Wednesday, February 21, 2007

But it never tastes that way when I make it: My mother has a recipe that she often makes when I come home, a chicken dish that she’s been making for years. I cannot replicate it. Don’t we all have a recipe that way? Kim Severson, of the Times, put this to the test, attempting to trace her mother’s pasta sauce all the way back to Italy in the hopes of understanding it. She failed gloriously:

Among my four siblings, how mom makes her sauce has been a constant source of discussion. We’re all decent cooks, but none of us can get it just right. When does she put in the paste? Is a little bit of roasted pepper essential? Do you need to use oregano in the meatballs?

This is a problem my cousins have, too. Sharon Herman still lives in Cumberland [Wisc.], not far from the Zappa family dairy farm. Her mother (my aunt and godmother, the late Philomena DeGidio) was one of the oldest of the Zappa girls and was considered the best sauce maker. My cousin has lived for years under the cloud of never having mastered the master’s sauce.


I use fresh basil and fresh bread crumbs instead of Progresso in my meatballs, but I still stick to dried basil and oregano in the sauce. My canned tomatoes come from Italy, even though my mother thinks Contadina or Hunt’s is just fine.

It never tastes just like hers, but I keep trying. And maybe that’s the problem. Perhaps I’m too fixated on my fancy-pants ingredients. Or perhaps it’s just a psychological quirk of the kitchen. The one that makes you think nothing ever tastes as good as your mother’s


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