Yesterday, I introduced you to journalist and author Paula Butturini. She wrote the beautiful book Keeping the Feast: One Couple’s Story of Love, Food and Healing about food’s curative powers and its vibrant connection to family and life.
(If you haven’t yet, please check out part one of our interview.)
Below, Paula talks about one of her favorite memories and why she just can’t pick a favorite meal.
On a side note, I absolutely love her stunning descriptions of different foods. She describes food in such a lovingly, nostalgic and respectful way.
I also see food as more than fuel or nuisance (boy, how things have changed from years past – thankfully). I see it as a celebration of culture, tradition and meaningful memories.
When I eat certain foods, I feel like I’m transplanted back into another time.
Like when I eat potatoes cooked on the skillet, I instantly think of my grandma, who’d happily cook these for me when I’d visit her in NYC.
Or like when I eat shrimp scampi, I think of my dad, who’d order this meal virtually everywhere we’d go – or at least almost always at Carrabba’s.
Alright, without further ado, I’ll let Paula talk…
Q: What is one of your fondest memories of celebrating food and family?
A: I remember a meal from the late 1960s or early 1970s. My father, who loved to cook and to eat, had come across a magazine article that had recipes for grilled shrimp in an olive oil/butter/parsley/garlic sauce, a lemon-flavored rice, and skewers of bread and mozzarella, lightly toasted, that was served with a warm anchovy sauce.
He read that recipe, and started salivating. It was a weekend, because he spent a Saturday afternoon preparing it all, and I remember watching, and getting hungrier and hungrier as things took shape and the kitchen started smelling better and better.
When we all finally sat down at the kitchen table, we were ravenous, thanks to the fabulous smell of it all — a mixture of olive oil and butter and handfuls of fresh parsley, lots of garlic, cooked just enough to be mellow and sweet, and underneath it all, a hint of anchovy.
We fell onto those plates as if we hadn’t eaten in a week, and it was one of those magical meals one experiences every now and then, where everything just came out perfectly.
The shrimp was perfectly cooked, meaning just barely, so it was juicy and tender, and the shells were crispy and so full of flavor that before we knew it we were all sucking on those shrimp shells and juices were running down our faces, and we began laughing and joking and somehow celebrating as if it were somebody’s big birthday, or a graduation or whatever.
But in fact, it was the food we were celebrating, and life in general and the serendipity and joy of my dad stumbling across a recipe in Life magazine, and making it, and in a flash knowing that this meal would be repeated endlessly for future celebrations, which it was as long as he was alive.
Q: I’d love to know, what is your favorite meal? Why?
A: I don’t have one favorite meal. I seem to have a bunch of them, and my favorite depends on any number of things: my mood, the time of year, with whom I’m eating and where.
If I’m at home, and it’s the end of summer and I’ve just come back from the farmers market near our apartment with a huge bunch of gorgeous basil, then my favorite meal is pasta al pesto.
Or if I’m out with my daughter and we’re anywhere near the real Italian deli not far from the Madeleine Church in Paris, then my favorite meal is a snack of Sebastiano’s freshly sliced mortadella, so finely cut that you can nearly see through it. He sometimes gives us a taste of it in the shop, and when that happens, we can almost never get home unless we pull open the wrappings and steal some for the long walk home.
On the very rare occasions we get back to Rome, and we find ourselves eating at the Sardinian restaurant that was near our old apartment in Trastevere, then my favorite meal is my old standard — spaghetti alle vongole (with olive oil, garlic, fresh clams in their shells, and tons of parsley) followed by lightly grilled calamari (squid), and frutti di bosco (blueberries, raspberries, currants and wild strawberries served with lemon juice and sugar).
Even at home, my favorite meal depends on the season and mood: maybe asparagus risotto in spring; or stracetti (the thinnest beef slices barely cooked in olive oil, garlic, and rosemary, and topped with fresh arugula) in summer; risotto made with butternut squash and rosemary in the fall; or in the winter, polenta with just about anything, rabbit or sausages or homemade Bolognese sauce. Or any big hearty soup that I make myself.
Part 3 tomorrow! Be sure to check out Paula’s website to learn more about her and the book.
By the way, have you heard about February’s word of the month? The wonderful Joy from Being Joy is hosting our Self Discovery, Word by Word series this month. The word is pleasure! Here’s more info on how to participate along with thoughtful questions to get your imagination going.
What does food mean to you? What’s your favorite memory around food? What’s your favorite food or meal?
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Last reviewed: 16 Feb 2011