(by Angela Fradella)
Money was tight in my Italian family when I was growing up, first in Brooklyn, but after the neighborhood got sketchy, we moved up the Hudson River. When we ran out of money, we’d charge food at the deli and settle the bill when my dad got paid.
My mom has always been my rock, my best friend, the sweetest woman I know. I was engaged five times but never made it to the altar, so Mom was with me in the delivery room when my oldest son was born and got to hold him first. She was babysitting for him when my second son was born. After my dad died, I lived with her, so she saw her grandchildren a lot, attended all their school plays and sporting events. Actually it was hard for me to discipline them because they always ran to Grandma. "Who's the boss" can be a challenge when two grown women are sharing a household, but happily love triumphed over arguments.
We’re a lot alike—big talkers, frugal with money except when it came to gifts for the family (my sons had more than the rich kids at birthdays and Christmas). We both love to dance. Mom sent me to dancing school for ballet and tap, but I really learned from going to Italian weddings; I do a awesome Electric Sly, Hokey Pokey, and Twist and Shout.
I learned to cook by watching Mom—Italian classics like broccoli pie and pasta with meatballs. If a friend or neighbor was sick, she’d take a tray of food, always with her tomato sauce (sauce, not “gravy,” in this Italian household). I do the same now. When company was coming for dinner, she’d get nervous and stay up all night preparing. Somehow, even though we lived paycheck to paycheck, she always managed to serve a groaning table of delicious food, much like her own mother: They both cooked enough for an army. If someone came to my grandmother’s house and didn’t eat, her feelings were hurt; then she’d put the food away and say, “You had your chance.”
My mom now lives in an assisted living facility far away, and after seeing her every day for so many years, I only see her once a year, which is very hard. I wear hearing aids, so speaking on the phone is challenging, but I always manage to convey how much she is loved.
Angela Fradella is an actress based in Carmel, New York. She can be found at Backstage.
Mom’s Broccoli Pie
3 packages frozen chopped broccoli 1 c. part-skim ricotta cheese 1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese 2 frozen pie shells 1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
In a pot of boiling water, cook broccoli according to package directions.
Drain and set aside. Preheat oven to 400 F.
Bake pie shells for 10 minutes.
Mix broccoli and ricotta cheese together.
Divide mixture between two pie shells. Sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.
Return pies to oven for 20 minutes.