We were reaised in an Italian-American household, although we didn’t speak Italian in the house. We were very proud of being Italian, had Italian music, ate Italian food.Francis Ford Coppola
Like Coppola, we didn’t speak Italian in our home either. But boy did we speak Italian food. My passion for my Italian roots begins at the kitchen table. My father loved native Italian cuisine, and my childhood is laced with warm memories of homemade polenta, fresh marinara sauce from scratch, and my father’s own take on anchovy pasta.
My father was born in 1919 in Italy, near Udine, in the Friuli Venezia Guilia region that borders Austria, Slovenia and the Adriatic. He and his parents, brother, and sister immigrated to Northern New Jersey in 1921, as did many other Italians at that time. He moved to California after WWII, married my mother (who wasn’t Italian) — and I came along soon thereafter. One of my biggest regrets has always been that I didn’t learn the language and more history from my father before he passed away when I was 13.
I will forever remember with fondness the many meals he prepared for our small family.
Today, one of my favorite Italian chefs is Lidia Bastianich, who also hails from Northern Italy/Slovenia. When I want to learn a new Italian dish, I invariably turn to one of Lidia’s cookbooks. Her food is simple and straightforward, always fresh and flavorful. So many of her recipes remind me of my father and the smells and tastes from the kitchen in which I was raised. It’s a pleasure to cook her food and remember my childhood.
Tonight I made one of her dishes: — Mozzarella & Celery Salad. I always – and I mean always – have Dijon mustard on hand. But tonight, I suddenly found myself without any, so I substituted with whole grain mustard instead. While It didn’t bind as well as a Dijon mustard would, I believe it was just as flavorful as it would have been otherwise.
This is one of those recipes that is both healthy and satisfying, and uses the very ingredients many of us likely have on hand. Pair this salad with a hearty spring soup and some crusty bread. Buon Appetito!
Mozzarella & Celery Salad – Adapted from Lidia’s Kitchen
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Suggested Menu Option: Hearty Minestrone, Crusty Bread, Apple Tart
Wine Pairing: Kamen Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma; $45.00
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
2 cups celery, thinly sliced on the bias, leaves added
NOTE: I often double the dressing to have on hand for those that enjoy a little extra.