Dec 7, 2017

Dad's favorite dishes

I need to write. Writing is my preferred form of therapy. My father has flown away, and I still can't believe it's true.

I'm grieving and I have no idea how to do it. My emotions overlap and my heart aches. I can't make any sense of what's happening. FYI You're in the wrong place if you're expecting to read a cheerful post.

What follows is a moment of intimate reflection, of deep therapeutic writing that I'm putting out there in the universe (secretly, I'm hoping Dad will read it and smile, from wherever he is right now).

Although we did have time for our goodbyes, for whispered I love yous, and no remorse of anything left unsaid, there are so many other moments that I would have wanted to share with you, Dad.

I would have wanted to see the look on your face when reading the dedication of my first book to you.

Your reaction to the wink in the camera I gave as I joked about eating blue cheese (which you hated) on the gorgonzola segment of my show.

I would have loved E. to hang out with you more, and finally play that golf match you two have been talking about for years.

I so wanted to take you to the Navy museum in Anguillara on lake Bracciano, you would have loved it!

I wanted one more walk on the beach together. One more granita di caffè at Tazza D'Oro. One more impromptu softball game in Santo Stefano di Sessanio together. One more.

Just like this blog started eight years ago as a journal of thoughts followed by recipes, today I'm honoring the memory and the greatness of my Dad by assembling an ideal menu made up of all the dishes he loved, the majority of which were Italian––or so I like to think. I'm going to cook them all for him.

So here goes, Dad, I hope you enjoy it.

Prosciutto e Melone – Dad, you loved this classic Italian hors d'oeuvre. If prosciutto was unavailable, you'd sprinkle salt on your cantaloupe. This created the same perfect umami contrast. You often told a story of your Navy days in the Philippines. One of these memories was of you and a fellow officer riding on a boat to a local's house. It was a sweltering hot day. In the distance you saw the woman whose house you were headed to standing on the jetty, holding a jug of what looked like pulpy orange juice. You hated pulpy orange juice more than you hated blue cheese. A mix of disgust and fear of being impolite when declining to drink the beverage washed over you. Imagine your surprise when you soon realized the contents of the jug was crushed cantaloupe melon! You said you didn't let anyone else have much of it. Eating melon will never be the same for me. I will always smile and think of you with every bite.

Primo piatto
Anything al Pesto – You had this thing with pesto sauce. When you'd come visit us in Rome, this was always your first pasta choice. I remember this one time you came to visit when E. was 2 and for the welcome dinner I made gnocchi al pesto for you, a classic go-to and, modestly, a personal showpiece. Well, that night the gnocchi turned out to be a disaster: a collapsed, sticky mass sunken at the bottom of the pot. I fished it out and attempted dressing it with my homemade pesto sauce, which somehow had oxidized and looked dark gray instead of bright green. You ate a full helping of it and feigned appreciation, but I could sense the effort each time you swallowed a bite. Maybe you would have rather eaten my pesto lasagna. Damn, I wish I had baked that for you instead.

Secondo piatto
Scaloppine al limone – I think these were your favorite over saltimbocca alla romana. Whichever veal cutlet recipe it was, the competition was close. I remember how you savored each bite, carefully cutting small portions with your knife and fork, eating them slowly in order to make the joy last.

Remember that great Christmas we all celebrated together in Rome, when Amy and the Anderson gang came over, and we celebrated Christmas Day all together ice skating and then dining in my small apartment? Well, the day you arrived from the airport we went out to eat at La Scala. I'm pretty sure your entree was scaloppine al limone that night.

Insalata di finocchi e rucola – You taught me to enjoy shaved fennel bulb and arugula salad. You'd order this side dish at the restaurant, or enjoy eating it at home when you lived in Italy while married to Mamma. The simple condiment, a thread of extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and a few turns of the peppermill was all it needed. One side dish we would never dream of serving with lunch when you were in town was broccoli. In a later time of your life you actually did come around to eating broccoli, but as long as I can remember, you hated the stuff as much as you loved mangling its name, "brrrahcklee!"

