My family stems from several European countries but if you asked me about my heritage, the response would be simple: I’m Italian. It’s not that I have less pride for my Irish or German counterparts, they just play a much smaller role in my conscious identity. In part I attribute my Italian juxtaposition to my hometown Darien, Connecticut, which served as home to many Italian immigrants in the early 20th century. Among those immigrants were my father’s grandparents, and the Brunos are still widely considered an “old-time Italian family” in Darien today.
Uncle David & his "Italian Combo"
My grandmother and grandfather had 4 children, only 1 of which married another Italian –yet mealtime still revolved around all things Italian: braciole, bruschetta, pasta e fagioli…we love it all. Days after my grandfather passed away this February, my father and I took a trip to his favorite restaurant, Dominick’s on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. My father wanted the restaurant’s owners, who had become dear friends of my grandfather’s over the years, to know that he had passed. Our meal at Dominick’s was bittersweet and we welcomed the inevitable memories of my grandfather that flooded the tiny restaurant.
Grandpa & Grandma: Younger than I remember either of them, but this photo shows just the kind of love they had for each other.
For holidays and special occasions it was always my grandmother who was in the kitchen, but on a rare instance you could find my grandfather cooking some classic Italian dishes. On an unthinkably muggy day in July he taught me to make one of his favorites, Beans Ahsa Lu, that he learned while stationed in Italy during WWII. My grandmother wrote the recipe for me here:
Beans Asa Lu, as you can read above, is what my grandparents call a “Italian Depression Dish” because it uses inexpensive, basic ingredients. This recipe makes several servings (I plan to share with a class of 10) and costs around $5 total. You’ll notice my grandmother didn’t write any specific measurements, which tempted me to get her back on the phone at first. In the end I went with my gut (tasting each step to decide whether or not to add this or that), and although it doesn’t taste as good as grandpa’s, it turned out delicious.
1. Parsley 2. Italian Bread (preferably stale!) 3. Salt & Pepper 4. Red Crushed Pepper 5. Dry Northern White Beans 6. Olive Oil 7. Celery Leaves
Rinsing the beans after soaking overnight, a process which seemed rather stone-age in our current era of microwaveable meals and “just add water” desserts.
Chopping up the celery leaves & parsley. (Hint: celery leaves can be found at the heart of the stalk).
Cooking the beans, photo was taken once beans were soft enough to serve.
Serve beans on top of stale Italian bread with red crushed pepper & olive oil!