aro Zio, You left us so recently, just before Christmas. December can be so unkind to the old and the fragile.
But if in fact there’s a place beyond death’s dark door, I can see you in it, chatting away to those around you with that sweet smile on your face. You’d be telling them that life was, and is, beautiful.
I don’t remember ever having a conversation with you in which you bemoaned your troubles or spoke of aches and pains. In this era of short tempers, I never once heard you say that you disliked someone. Every single time we spoke, we talked of food.
I remember how much I loved calling you at your office, usually about some boring matter of paperwork I was late getting around to. But before we even got around to that part, I’d ask you if you’d found some new restaurant you liked. Most often you said you had, and it invariably served magnificent seafood. Despite more than 50 years in Umbria, you remained a Sicilian food-lover at heart. And Sicilians delight over what’s on the table in way few others can match.
You were also the most hardworking person I ever met, and yet you’d still go home and cook up something tasty for lunch. Because good homemade food is among the few joys you can swear by daily.
Did I ever tell you, by the way, that your baked eggplant pasta was the best I ever tasted? Now you know.
The last time I saw you we naturally spoke of cooking, what else? You loved my recipe for stuffed meatloaf with broccoli and had planned to make it that same week. You were so ill you could hardly stand. You had so little time left. And yet, you loved life enough to continue making plans on how to enjoy it.
I’ll never forget this aspect of you, this joyous persistance. The clock ticks hard and fast on all of us, yet, if we seek it out, there’s always still a chance to celebrate.
I love you, Zio. I hope you have a kitchen up there.
Stuffed meatloaf with broccoli (serves 4-6)
- 600 grams (1.3 lbs.) minced pork, beef or a mixture of both.
- 120 gr. (1/2 cup) seasoned bread crumbs.
- 1 egg.
- Milk, 3-4 tablespoons.
- Salt, half a teaspoon.
- Pinch of black pepper.
- 100 gr. (3.5 oz.) mild cheese, diced.
- 60 gr. (2 oz.) thinly sliced guanciale or pancetta.
- 300 gr. broccoli (about 1 small head), cleaned and divided into florets.
- 1 garlic clove, finely minced.
— Blanch the broccoli in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and sauté in one tablespoon of olive oil and garlic until just fragrant. Season lightly.
— Preheat oven to 200C (390F).
— Combine meat, egg, milk, black pepper and salt with bread crumbs. Use your hands to mix until the mixture is cohesive.
—Generously butter a 1.2-liter (5-cup) terrine or loaf mold.
—Set aside about 1/4 of the meat and use the rest to fill the bottom and sides of the mold, making a 1 cm. (1/2 inch) thick compact layer. Line the ground meat case with slices of guanciale (or pancetta) overlapping the edges slightly and leaving a 2 cm (1 inch) overhang on the sides.
— Now, fill the remaining space with broccoli and diced cheese. Press the filling down to avoid gaps. Cover the filling with the overhanging pancetta followed by the rest of the ground meat. Brush the top layer of meat with a small amount of melted butter and bake uncovered for 40 minutes or until golden around the sides.
— Cool completely. Slice and serve.