How I loved your voice, Dad. It was deep and melodious. When I'd curl up on your chest as a little girl, scared or crying for some reason, you'd breathe out with a deep, vibrating hum. That sound was so soothing and calming. It was like Om, but better.

Focaccia – I'm so bummed that the restaurant Cesarina is no longer what it used to be in the Seventies. You always said how amazing the food was: authentic dishes from Bologna (a sad lack of which we suffer in Rome), courteous service, a legendary Felliniesque host and the balloon focaccia.

You loved that flatbread! Maybe more for the show than the actual taste. The large rolled out dough was baked so that it would puff up into beach-ball size and then swiftly sliced horizontally to obtain two large discs. What I'd give to see you working your way through one of those again.

Ricotta e caffè – I don't know how you learned about this typical Roman dessert. It's not really a dessert, it's more of a snack for mid-afternoon merenda, but you loved to eat it at the end of the meal. You'd scoop a couple spoonfuls of fresh sheep's milk ricotta – a Rome specialty – and use a fork to mix it with powdered coffee and sugar. I have a image of you flattening out the resulting beige paste and leaving fork marks all over the surface, and then slowly lifting small bites of it. Sometimes there'd be bread involved too. Or cacao powder.

One thing you were on the other hand very swift at eating was gelato. You adored your Italian frozen delight, and in particular tartufo. Given the amount of tartufo you ingested during your time living in Italy made you a virtual shareholder at Tre Scalini. You ate gelato so quickly that you'd get terrible brain freeze and would moan in pain holding your temple with one hand while wolfing it all down with the other.

You were never a drinker. I remember you sometimes ordered non-alcoholic beer, but that fad didn't last very long. I don't think you ever drank liquor regularly. There's a story told in the family of when you went to ask my Grandfather for my mother's hand in a Paris restaurant. Waiting to approach the subject during the meal, table manners included sipping some wine. You were in France, what did you expect? When the waiter arrived carrying a 1955 bottle of Château Haut-Brion swaddled like an infant, you accepted a glass but before toasting poured half a pint of Evian in it to water it down. The waiter nearly fainted and I don't know how Nonno reacted. Mom may have kicked you under the table.

I'll end this meal with a treat I know you loved. I made it myself and E. whipped the cream, so there's snow-white spatterings everywhere, including on the kitchen ceiling. We froze the espresso coffee in a shallow tray and scraped it several times to the desired texture. It's not summer, but in heaven there are no seasons, so enjoy. Don't rush it, though.

Those interested in learning more about my Dad's amazing career, can read this beautiful obituary published on the Hollywood Reporter.

Buon appetito, Dad
your Doodah


  1. What a lovely tribute to your father. I'm sure your father is smiling down on you as you remember all the food that he loved.

  2. A beautiful meal and fitting tribute. I am so sorry for your loss.

  3. I'm so sorry for your loss, Lola - your dad seemed like an amazing guy. What a beautiful tribute to remember him by 💗

  4. Thank you for this loving descriptions I read with tears in my eyes . . . I too was my father's daughter. As the days will pass the clouds will scatter and you will truly smile at what you remember. And you will quietly talk to him and, believe me, you will hear him answer. Thank you do much for sharing with us . . .

  5. I am so very sorry for your loss.

  6. A great memory. I love the picture with so many family members. I can name a few. Imagine if I had met some of them. Somehow you will survive. Love to you and everyone.

  7. prestige decantersMar 2, 2018, 7:22:00 AM

    And you will quietly talk to him and, believe me, you will hear him answer. Thank you do much for sharing with us .

  8. just read this...a year later...beautiful tribute to Peter! love you Ele!

  9. This touched me deeply, Ele, to learn more about your relationship with your wonderful father. And I'm happy to know of his favorite (and least favorite :-)) foods, which confirms for me that...taste must have some genetic component since LBB shares your dad's love of cantaloupe with salt, pesto, and gelato and his distaste for broccoli. Sending hugs and love from Maine. xo