At the age of seven I moved from the Italian countryside to the United States with my family for a few years. Up until then I had passed my days taking bike rides through the village of Caldogno. Daydreaming in the fields bordered by grape vineyards situated picturesquely across from our house was never boring. I had not yet watched television as a pastime, or at least I don’t recall doing so. While my mother and her best friend Melia drank their daily afternoon espresso, I chased butterflies in the vegetable garden. With the carelessness of youth I set out on a new adventure to my origins, unaware that every place and time is irreplaceable.
I did not realize at the age of seven, that leaving Italy would mean saying goodbye to zinnia filled flower gardens and copper pots full of polenta. Traveling to the U.S. I had no idea what was awaiting me. From one moment to the next, I was surrounded by the English language. I no longer smelled freshly baked panini from the corner bakery in the morning. The espresso pot didn’t percolate on the stove every afternoon. I was intent upon observing — taking in my new surroundings. It was an unforgettable experience, filled with change and confusion, excitement and happiness. For an indefinite period I felt lost, unaware that what I was feeling could be described as culture shock.
I remember my first visit with my mother to the grocery store. I was absolutely fascinated. The store was filled with aisles and aisles of boxes and cans, next to endless rows of glistening bottles and jars. I was particularly attracted to the salad dressing and pasta sauce aisles. At our house the pantry was stocked with simple ingredients and my mother cooked every day from scratch. Our salads were dressed at the kitchen table with simple ingredients like salt, vinegar, oil and perhaps a little garlic. Yet the exotic names describing the contents of the grocery store bottles promised great things. I found myself trying to understand flavors like“French Catalina”, “Thousand Island” or “Green Goddess”. I remember wanting to take home all the dressings I saw on the shelf. My mother explained to me that we didn’t need them and that we would make our own. At the time I was confused. The bottles were beautiful after all and their names promised pure deliciousness. The grocery store was both a mystery and a discovery.
As with many things, countless years passed before I understood my mother’s reasons for leaving the pretty bottles on their shelf. In another time and place and in today’s reality as a culinary instructor, I hear myself saying that “home-made” is infinitely better than “store-made”. This brings back distant yet significant memories. I make it my mission to share simple kitchen skills by cooking, writing and teaching about food. I hope to inspire others and am intent on helping to build kitchen confidence. This is after all the starting point to creating individual kitchen history, the building blocks of many family legacies.
Cooking with fresh ingredients is more than a list of recipe instructions. Cooking is definitely a pragmatic activity, yet it pulls on the threads of the heart and soul. I caught the cooking bug from my mother. It is one of the most important legacies we share, like loving blue porcelain, flowering wisteria and stove-top espresso pots. In honor of that special memory and my first visit to the grocery store with my Mom, I have created my very own homemade “Green Goddess” dressing in the simple recipe below.
- One ripe avocado
- 25-50 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 100 grams of thick Turkish yoghurt
- one small fresh clove of garlic
- 25 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice – about the half of a lemon
- ten leaves of fresh basil
- sea salt and pepper to taste
Squeeze the juice of the lemon and set it aside. Peel the garlic clove and slice it paper-thin. Pick the leaves of basil and cut them into thin ribbons.
Mix the yoghurt, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil in a bowl with a whisk or put it briefly in the food processor. Cut open the avocado and scoop out its flesh. Mash the avocado through the yoghurt other ingredients.
Add the fresh basil leaves and taste your lovely pale green dressing until you have the right balance between salt, citrus and avocado.
Serve your dressing with the simplest of fresh salad leaves and the ripest tomatoes you can find or serve it as a dip for grilled green asparagus.
Mix or match fresh green herbs like dill, cilantro or tarragon to the dressing. Lemon zest will give it an added citrus flavor without making it sour.
This blog post was originally published in Dutch as a weekly blog post contributor to Jamie Magazine NL.