July 3, 2010

The Tocco Bunch

In our family, the Fourth of July has always been an enthusiastic celebration. Growing up, my parents would pack us kids into the family minivan and we would proceed to drive twelve hours to Detroit, pick up Nonna, then drive another five hours to The Cottage- a humble establishment built by my Papa in the 1960’s and situated off of Wonderland Drive in Beulah Michigan, overlooking Platte Lake. 

We would spend the week with aunts, uncles, cousins, and people who were in no way related to us but I guess came with the lake, eating, swimming, canoeing, fighting, hugging and eating some more.  Often there was a pig roast, sometimes there was water skiing, and always there were fireworks of the “questionably legal” variety.

To this day, Nonna’s absolute favorite thing to do is to see how many of us she can fit under the same roof before the oxygen dissipates. In a three bedroom cottage. With exactly one shower and until recently no dishwasher. And I believe I’ve previously mentioned the political and religious divide that comes into play here- i.e. the Massachusetts bleeding hearts versus the Midwestern Bible belt. It’s the best.

But here’s the thing. None of that really matters when you’re ten years old and you get crispy pig on a stick, cousins to canoe with, an aunt who marches around with a baton and leads an imaginary 4th of July parade, an uncle whose southern connections gets him fireworks the Boston Pops WISHES they had, and a Nonna who will never be convinced that you’ve eaten enough.  I mean, with all of that who really needs two showers?

The last few years my family has spent the 4th alongside James Taylor at Tanglewood or with Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops, because let’s face it we do love that dirty water. The reality is that life can’t always steer us down Wonderland Road for every Fourth of July, but that doesn’t make my childhood memories any less significant.

And rest assure, the Toccos are multiplying. Kids grow up, get married and have more kids. So no matter what, even if life is taking some of us to Newburyport, Massachusetts rather than Beulah, Michigan this July 4th, the cottage is never going to be less crowded or make fewer memories. There are just too many people in our crazy Italian family for that to ever happen.

Now getting back to that pig roast. When our family does a pig roast, we do it up right. My dad stays up all night with the fire pit (yes you do need a fire pit) so that the logs turn into coals. And then rain or shine the next day that sucker is basted with apple cider for hours and potatoes and onions are tossed in the pit to roast alongside. Yum.

Mom’s Pasta Salad

Being Italian, no meal is complete without some form of pasta. Enter Mom’s pasta salad. She’s been making this salad every summer for as long as anyone can remember and for good reason. It’s colorful, it’s flavorful and she even manages to get some fresh vegetables in there. Not an easy endeavor when all you can think about is pig.

3 medium carrots, small dice
2 cups of frozen peas
1 large red pepper
¼ cup olives, chopped (she uses black, but I prefer green)
1 lb orzo pasta cooked al dente, rinsed with cold water
¼ cup red onion, diced (optional)
1 habanero pepper diced (optional)
2 tsp Dijon mustard
3TBLS white balsamic vinegar
6 TBLS extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Add the carrots, peas, red pepper and olives to the cooled pasta and toss.

Make the vinaigrette. In a small bowl add the mustard and vinegar and slow whisk in the olive oil until mixture is emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Toss with vinaigrette with the pasta and vegetables.

If ready to serve add the onion and habanero pepper if desired. These ingredients overpower the dish if let to sit so if you are making this dish a day ahead, add them right before serving.