The memories of my grandpa’s hobbies and interests center on his love of bringing loved one’s together for special meals at his home. I have so many memories of celebrating Christmas with Pa Joe and Nana Sue and eating a delicious feast, the centerpiece of which was Pasta Infornata (meaning pasta in the oven).
My Mom tells me that this is a painstaking pasta, the kind of pasta that dirties up several pots and pans, heats up the house, and makes the sink look like you’ve had a busy week at work.
For this special meal, Pa Joe would prepare the ingredients. He would hard make a homemade sauce with sausage and tomatoes and fresh herbs from his garden, sauté cauliflower with olive oil and garlic, hard boil eggs, brown ground sirloin and boil the pasta, then mix all the ingredients together in a casserole pan. Prior to baking, Pa Joe sprinkled lots of cheese on top.
Pa Joe also had a sweet tooth and successfully passed it along to me. We both share an affinity for French toast, gelato and chocolate. Every Christmas, the family would be treated to cannoli for dessert after a true Italian dinner where no one is left hungry. I didn’t know until recently that Pa Joe was not the cannoli chef, but my Mom says he filled the shells with the Ricotta cheese filling that he bought from a local Italian deli.
In addition to cooking, Pa Joe enjoyed keeping a home garden. He had zucchini, eggplant, Italian peppers, herbs and lots of tomatoes. He frequently invited my cousins, my sisters and me to help him select dinner-makings, and we always enjoyed helping him outside. Today at my house, we’re keeping his tradition alive by planting a garden of seasonal produce.
Pa Joe really enjoyed his last job as an agricultural underwriter for a crop insurance company because he was able to be out in the community with the local farmers. Because of his job, he would come home with the best figs, cantaloupe and honeydew melon and share it with family and friends. Pa Joe was an extrovert and loved talking with people. This was the perfect job for him, combining his love for people and food, and my Mom told me that he loved it. He was also a down-to-earth type, and he always joked around and kept life on the lighter side. He loved laughing and had a signature noise he made with his ears that made us all smile. Thankfully, someone in my family inherited this trait (this is top secret!).
In these ways, Pa Joe really helped to unite our family. Christmas 2011 was the last Christmas we shared with Pa Joe before his passing in April 2012, but we sure kept with traditions. Nana Sue, my Mom and my Aunt helped prepare the Pasta Infornata that Christmas. It was wonderful to have everyone together.
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