By Ian Graves
After signing my lease for an apartment over the summer, I have slowly come to realize how little I have been home in the past year, and how long it will be until I am back in my own bed. Now I’m not one to really get homesick, but the one thing I have come to miss is home-cooked meals. So in order to cleanse me of the longing for these dishes, I’ll just take a few moments to describe and reminisce on the foods that I most look forward to when I come home.
The first home-cooked meal on my list is my dad’s lasagna. With zero ties to any Italian heritage, my dad has still been able to produce this specialty dish to perfection. This dish gets made when I’m sick, for my birthday, and whenever my dad has free time on Sundays, and it makes my day every time. What separates this lasagna from the rest is that it does not have a heavy hand of marinara sauce. My dad usually starts by making the meat/vegetable filling. A mixture of ground beef and pork sausage is cooked with a fine pureed mixture of carrots, celery, onion, and assorted Italian herbs. A cup of red wine is added along with some flour to thicken up the sauce. Finally, my dad adds a puree of San Marzano Tomatoes, which are a variety of plum tomatoes that are probably the best you can buy. These tomatoes are the most important ingredient and the dish just wouldn’t taste as good without them. His lasagna is assembled as per usual by layering lasagna noodles under a mixture of eggs, Parmesan, and ricotta cheese, followed by a layer of sauce, and repeating. The lasagna is finished with a heavy, liberal hand of Parmesan and mozzarella cheese. This layer forms a thick, crunchy, cheesy hug over the lasagna, which I always eat last. This dish is especially great because it is basically designed to create leftovers, so I can enjoy it for one or two nights after.
Next on the list is sautéed chicken with a lemon caper sauce, which I guess is just chicken piccata, so let’s call it that. It’s a pretty simple recipe and it goes great with the lemony risotto I wrote about earlier in the year. My parents usually dry and flour the chicken (boneless, skinless chicken breasts work the best). After the chicken cooks in a medium saucepan for about 3-4 minutes a side, the pieces are removed, leaving over little bits of flour and chicken in the pan. These remains are turned into a sauce with the addition of some white wine, garlic, some nice salty capers, and a bit of butter. Let the mixture cook for like 5-10 minutes and pour that right over the chicken (and risotto, if you’re pairing these). A little bit of parsley on top rounds off the dish for some nice green color and flavor. The tender chicken with the lemony and creamy risotto and tangy and buttery sauce leave me salivating just thinking about.
To try and mix up the cuisines in my house, we always manage to have our “Mexican Fiesta” at least twice a week. The star of the show is a big chicken quesadilla (I don’t have to explain how to make that do I?), followed by a few fixings that CANNOT be left out. Some yellow rice and a dollop or three of sour cream are always must-haves. My mom then makes guacamole by mixing chopped avocado with some store bought salsa verde‒ simple stuff. My favorite condiment for adding spice to this meal is a small can of chipotle chilies in adobo sauce. The adobo sauce is just a “marinade” for the chipotles and this adds a nice smoky and spicy flavor as well as a great deep red color. I usually alternate dipping my slices of quesadilla in each of the three sauces, and then cleanse my palate with the rice. This dinner really is delicioso.
The final dish that I truly miss from home is what I call “good pasta.” In order to understand what “good pasta” is, you just have to know that any pasta that’s covered with a sauce that rhymes with Bewman, Drego, Nertolli or Bagu does NOT fit the criteria. “Good pasta” sauce starts with some ground beef and is then joined by garlic, red pepper flakes and red wine. We then see the return of our good friend, “San Marzano Tomatoes,” as well as some tomato paste and herbs. After the sauce cooks down, my dad likes to finish it up with some nutmeg, heavy cream and a bunch of Parm. I never really know how much the nutmeg adds to it, but my dad is adamant that it makes a difference. We usually use orecchiette pasta since it has most surface area with which to capture the maximum amount of tomatoey, spicy sauce in each bite.
Each of these four meals‒ lasagna, chicken piccata, Mexican fiesta, and “good pasta”‒ really captures the essence of what I call home cooking, and writing this article has unfortunately made me miss them even more (and I guess my family too). Hopefully I may be able to reunite with this food once again in the near future, but in the mean time I’ll drown my sorrow in some Mojo cookies.