I get my Italian from my father’s side. Despite the fact that my last name is Smith, this is a true statement. Dad’s mom and her roughly 4,000 brothers and sisters were born in Sicily, and made their way to the shores of New York in the early 1900s.
My memory of my very early childhood isn’t great, but I know that after my parents split up (sometime around when I was 3 to 5 years old), my Dad lived with his mom, aunt, and uncle in the big house in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. And every weekend, my mom schlepped me and my brother there from Staten Island to visit with Dad and the rest of the family.
One thing I remember very clearly was that we ate dinner around 2pm on Sundays. There was occasionally some overcooked meat (I have a crystal clear and somewhat disturbing memory of my Aunt Nellie’s false teeth falling out on the table as she tried to chew a shoe-leather steak), but the pasta was always good. Or as we used to say, ‘macaroni’ – no matter what shape the pasta was. The family all sat together at the giant dining room table to eat and talk. I don’t remember much of the conversation, being as young as I was, I remember enjoying being there.
Those Sunday dinners came to a halt when I was 13. Grandma and Aunt Anna sold the big house in Brooklyn and moved to assisted living on Long Island.
Fast forward 20+ years to when I meet my boyfriend Dan. About a month after our first date, I was introduced to some of his family at… Sunday dinner!
Sunday dinner was back, after all those years! 2pm is the typical start-time, when we graze on appetizers and champagne or prosecco and get caught up on each other’s lives for a few hours. Then we move into the candle-lit dining room around 5. Tony Bennett, Sinatra and the like are our soundtrack as we enjoy an expertly-prepared multi-course meal on real china. It happens every Sunday, but it’s an event. A celebration.
We repeatedly tell Aunt Barbara that we can eat off of paper plates, and that she doesn’t have to go crazy cooking. But she won’t hear of it. Barring a couple of summer barbeques, we are routinely treated to some of the finest food I’ve ever eaten… and some of the best conversation I’ve ever had. We sit around that table for hours. We laugh, we debate, sometimes we even cry.
Our most recent visit started with a variety of cheeses, meats, olives, and brushetta on the kitchen island:
There’s a pepper-encrusted sopressata there that nearly set my mouth on fire. After my first slice, I had to scrape off the pepper – hence the pile of pepper on the cutting board.
And we brought some champagne, of course
This was a nice, dry champagne, around the $35 – $40 mark. Our usual champagne is Moet et Chandon Imperial, but we do like to try other things from time to time. It was a good choice.
As always, we found our way into the dining room around 5:00.
Dinner began with one of my absolute favorite of Aunt Barbara’s dishes – tortellini with spinach and a parmesan cream sauce. This is so rich that it’s hard to eat more than an appetizer portion. But it’s also so delicious that it’s hard to eat less than an appetizer portion.
Soon after, the main course was served – Italian meatloaf with pipette pasta.
And if that wasn’t enough, the chocolate course came next. Here’s a sampling of the chocolates that we passed around the table this week:
You may feel ready to burst, but keep in mind that this is an all-day event. Hours of tasting and talking and laughing… The calories don’t stick if you laugh enough while you’re eating, you know
There was even ice cream after the chocolate course, but I didn’t get pictures of that. I also didn’t eat any of it, as I’d had quite enough to eat that day already.
All the eating was done, but the singing and dancing had just begun, and the talking continued for a few more hours. This is Sunday dinner. This is an experience, and something I’m so grateful to be a part of.
This is making memories.