Every year for the last 10 years, I have had a combination Holiday/Birthday party at my apartment, wherever it was at the time. And every year it’s one of the most exciting and stressful times in my life, because I have to consider one very important thing:
What will I make to eat?
You see, I’m Italian (in case you haven’t guessed), and us Italians like to do one thing, and we do it very well. We make food for our friends and family. And when we make food, we make enough to feed an army.
For me, it goes back to my childhood, when my Nana and my Aunt Rita would prepare Sunday dinner for the family. Nana would never serve store-bought, dry pasta… for shame! Nana made pasta from scratch! And she’d make a TON of it.
On those Sundays we’d arrive and on my Uncle John’s bed (he was a priest, and he had a bedroom for when he would come to visit Nana) there would be a huge white sheet with rows and rows of that evening’s pasta laid upon it. Some days it was spaghetti or linguini; others it was stuffed ravioli. Some days it was gnocchi. Whatever it was, it was all homemade and, we knew from experience, incredibly delicious.
That tradition also carried through to our family Christmas Eve dinners, where we observed our own version of the Feast of the Seven Fishes. There was, of course, the Italian staple, baccala, served both fried and in sauce; an anchovy-bread crumb-walnut pasta; numerous breaded and fried fish (croppi was one I remember liking a lot); as well as the standard calimari and, for starters, shrimp cocktail. Add to that the amazing fried potato rolls with the name I can never spell, and a plethora of delicious dessert items, and you had yourself one heck of a feast.
So as I got older and moved out on my own, I kept the traditions of feeding the world alive. My first official party was actually a New Year’s Eve party in my very first apartment in Wicker Park. I don’t think I did a pasta dish, but I do recall making Italian Beef for the very first time. At my first Holiday/Birthday party, however, I did make some pasta… probably Mostaciolli. I didn’t have that many people there, because my apartment at the time was very small; but it did mark the first of many to come.
The next party was with my roommates in Andersonville – Chad, Jason and I. Our last names started with A, B and C; so we called it the “House of ABC Holiday Party.” I went pretty nuts for this one, as I recall. I made stuffed shells… at least 3-4 huge pans of them. It took FOREVER, and I was so exhausted by the time the party started… but everyone loved them. That was the party that really started the tradition. From there, in subsequent years, I made lasagna (again), mostaccioli, Italian beef (again), meatball bombers, and then chili.
Chili was always the favorite. It was easy to make, comparatively inexpensive, and still had a place in my family history– the recipe was my Dad’s. So for the last few years, I’ve been making chili, and everyone comes expecting it.
But this year I think I’m going to try something really different. I have my ideas, but I won’t reveal them just yet. Just suffice it to say that those who taste this will WANT the recipe. And it’s so easy, too.
Yes, the holidays are fun and planning the party is a lot of work, but the end result is always a good time. No matter how decorated my place is (and it will be QUITE decorated), if I don’t have some yummy treats for everyone to enjoy, the evening just won’t seem complete.
Maybe someday I’ll feel inspired (and have the money) to make 9 pans of lasagna again. But for now, as long as it’s delicious and everyone likes it, I’ll make it easy on myself.