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    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    My son and I recently returned to the United States after having spent three months in Ischia, the Neapolitan island in Italy that is home to my ancestors and my husband. Although many people think that we live some dream while we're there, we really don't. I am not on vacation. I work as a freelance journalist, just as I do from the States. Worse than that, I have to keep American hours, which means that I have to work in the middle of the night. We traveled with a six-month-old this time, which meant we had to deal with our jet lag and his. Then, he got sick, very sick. He had diarrhea for almost an entire month. He's much better now. When we first arrived in April, it was very, very cold, and when we were leaving in June, it was very, very hot. So, while people who heard that I was on an island in Italy for three months imagined me sightseeing, lounging on the beach, and eating at fancy Italian restaurants, I was actually changing many, many a dirty diaper, sick with worry, working all hours of the night with no sleep, and crying – a lot.

    What I looked forward to – other than my son finally getting better and playing on the beach, which did happen toward the end of our stay – were cooking shows on Italian TV. Although I was in no position to try new recipes while in Italy, I am already taking to the kitchen here in the States. Here are some of the recipes I came across on Italian television that I plan on making ASAP (and you might like to do the same):

    BIGNE' AL PARMIGIANO
    One of my obsessions while cloistered in my husband's childhood home tending to our son was Il Menu di Benedetta. This cooking show revolved around helping viewers create lovely dinner parties for their friends, family, and even colleagues. Much like America's Sandra Lee, she offers time-saving tips, beautiful tablescape examples, and interesting and festive recipes. The bigne' al parmigiano, which are essentially savory cream puffs with parmigiano, which can be served as antipasto caught my attention because I happen to love cream puffs and parmigiano, and I never would have thought to put the two together. Sounds delizioso! And Benedetta inspired me to entertain. She even threw a Mexican fiesta on one episode that had me itchin' for a burrito. All the while she was slaving in the kitchen, she was always wearing the finest clothing and the highest heels without missing a beat.

    SPAGHETTI AL GRANCHIO
    I have many a fond memory of my father and aunt going down the shore, catching crabs, and cooking spaghetti al granchio. I myself have never made it, but I have savored every bite. That's why when I saw the episode of Cucina Con Ale on Real Time TV, an addiction of mine in Italy as it featured American reality shows and Italian ones that mirrored the American ones but added an Italian flair, featuring the spaghetti with crab recipe, I had to have it. It's the perfect summer dish. I hope it tastes as good as the one my father and aunt make. Ale is super talented and has a more than one food-centric show on Real Time.

    NINA'S MUSSELS
    My guiltiest pleasure in Italy was an American show – one whose star is a hometown hero, a Jerseyan like myself – that is so popular with Italians that everyone who comes to visit my husband and me has us bring them on a pilgrimage to the chef's famous bakery. That's right. I watched more episodes of Cake Boss and Kitchen Boss with Buddy Valastro than I would back at home. One of my favorite things to order in Ischia are stuffed mussels with breadcrumbs. Even though the dish is considered an appetizer, I often order it as the main course because I find it filling and super satisfying. So, when Buddy shared a relative's recipe for these very mussels, my ears perked up. And I immediately ran to the computer to get the recipe off the Internet. Besides offering up this favorite dish of mine, Buddy also reminded me of fair New Jersey while I was homesick in Italy.

    Di Meglio is the Guide to Newlyweds for About.com, author of Family Fun New Jersey (now available for pre-order on Amazon.com), and you can follow her life and career on the Two Worlds Web site.


    Article Published 7/16/12

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