By Letizia Mattiacci
am in "Ammerica" on my annual cookbook tour. I've been working nonstop for five months to be able to fly to the other side of the planet, attend cookbook dinners, and tell tales of Umbria at various cultural institutions. In between the public events, I plan to visit my many friends across six states, cook in their fabulous kitchens and enjoy being treated to the joys of delicious food, wine and friendship. Halfway through the trip I've already been touched. One group traveled nearly two hours to see and dine with me. Someone else delayed surgery. One person flew from Texas to Philadelphia. Several hosts have taken time off work to help me out. I'm being treated like royalty.
Yet every time I'm here I can't help pondering my Italians predecessors who came to this country in droves a century ago, many of them starved and desperate, often with no one to help them once they arrived, their families split up for decades and sometimes forever.
My great grand father emigrated from Sicily to the U.S. sometime in the 1920s with three of his four children. My grandmother Rosaria was the youngest of the family and didn't want to leave her boyfriend Giuseppe. Her only escape was to elope and as a consequence they married when she was only 14. I don't know the details of that part of her life or what it meant to be a child-bride. I don't know exactly why my great grandfather had to emigrate, though it's easy to imagine. I do know from my mother that Rosaria had a rose in her hair on the day of her marriage and she was beautiful.
I also know she never met her siblings again. They wrote to each other for some 60 years, and while they might have had the means, they didn't seem to have the courage to fly across the ocean many rural Italians were afraid of flying. Rosaria died in the late 1970s.
This morning I'm on a train to New York City where I'm hosting a cookbook dinner in an East Village trattoria. Nellie and Stella, two of my mother's cousins, will be there. We didn't even know about each other until recently. They still have family in Umbria, of all places.
Stella is 80 and looks exactly like my grandmother Rosaria. Nellie could easily be an aunt. My mum would have adored being here. We would have laughed and cried while feasting on our food.
It's taken almost a century to for this family reunion to happen, and guess what, I'm crying on the train. Silly me, I am so Italian.
This recipe for Falsomagro in bianco was among my mother's favorite. The falsomagro or farsumagru refers to stuffed lean meat. Basically, it's a large braciola, or chop.
The rich stuffing was intended to stretch portions so the meal could feed whole families while using inexpensive ingredients such as inferior meat cuts, bread, a little fat, and a bit of cheese. Grandma Rosaria, who became a widow in postwar Sicily, fed her six children like kings by stuffing everything with bread.
Despite its modest background, falsomagro is a splendid dish. It's tasty in a very Southern, garlicky, herby, Italian way. Since you can prepare it in advance and serve at room temperature, it's also an excellent party dish and fairly healthy since the red meat portion is relatively small. Now I need top crying and get started.
Falsomagro in bianco
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