Gabriella is Italian. Born in Sicily, raised in Queens. Her friends growing up consisted of her extended family who all lived within 15 minutes of each other, and the roster is right out of a Coppola movie: Calogero, Rosa, Michelina, Mariella, Cristofalo, Agostino, Rosalia, Magdalena (whom they called Ninetta?), Sicha (pron. Shee-cha – short for Francesca), Toto (short for Salvatore); Pino (short for Guiseppe), Ina, Angela, Nina, Anna, Graziella, and her cousins John and Stephen. Zia Lina (Aunt Lina) married out.
Her parents spoke nothing but Sicilian at home. For my Jewish friends, Sicilian is to Italian as Yiddish is to Hebrew. Upon meeting her, you would categorize her as American. You would never think that she was off-the-boat. To know her, is to love her, of course, but it is also to know how very Italian she actually is.
Like many a stereotypic Italian woman, she expresses herself through food. Anyone who has eaten one of Gabriella’s meals falls instantly under her spell. They taste the love in every bite, and they are smitten forever. She makes a mean sauce. You know she really loves you when dinner consists of 3 starters, at least 3 main courses and a plethora of sides. If you roll out of our house feeling as though you might explode, you have been love-bombed by Gabriella.
Tonight she made pasta cui sarde (pasta con le sarde) a Sicilian specialty. She has only made it a few times for special occasions. I don’t care what you think about sardines, this pasta e bona! That’s Sicilian for really good. I asked Gabriella if there was another expression that meant “really amazing fabulous”, but she just shook her head, pursed her lips, shook her index finger at me and made that sound that means NO in Italian. You kind of suck the back of your teeth with your tongue but in one, quick note. TSZ! I only got to taste a bit of the sauce before she stored it away for tomorrow’s house guest. She also made insalata fasole, patate e cipuda (salad with green beans, potatoes and onions) another Sicilian delight. And just for good measure, she whipped up an Italian-styled cabbage salad. Can’t wait for tomorrow!
And what’s the occasion? An old girlfriend of mine is coming over for lunch. I haven’t seen her since I skipped town in 1994. Through the miracles of the internet, we have recently reconnected. Gabriella has never met her, and I haven’t really spoken about her much. She was more of a fling than a girlfriend. A happy fling but a fling nonetheless. We had exchanged a few emails, and I invited her over to meet the family. It’s only proper.
The house is filled with the aromatic scents of Sicily while Gabriella is working 4 different pots on the stove. Then it hits me. This woman of mine who cooks her feelings might just be speaking to my ex through this meal. This feast of all feasts clearly translates as “You had your chance, be-atch, but Deborah is eating MY sauce now!”
Gabriella read this blog and laughed until she couldn’t breathe-sadly not because I’m so humorous but because it’s absolutely absurd. She doesn’t have a jealous bone in her body. She told me she made the pasta cui sarde because we got fresh fennel from the farm and had to use it. But it’s my blog and my fantasy and in it Gabriella is threatened by my ex and is fighting for me-armed with wooden spoons and spatulas. I hope she wins. I can’t cook.