like many families we knew in and around our neighbourhood. One upstairs and one downstairs. Mostly we used the upstairs kitchen but come July, August, and every festa-- and there seemed to be a lot of those-- we migrated to the basement. It was twice as big as the one we squeezed into everyday on the main floor of our modest bungalow, and I liked the calm colour of blue we had down there.
Anna and Danny lived next door and Ornella lived across the street. Together with my sister and me, the five of us hung out on most summer days. Sometimes we'd be in our backyard (offering a swing set, picnic table, and a view of my Uncle's huge tomato garden next door). Some days we'd be at Ornella's where there were no fences across three family yards and we'd run from cherry tree to the radicchio patch in her aunt's backyard, to cherry tree again. Her Aunt Dina grew the biggest radicchio patch in the neighbourhood and I couldn't wait to taste some of its bittersweetness every year. She'd knock on our door with a big bunch in her hand at least a couple of times each summer and to me it was as good as ice cream.
At times we'd hang out in Anna and Danny's backyard where the grape vines grew above the porch. I spent a lot of time gazing at the perfectly shaped leaves and followed the pathways of the vines. By September, Anna's dad would be passing out handfuls of green grapes for all of us kids to enjoy.
Unless it was raining, on summer days we were outside riding bikes, skipping, and playing handball along the wall. At least once each summer, we'd write our own plays and put on a theatrical performance in our garage (next to the wine damigiane) taking what our mother's would shell out for costumes.
By dinner time, we were ready for a rest. And anyway, we knew we'd be back out on the street in an hour or two to meet up with the rest of the kids in the neighbourhood for a huge game of hide-and-seek or baseball in the big field at the end of the road.
Dinner meant peaches in wine for my parents and milk for us (a beverage I detest to this day!) The different shades of purple, red and orange in the wine glasses reminded me of the evening sun. I was fascinated by the nuances of the colours. We got to eat the peaches after the wine was gone, though I found they looked better than they tasted and usually stopped after a couple of bites.
Summertime meant less pasta and more bread. Bread with cheese. Bread with olives. Bread with salami, prosciutto and capicollo. And my mom's tomatoes with homemade mayonnaise and capperi. Her mayonnaise was fresh, tangy and delicious. The capers, a salty bite of heaven that I'd sneak from the jar every chance I got. Here is the recipe:
Place an egg yolk in the blender with one tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar (I prefer vinegar), and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Blend together, adding a 1/2 cup of olive oil very slowly. Blend until it thickens. If your mayonnaise is too thick, thin with a little lemon or vinegar (whichever you used earlier on in your mix). Pour onto freshly sliced tomatoes and top with a few capers.
P.S. I did it! I made the gnocchi. And they were good. I had to get it out of my system. I didn't use the cream sauce, though. I took a bit of a detour, as is the way of the kitchen.
My parents were coming over for dinner that night and I had planned to make stacks of Veal Parmigiana (which I did) with rice, steamed broccoli and a mixed green salad. Instead of cooking the rice, I said a Hail Mary and tried my hand at gnocchi with tomato sauce on the side. Success at last. They were easier to whip up than I thought they'd be and making them again helped me see where I had gone wrong before. Using baking potatoes and a potato ricer makes a huge difference. Everyone liked them.
It was a happy day.