Jokes abound over the relationship between in-laws. And not without cause — family ties can be very frought and difficult indeed even when we are dealing with a situation happier than Romeo and Juliet. Much as we like the idea of a parent saying, “We are not losing a son, we are gaining a daughter” or vice versa, it cannot be denied that there is a radical change, a paradigm shift even, in the make-up of any family nucleus once a son- or daughter-in-law enters into the picture. It can be equally hard on the person entering the family because it requires skill in understanding what traditions and outlooks hold the family together – practices that can be thoroughly inimical to the son- or daughter-in-law.
I consider myself very fortunate to have found my husband’s family to be sufficiently similar to my own when it came to details that matter. I must have seemed very strange and exotic to them at first (being half foreign and all that) but once I had children and they saw how ‘Italian’ I was on that score, and how I loved that they too could take an active role as grandparents, relations took on a deeper value. Not that I didn’t give them a run for their money, poor things … my children always mucked about in bare feet for instance and of course, to their generation, this was just asking for trouble and tantamount to risking double pneumonia. And don’t let me even attempt to tell you how useless my reassurances were to them, even after many years of living proof’, that my children would not drown if they went into the sea for a swim after eating lunch (i.e. without waiting for at least two hours so that the food was properly digested). We spent many summer holidays together in their house in the Marche and my children will only have loving and funny memories to look back on.
Food of course plays a tremendous role in binding a family together, at least … so say I. And I was made even more aware of this recently, when my in-laws stayed with us for two weeks so that my mother-in-law could convalesce after a knee replacement operation that, for obvious consequences, saw her bedridden in the initial phase. It was a shame that the reasons for this stay were medical, but in the end it proved to be almost like a family holiday for us all. The real challenge for me was not so much in having to cook for a greater number of people, no. It was having to cook twice a day since they think of lunch as their main meal whereas their son and I think of dinner as our main meal (since we are away at work or otherwise too busy during the day).
Having the main meal at lunch is of course the healthier option but I was trying to juggle two ‘full’ meals in one day and that meant making them both “sort-of” full meals and not necessarily in line with their eating habits. Bless them, however, they were happy with whatever I concocted for them and grateful for any scrap I might push their way, they proved just so easy to please. I would prepare a pasta or risotto or minestra (thick soup) for lunch, followed by some ‘bits’ (cheese or cold cuts or leftovers from the night before) and a salad, and fruit for lunch. And for dinner or supper we’d have the greater protein, meat and two veg sort of thing. Fresh bread, always!, on the table at lunch, a glass of wine for my father-in-law, conversation, debate, talk about the past, a bit of a moan and groan at how politics are mishandling the country, expression of hope for the future, and a nice “pennichella” (which is Roman slang for a siesta) to round it all off. So very civilised. And despite the fact that I was now eating two ‘proper’ meals a day, instead of just the evening one, I did not put on any weight at all! Go figure! When they left to return home at last, we were all tearful. This had not been an easy time for them, operations and ill health and the encroaching inroads of old age never are, but I am now more-than-ever convinced that a decent hot meal twice a day played a huge role in the recovery process, not just physically but psychologically too.
Hospitals should be ashamed of themselves. Naturally institutionalised meals can never match up to home food but they can still be decent and good. And when a person is down or ill, good food makes all the difference in getting better quickly.
I want to thank my good friend Liz Macrì, a great home cook if ever there was one, for suggesting I add onion to this pasta dish. My father-in-law approved of it most heartily and had three helpings of it !
I also added a splash of white wine and played about with variety-is-the-spice-of-life theme by frying some of the artichoke separately, to add a different texture to the dish.
I think the photos speak for themselves and that little commentary is necessary. The sausages were Italian pork sausages, the wine was white, the grated cheese was pecorino, the oil only EVOO …
Cook the trimmed and sliced artichokes for about 10 minutes or until tender. You can cut up the sausage beforehand … or mash it instead with a wooden fork in the saucepan (see below). Add the wine after the sausage meat has already cooked for a bit … Pan-fry some of the sliced carciofo in a separate saucepan … and aim for making it go “crisp”. Add the crisp artichoke slices last … And if you don’t have pecorino, you can substitute it with parmesan cheese.
For a similar recipe see my previous post: