Adriana Trigiani is a best-selling novelist. She immortalized her home in the Virginia hills, Big Stone Gap. Her books are filled with family and a strong sense of place, so it is only natural that her cookbook, Cooking With My Sisters, is, too. She grew up in a household with six children, four girls and two boys. They were a large Italian, Catholic family in the Baptist South of Virginia.
Trigiani tells of the first time they were fed “spaghetti” at school, an event she described as “shocking.”
"The noodles were boiled until you could see though them and then sloshed with sloppy joe mix, heavy on the ground hamburger. We did our best to swing the cafeteria staff toward authentic Eye-talian (as they put it,) but we gave up when they insisted that all spaghetti sauce needs is a base of chopped meat, a cup of ketchup, and a shot of chili powder."
It is a story I know too well. When I went to school in the North (South Dakota, so maybe still in the South.) I remember being served “cornbread.” Though it was not cornbread, but rather an overcooked, slightly crusty yellow cake, sweet and sticky and nothing close to my Mother’s cornbread. I was horrified.
Culture shock is a bitch!
Trigiani book is filled with stories and recipes, with a plethora of "notes" from her sisters. Here is a family recipe for cookies, but not the sweet kind, the small savory bites known as Taralli. A perfect compliment to a glass of wine with sisters.
1/2 packet (1 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water (105 –110 degrees)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fennel seed
4 cups all-purpose flour
In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water and allow to bubble. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the flour, to the yeast mixture. Add the flour and mix well.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Take a piece of dough ant roll it between your hands, making a pencil-like shape 4 to 5 inches long. Create a circle by joining the ends together and pinching them closed. Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake for about 8 minutes, or until golden brown.
Adriana Trigiani brings the same love of family and language to her cooking as she does to her novels.