I would be lying if I said I decided to marry my husband because of his mother’s cooking. But, let’s put it this way – it didn’t hurt. Dave’s parents immigrated to Montreal, Canada from a way-off-the-beaten-path village in southern Italy in the early 1960s. Iolanda was 16; Michele 26. They had been married for only a few weeks and known each other only a little longer than that. Theirs was not a passionate love affair, but an arranged marriage, and with it came the traditional expectations that were ingrained in rural Italian life. When Iolanda came to Canada she was expected to run the household and feed their growing family, which soon included three young sons. Iolanda cooked virtually every night, and practice has more than made perfect. In the dozens of meals I have now eaten in her home she has prepared gorgeous plates of antipasti; lasagna with homemade noodles; pasta in every shape, size, and sauce; lamb; turkey; beef; homemade sausages; pork roasts; stuffed chicken; tilapia, not to mention crackling baked potato fries, roasted peppers, asparagus, broccoli rabe, and on and on. I have never seen her refer to a recipe, whereas I am glued to them.
When we visited in November, Iolanda roasted salmon in a tangy, garlicky sauce. She had prepared it for us previously, and I had tried it at home over the summer. But I couldn’t get the proportions of the sauce just right. Watching her again, I re-familiarized myself with her method: Mince and mix parsley and garlic. Add generous amounts of fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Pat Dijon mustard on the salmon and douse the fish with the sauce. Bake for 20-30 minutes. Watching Iolanda put together this dish (in all of 10 minutes), I realized I hadn’t minced the parsley and garlic enough and that I had been too stingy with both the lemon juice and olive oil. At dinner that night, the dish was perfect – healthy and satisfying in a way that fish rarely is, to me anyways.
To remember the proportions, I took a few pictures of Iolanda making the salmon: