When I was 10 years old, my Dad had a heart attack. It happened after a New Year’s Eve gathering at our house in the middle of the night. When my sister and I woke up, only Nonna was there. My parents had taken the ambulance to the hospital. Three days later, Dad suffered another heart attack, only this time it landed him a 3-month hospital stay. It was a game changer for all of us.
Do you remember that one aunt and uncle who hosted all those big family parties when you were growing up? Well, in our extended family there were two of them: my parents and my Zio Paolino e Zia Angelina. It was party central at our house and at theirs for years, ‘til the heart attack hammer smashed our fun to smithereens.
Some days, free-falling fragments still hit me wherever I happen to be standing. At a funeral last year, an extended relative who I hadn’t seen in years said to me: “We couldn’t wait for the weekend so we could go to your parents place! In those days, Toronto was so small and there was no place to go. Come Friday night… scappa… out from work. At your parents’ house we had so much fun.”
Although Dad’s hospital stay saved his life, it was the beginning of a recovery that lasted years. His heart attack propelled us into the giant swimming pool of life and we swiftly learned to tread water. Mostly I remember watching Gilligan’s Island after school and playing with my sister while waiting for Mom to come home from her daily hospital visits. Nonna was always there. She’d cook pasta, then clutch her rosary and stare out the front window. It seemed as if someone had turned off the music in our lives.
By the time Dad came home in March, each of us had fallen into various states of brooding. Dad for his beloved Lucky Strikes, a two-pack-a-day habit he ditched on doctor’s orders. Mom for new ways of cooking besides the dip-it-in-egg, then breadcrumbs and fry method. And my sister and I for our favorite crusty Italian bread, pastries, salami e salametti, potato croquettes, arancini, Ma’s sky-high pizza pies, and the Sunday pasta al forno she used to bake loaded with chunks of ham and mozzarella cheese. "Time for a whole new diet," announced the doctor. "And no visitors, just lots of rest." I cried inwardly for my cousins and the large family gatherings. I missed them, but we had to face the music…or lack of music… for as long as it would take for Dad to recover.
In came The Osterizer, the new family blender purchased to whip up health and nutrition, and other nightmare concoctions like Breakfast in a Glass. The kitchen table became our battle zone. Our lovely, chunky Italian bread swapped places nightly with thin slices of brown toast bread until Mom started baking her own. And skim milk subbed in for red wine. Just who was this crazy doctor? Son of a badda-bing. My sister and I were too young to understand and we hated him for issuing such mean-spirited rules.
By force—that’s how I joined Healthy Eating Anonymous. Feelings about my membership have evolved over the years from Tearful Rookie to Diet Natzi—I transformed into an unquestionable fanatic after my kids were born. I’ve calmed down a bit, though I opt for healthy alternatives for everything that crosses my path. That’s how this Quiche-tatta came to be. It features a brown-rice crust that’s better for your heart. And since this is Heart Month, why not give it a try? My recipe is below. As for my dad, he’ll be 88 next month. We’re thankful he’s still here to lecture us on what not to eat. To our relief, Mom put the Osterizer away years ago. Though she's not pureeing them anymore, she's still Queen of Vegetables. Like every family, we’ve shared good times and bad. I like the way Dean Martin sings about it here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mv9PSkNkUfs
And now the Quiche-tatta:
For the crust: mix together 2 cups of cooked brown rice, an egg, 3 tablespoons of crushed flax seeds, a tablespoon of parmiggiano cheese and a little salt in a bowl. Blend well, then transfer it to a pie plate (greased with olive oil first) and pat down so it’s even all around like a regular pie crust. Because I often use whatever leftover rice I have on hand, at times I only have enough rice for the bottom. Bake about 12 minutes or until firm in a 350F oven.
For the filling: Beat 4 eggs with whatever leftover vegetables you have on hand (this time I used a ½ cup of broccoli, a few mushrooms and chopped cooking onion but I’ve used spinach and rapini, too) with 2 to 3 tablespoons of grated cheese. Cheddar and parmiggiano make a nice combo. Thin slightly with 1 or 2 tablespoons of milk. Season with salt and pepper and dried parsley. My kids don't like fresh parsley but I still use small amounts in soups and resort to the dried flakes everywhere else and they've yet to notice. Clorophyll is good for you! Add this filling to your par-baked rice crust and top your quiche-tatta with fresh tomato slices. Bake at 350F for about 40 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before cutting and serving. Great for lunches if your kids are tired of sandwiches. Just don’t mention the brown rice, flax and parsley parts.