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An Italian Grandma's Legacy

(post, Michelle Thies)

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Recently I started to reflect on how I got interested in cooking.  When I thought back to my childhood, I think it was the  legacy of my Italian Grandmother that  heightened my interest.   She passed away when I was only three years old, but I do have a faint memory of this big jovial woman with red hair squeezing my cheeks over and over, and getting quite annoyed that she wouldn't stop!   When I was older, I would ask questions in order to get a sense of this wonderful woman.   It always struck me that the first thing anyone said was, "No one was a better cook then your grandmother!"  That phrase was then followed by cherished stories of food and love. 

My father would recall that when he came home from Vietnam my grandmother was so overjoyed that her baby was home safe, that after kissing and hugging him, the first thing she did was turn to the stove and prepare and Italian feast of lasagna and meatballs for him.  

My mom would tell me that before she could marry my father, my grandmother had to test her tomato sauce.  As my mother is of Irish decent, I guess Grandma had doubts.   My mom nervously tried her best to make a good sauce, and when Grandma tasted it, she said "That's okay, but your not going to feed that to my son" and proceeded to give my mom a lesson.  She shared her secrets with my mother so my father wouldn't have to suffer the worst fate to an Italian, eating bad sauce! 

With a big smile my mother would recall that when I was born, my grandmother was so happy to have her first female grandchild that she made the whole neighborhood in Brooklyn Italian pastries to celebrate!  I was Grandma's princess from the start! 

One recipe I can recall everyone speaking about was my grandmother's Peppers, Potatoes and Eggs.   I would watch with wonder as they would get a far away look in their eyes as they would describe the flavors and the experience of this simple dish, artfully prepared by a master. 

At 13, I decided to learn to make sauce.  My mother guided me, passing down Grandma's technique.  I would ask my father to taste it,  asking if it was as good as his mother's.  He would try it and say, "It's good, I give it a 9.5, keep trying."  I made countless sauces and got the same response, until I realized that even if it was as good as Grandma's, it could never compare for the simple fact it wasn't her cooking it. 

When I think of all this,  it amazes me that even though I did not know my grandmother, it was her legacy that made me want to cook.  I wanted to make people experience the same joy.  It was these beautiful memories that made me realize that food really is love.   

I often wonder now if my son who is only two, will also have sacred memories of my cooking.   I certainly hope he will. 

My father passed away in January of this year, but I like to think that Grandma was there, waiting with a  piping hot tray of lasagna that she made to welcome him home.  

After all,  there has to be food in heaven! 

Here are the recipes of Grandma Vecchio's Peppers, Potatoes and Eggs.  I am doing this two ways, her version (which the recipe is based on how it was described to me) and a modern twist on it. 

2 extra large eggs
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/2 red bell pepper (diced small)
1/2 cubanelle pepper (diced small)
2 Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into quarters
1/2 vadilla onion (diced small)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons good extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic
kosher salt and pepper
sourdough roll

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.   Warm a cast iron skillet over medium high heat.  Take the sourdough bread and drizzle a little olive oil on it, and rub the garlic clove, add a pinch of salt and pepper.  Place bread face down on the hot cast iron skillet and toast until desired doneness, remove from the pan and place on plate.   

Add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and cook until butter is melted.   Add the potatoes, flesh side down and some salt and pepper.  Let the potatoes carmelize .  When the potatoes have developed a nice brown color, put them in the oven to finish cooking, about 12 minutes.  

Remove potatoes from pan.  Add remaining butter and olive oil and sautee the onions and peppers, adding a small amount of salt and pepper to season.  Cook for about 3 minutes.  Add the potatoes for another 2 minutes.   Whisk together the eggs and heavy cream, again adding a small amount of salt and pepper to season.    Whisk until the eggs develop a nice foam.  Reduce the heat in the pan to medium low.  Pour eggs into the pan and mix slowly allowing the curds to develop.  Keep stirring until the eggs are set.  Pour over the bread and drizzle a little olive oil over the eggs.   Enjoy!

Modern Twist 

Sour Dough Bread cut into two slices 
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and pepper

1 ripe tomato cut into chunks
4 chives,  cut small
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Kosher Salt and Pepper

1/2 red pepper diced small
1/2 cubanelle pepper diced small
1/2 vadalia onion diced small
2 potatoes (cooked as stated in above recipe)
1 extra large egg
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 chive sprigs
kosher salt and pepper

Mix the tomatoes, 3/4 of the chopped chives, olive oil, salt and pepper into a small bowl.  Set aside. 

Rub the garlic over the bread and drizzle with olive oil, season with a little salt and pepper.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat.  Toast the bread to desired doneness.   When done, place the bread on a plate.

Melt butter and olive oil in the skillet.  Saute the onions and peppers until soft, about 3 minutes.  Add the potatoes and season with salt and pepper, cook for another 3 minutes.    Remove mixture from pan and wipe pan clean.  

Melt the remaining butter and olive oil in the skillet.   Crack open the egg and place in the skillet.  Cook the egg until the white sets and begins to lift from the pan.  

Assemble the bread, spooning the peppers, potatoes and onions over the bread, then spoon most of the tomato salad over the peppers, leaving a little of the juice and tomatoes for garnish.  

Slide the fried egg on top.  Spoon some of the juice and remaining tomatoes over the egg.  Drizzle a little olive oil over everything.  Sprinkle with remaining chives and add two of the chive sprigs over the egg.