I’m not able to remember the nine months I spent in my mom’s belly, but I'll bet I developed with a lot of pizza, pasta, and meatballs, and for sure espresso because I have a lot of energy. My name reveals my Italian heritage, but I was born and raised in Frankfort, Germany, where my parents immigrated in the 1980s because of work and better opportunities. Being Italian but growing up in Germany is kind of confusing. My Italian family is big and loud, the opposite of Germans who tend to be more private and circumspect.
My grandma cooked every day for her seven children and 16 grandchildren. During the summers that we spent in Italy, we had our own children’s table at her house. When we had to leave her juicy meatballs and homemade bread to drive back to Germany, it was heartbreaking, but my brother and I were squeezed in the car between packages of espresso, salami, and prosciutto, with enough homemade pasta and olive oil to feed us for the next three months. It felt like Grandma was sitting in the car.
When I left Europe and moved to Los Angeles, my mother did the same thing with me. Every time I visit home, even though I keep telling her that I’m not allowed to bring food into the United States, she sneaks some espresso into my luggage.
My impression after three years being in the U.S. is that American parents show their feelings to their children much more easily than Europeans. Food is a way of expressing love. Feeding the people we care about is magical. It’s more than just nourishment for the body—it brings us together; it allows us to share the same energy; it makes us feel grateful and loved.
The constant refrain of my childhood was “Mangia, Sarina, mangia” (and now my mother says it to my husband too). Even though I’m full, I can’t say no. I realize how much time and attention is behind her cooking, how much love and effort is in her message. When we recently spent some time with her in Italy, I told her that I really like burgers; the next day I got meatballs with my pasta. I think she wanted to make sure I do not forget where I’m from.
Sarina Alfarano is an actress, writer, and co-founder with her husband of Dapper Penguin Productions in Los Angeles. She can be found @sarina_alfarano_/.
Spaghetti and Meatballs
1 lb. ground beef
1/3 c. breadcrumbs
1/4 c. finely chopped parsley
1/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 t. salt
1/2 t. red pepper flakes
2 T. olive oil, divided
1/2 c. onion, finely chopped
35 oz. canned tomato sauce
2 or 3 basil leaves
1 bay leaf
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 lb. spaghetti
In a large bowl, combine beef, breadcrumbs, parsley, Parmesan, egg, garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes.
Once everything is well mixed, form into meatballs.
In a large pot over medium heat, add 1 T. olive oil, and brown meatballs on all sides.
Add 1 T. olive oil and cook onions until soft.
Add tomato sauce, basil, bay leaf, salt and pepper.
Cook for 10 - 15 minutes; remove bay leaf.
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook spaghetti according to package instructions.
Serve meatballs and sauce over pasta with additional Parmesan.
Enjoy your Italian moment.