Dad and I were recently out for supper. I decided to order the lasagna, which turned out to be very flavorful.
With every bite though there was something different from what I had grew up with. Now Mom was of German descent so there was no Italian style recipes handed down from mother to daughter in her family.
Having spaghetti at grandma’s house meant lots of garlic. You could actually see the little pieces of minced garlic on each strand of spaghetti but I must say as a child I loved eating leftover spaghetti at grandma’s house. Of course, Mom didn’t appreciate it so much when she picked us up after we stayed at grandma’s for a few hours and had partaken of this dish. I sure with every “hi Mom,” we could have knocked over a moose because of the garlic odor coming from our breath and likely our very pores.
The other difference with grandma’s spaghetti and, this I believe she got from her mother who came from Germany as a teenager, was there were no meatballs. No, instead grandma put chunks of lamb in her spaghetti. I will have to admit I never did care for lamb at all and adding spaghetti sauce and garlic to it didn’t change my mind.
So with that background, Mom was not pulling out a generations-old lasagna recipe. What she made, however, was something I loved as a child. The difference in her dish was the cheeses and how she put them in the dish. She did use ricotta cheese but she didn’t mix it with an egg or Italian parsley as I later learned was done. No the ricotta was just layered on as another ingredient, like the noodles.
The cheese that I really liked in it was, of all things, cottage cheese. This is surprising because I normally do not like cottage cheese. I don’t want to eat it cold with fruit and I don’t buy it, unless I’m making lasagna. For some reason, cooking it in the lasagna gives it a whole new taste and texture that I truly enjoy. It’s much drier when it’s cooked, so maybe that is a factor. All I know is lasagna is the one place I love cottage cheese.
So Mom would layer the noodles, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese and meat sauce. Thank goodness it wasn’t lamb. She never picked up that custom, but rather stuck to meatballs and meat sauce for her Italian dishes.
It was the cottage cheese I was missing from that flavorful lasagna, which doesn’t make the lasagna bad it just makes it not mom’s.
It’s funny when you think about it. We can eat out at restaurants or go to a friend’s house for a meal, but nothing tastes like mom’s dishes unless you follow her recipes and even then it might not be an exact match. Is there really that much difference between what moms do and what we find elsewhere? Or is it more that moms add that something extra –love. And a mother’s love is unique to that mom. Maybe that is the answer to why the dishes are so hard to duplicate.
But then maybe that is as it should be. Moms hold a special place in our lives, our hearts and our memories. So then, why shouldn’t their cooking be special too. Preparing a childhood dish from a mother’s recipe just somehow brings them a little closer – at least it does for me.
While I may not be making lasagna anytime soon, I think it may be time to browse through Mom’s recipes to see what I may want to try.