During his final years, Uncle and I spent many an hour investigating family history. I wanted to benefit from this sleuthing skills and he from my computing. Together we made some astonishing discoveries. We found out that his mother Rosaria Zappala’s family was from the seaside town of Acireale and his father Giuseppe Patane’s was from the nearby town of Macchia, at the foot of Mt. Etna, both in the Greek part of Eastern Sicily. We learned that he had two aunts, Maria and Giueseppa, who had been close to his mother and her sister Lucia, here in NJ, in the 1920s and had somehow disappeared off the radar, and I still haven’t found them or their families (Vernacchio and Spina). We saw that he had an Uncle Sebastiano Patane and a 2nd cousin Salvatore Patane living in the Philadelphia area, both of whom he never even knew about. We found his grand-father’s grave in Macchia. On that marker are the words: ‘Uomo Laboroso’, which I take to mean not just a working man, but a hard-working man, an industrious man.
While the man, my uncle has fallen far from the tree of his forbears in a geographical sense, the qualities of hard-work and industriousness remained throughout his life. To which I would add another dimension, protecting lives. We looked at his group portrait with the Atlantic City Lifeguards of around 1948, we admired his first bicycle, now a collector’s item, and recollected his bike rental days on the Boardwalk, and we talked about his policing and detective days on the streets of Philadelphia. Finally, we discovered that he and I share the same ancestral haplogroup, which means that in pre-historic times we come from the same grandfather. All of these unexpected facts and details and many more made me realize how elusive and surprising history can be.
Unless an active effort is made to remember things, they can easily vanish from existence. Today we can easily remember the benevolent qualities Uncle Jr. possessed: his patience, his helpfulness and generosity, his organization, his sense of humor, his light-heartedness, his sharp memory, and many others, but what will we remember next year, or in ten years? In order to help me remember, this Fall I invented a new dish which I am calling ‘The Glorious Gravy of Macchia and Acireale’ in honor of the union of families that produced Uncle Jr. This dish is designed to warm the heart and fortify the mind on those days when one needs the nourishment of memory.
The Glorious Gravy of Macchia and Acireale
In good Catanian fashion I don’t give exact amounts: that’s for each person to decide according to their own tastes and what’s in the cupboard. Fresh, original ingredients are recommended, but substitutions may sometimes be necessary.
Macchian Spice Mix: consisting of 1 tsp each of sage, thyme, lavender, juniper, tarragon, and rosemary, the fresher the better
Acirealean Lemon Juice
Philadelphia Roasted Chestnuts (chopped)
Atlantic City Seaweed (flakes)
Swedesboro Whole Peeled Tomatoes
Jersey Blue Crabs Whole or Claws (octopus or snails may also be used)
Lupini Beans (a few beans, peeled)
Broccoli 'Raab'(a few stalks)
Sambuca (enough to sweeten the sauce)
Portobello Mushroom Stock
Chopped Dandelion (a few leaves)
Chopped Anchovies (a few filets)
Red Pepper Flakes
Fry the garlic, spice mix, salt, and red pepper flakes in the oil until aromatic
Add the anchovies and olives and fry for another minute
Add the Tomatoes, Sambuca, and Mushroom Stock and bring to a pre-boil
Reduce Heat to a Simmer
Add Broccoli 'Raab', Dandelion, Chestnuts, and Lupini Beans
Simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes
Add the crabs and the lemon juice
Simmer until crabs are cooked (do not overcook)
Pour over pasta, a Philadelphia pretzel, a few artichokes, or eat as soup
Garnish with almond meal and seaweed flakes
Serve with a glass of chilled Etna Bianco wine
May you rest in peace Uncle and be bound forever to life.
Wednesday January 10, 2018 at 8:50 am