As a professional chef, many times I have been asked where I went to school; my reply, my mother’s kitchen. Bringing “home cooking” into the world of restaurants, catering in private homes, and corporate dining rooms, has served me well—in serving others.
With Mother’s Day approaching, I reflect on the memories of this special woman and her legacy that guided me in so many kitchens.
My mother, whose family originated from Naples and Reggio de Calabria, Italy, had the task of cooking three meals a day for nine kids. My father’s family came to this country in the late 1800s from Germany.
Because my father never liked Italian food, Ma learned to cook knockwurst, sauerkraut, and boiled potatoes. With a day that started earlier than most, Ma made sure he ate supper by 4:30 as she sat attentively by his side. By 5:30, she enjoyed pasta fagioli with us kids.
When I was a 6-year-old, Ma stood me on a kitchen chair where I fixed green beans, peeled corn, and within a few years mastered the potato peeler. On Sundays we all sat together in the dining room, white table cloth and all.
When I married, into an Italian/Irish family with 10 kids, meal time became a focal point. Throughout the week, breakfast was made for hubby and kids, and supper was at 5:30. The Sunday dinner tradition continued.
My sister-in-law Jenny made the best sauce, Kay was a real “bake,” and no one could outdo Lois’s Easter pie.
By the time my youngest went to school, I went to work for a caterer with an impressive following. The food however, was less impressive, and flashes of my mother’s cooking would always come to mind.
Years had passed and my kids were almost grown when I began to remember my mother on my birthday, sending her flowers with a note:
“Thanks Ma, you taught me well, I hope I made you proud.”
Mother’s Day Breakfast
Vegetarian Eggs Benedict
Poached eggs served on top of crispy potato pancake
Steamed asparagus tips, with warm lemony hollandaise sauce
Spooned over top
Fresh Steamed Asparagus Tips
Easy Lemony Hollandaise Sauce
Makes about 1 cup (2 or 3 servings)
• 1/4 pound melted sweet butter (still warm)
• 4 egg yolks (room temp)
• Juice of 1 large lemon
• Fresh tarragon
• Salt and freshly cracked pepper
1. Place egg yolks in blender and set on high.
2. Very slowly pour in warm melted butter.
3. Add fresh lemon juice a few tarragon leaves.
4. Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste.
Note: Egg yolks must be room temperature and butter must be very warm—and slowly add butter.
Makes 2 to 3 servings
• 4 large potatoes
• 1/2 cup finely sliced scallions
• 1 egg, beaten
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 tablespoons flour
• Freshly ground black pepper
1. Finely grate potatoes in food processor. Place the grated potatoes in a clean dish towel and twist to remove excess liquid.
2. Mix in egg, scallions, salt, and black pepper. Add enough flour to thicken, about 2 to 4 tablespoons all together.
3. Turn oven to low, about 200 degrees F.
4. Heat 1/4 inch oil in the bottom of a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Drop two or three 1/4-cup mounds into hot oil, and flatten to make 1/2-inch-thick pancakes. Fry, turning once, until golden brown.
Transfer pancakes to paper towel lined cookie sheet, and keep warm in low oven until serving time. Repeat until all potato mixture is used.
Place fresh asparagus in pan of boiling water and cook for 4–5 minutes. Remove and cut to 4-inch lengths.
Assembly: Place two potato pancakes onto warm plate, top with hot asparagus, then poached eggs, next the hollandaise. Bon appétit!