Here is a favorite recipe from my grandmother, Mae [b. Enricetta] Luvisi Notari. It’s her recipe for meat and tomato sauce served over Mostaccioli pasta. The thing is, my grandmother never measured anything. My cousin (a great cook) watched her far more diligently than I ever did and never saw her make anything the same way twice. She once reported to me, “Grandma puts BEER in her bread dough.” Who knew? I asked her, “why don’t you measure anything?” “Because things taste different on different days,” she would say, “the weather changes how you taste, your tongue and nose are different on different days depending on the weather. Why would you write out one recipe? You’d have to change it anyway, depending on the day and who you were serving.” She was a phenomenal cook--many kinds of bread, pasta sauces, ravioli (only once a year), fudge, pies (her apple pie!), amazing biscotti, amazing rum balls. When I wrote this out, I could hear my grandmother, her Chicago-accented Tuscano English, and her laugh. She would find it hilarious that we were thinking, smelling, talking, sharing food on the Internet. She died in 1992.
This exercise, and this class, would have made her very happy. She was 94 when she passed away and, although she lived through two World Wars and the great depression (where her impoverished family lost they little they had), what always made her weep was thinking about the Spanish Flu of 1918 where she lost her twin brothers. She would be proud that we are pulling together during another tragedy of epic proportions and she would tell us all to eat healthy, love one another, and find joy wherever and whenever we can. She was adored by everyone who knew her, and worked day and night while raising two children. She and my grandfather had a small bar/restaurant under the L tracks in Chicago. He was from an old semi-aristocratic Florentine family and had lots of pretension. She was from an impoverished family from Lucca and had no pretension whatsoever and abundant pride: she always wore a black wool coat that she carefully brushed before wearing, with a white silk scar around her neck and a small black hat. She was unusual in that she had a career, sewing and even designing beading for a well-known Chicago fashion designer. She would have loved that career but joined my grandfather in his restaurant, Pete’s Place, and cooked, waited tables, tended the bar. She loved cooking for family and friends, despite working at Pete’s Place every day from 2 pm until 2 am.
She was strong, tough, and fair, an outspoken fighter for social justice and civil rights until the day she died. When I visited her hospital room a week before her death, all of the nurses, aids, and staff took me aside to say how special she was. “I know,” I assured them, “I know.” May she rest in peace and may her bold and loving spirit shine down upon our class and our community in this pandemic.
Image: Mae Luvisi and Peter Notari ca. 1928
- Sear lean ground beef in a castor iron frying pan. Remove beef and set aside
- Cut up and then cook in olive oil:
- Chopped onion
- Add a little (not too much) garlic
- Add fresh basil, oregano, black pepper, a little salt Return beef to frying pan and combine with other ingredients. Stir and mix well
- Cut up and add 3-4 fresh tomatoes
- Add one can tomato paste
- Add red wine to taste
- Add balsamic and red wine vinegar to taste
- Serve over al dente pasta
- Sprinkle with aged parmesan
- Eat two, three, or more helpings and it’s still not enough.