The Italian Crock Pot

Not to be confused with the Italian crack pot. It’s a good thing I proofread this before hitting pubish as I had accidentally typed crack pot. Although I have met my share of crack pots, and yes some of them were Italian. However, blogging about crack pots would totally change the theme of this blog post.

The Crock Pot is a writer’s best friend. It’s like having a chef in the kitchen after you’ve instructed it what to do. I’m going to share an Italian crock pot recipe (below), but first wanted to chat about how my mom’s cooking lessons relates to my writing journey.

When I was young—young as in, by the time I could stand on my own without tumbling over, it was a right of passage in our family (daughters and sons) to learn how to make homemade pasta and tomato sauce. Emphasis on homemade. Heaven forbid an Italian is caught with store-bought sauce or worse have a can of Alphabet Spaghettio’s in the cupboard. Open one of those babies and it would spell; blasphemous, your FBI status (Full Bloodied Italian) would be taken away. When you’re five not only are Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy  real, a little person really does believe Alphabet noodles can rearrange themselves into sentences.

It was during these cooking sessions with my mom that she would tell me stories about her childhood and impart her wisdom about life. At the time, as most of us do, I didn’t appreciate the stories until I was much older. My mom was a natural storyteller and also extremely funny; only she never realized how witty she was. She used her imagination in the kitchen and kept a family of seven well fed on a limited budget.

My school lunches were packed with homemade whole wheat panini (bun), roasted red pepper and zucchini sandwiches, and slices of fresh mozzarella cheese (which she also made at home) and homemade cookies. My school mates would look at my lunch and ask, “What the heck are you eating now?”

One day, I traded my lunch for the more popular peanut-butter and jam sandwich and two Oreo cookies. The girl I traded my lunch with took a bite of my lunch—eggplant parmesan—made a gagging noise and downed her carton of milk in one gulp. After that experience she didn’t even want to try the almond biscotti packed in my lunch. She traded the Italian lunch with the boy sitting next to her for his PB&J. He inhaled the eggplant and the biscotti and asked me if I’d bring extras the next day.

As for me, I left the lunch room hungry that day. I discovered that after months of craving to be part of the PB&J crowd, I didn’t much care for white sliced bread or Oreo cookies. At least I gave it a try, but it didn’t work for me. After talking to my mom about this, she said that it wasn’t to say that the PB&J crowd didn’t have good taste, it just meant that what satiated me was different from the majority of kids, and that was okay.

How is this similar to my writing journey? It taught me that it’s perfectly okay not to follow a trend and to stick to my own individual style. Some people will try my style and like it and some may try it and not like it, and that’s really okay. There’s a meal for every taste bud, a lid for every pot and a reader for every type of genre, book and writing style.

The main thing my mom taught me while we baked and cooked together was to add a lot of love into anything I do, including cooking. She emphasized how important it was to cook with passion because the excitement I felt when cooking or baking would translate to the final masterpiece, even if I made a simple sandwich. She taught me to use all my senses: touch, taste, sight and smell (and hear too, for the fire alarm that is, when I had accidentally burned a pot or two in my learning process). Like writing, cooking has an eternal learning curve and there’s always something new to discover and try.

Using all my senses can also be applied to my writing journey. Creating characters, dialogue and plots that will give the reader not only a visual experience of what’s happening, but hopefully they can taste what the characters are tasting, smell the scents of the scenery, close their eyes and hear the voices (not the ones in our heads, that’s another story), but the tone of the characters, and most importantly feel the passion I (and other writer’s) have put into creating a wonderful story to draw you into a comical, suspenseful, mysterious and romantic world.

Here’s a recipe to warm your bones (if you live in a colder climate, still tasty if you live in the tropics as well) during the hectic holiday season. Let the Crock Pot do the cooking, while you’re writing, reading or just hanging out with family and friends.

Crock Pot Italian Sausage Soup

Ingredients

3 TBSP olive oil

2 pounds Italian sausage (sweet or mild, your choice)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium Vidalia (or any other sweet onion), chopped

2 cans plum tomatoes (chop them up, or mash them using a potato masher)

1.5 cups dry red wine (not cooking wine, if it’s good enough to drink, then it’s what you cook with)

6 cups beef broth

3 TBSP fresh basil, chopped

3 TBSP fresh Italian parsley, chopped

1 yellow zucchini, thinly sliced

1 green zucchini, thinly sliced

1 sweet red (or orange or yellow) pepper, chopped

1 package of frozen spinach (defrost and squeeze the liquid out)

salt & pepper to taste

Package of pasta (16 oz. your choice of pasta)

Freshly grated Parmesan Cheese (I love Romano cheese, which you could also use)

Directions:

In a large pot, add olive oil and heat, add sausage and cook over medium heat until brown.

Remove from heat, pat with paper towel and cut into thin slices.

Add garlic and onion to the pot and cook until tender (about 2 – 3 minutes).

Heat up your crock pot to low and add: sausages, onions, garlic and stir in the rest of all the ingredients.

Cover, and cook on Low for 6 hours.

When soup is done you’re ready to make the pasta to add to the soup. (Tip: soup tastes better when you make it a day ahead and warm it up on the stove, but it’s also delicious the same day as well).

Cook Pasta al dente (according to package directions).

Drain water and add pasta to the soup, simmer for a few minutes.

Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle in bowls and add Parmesn cheese.

Variations:

For the die-hard meat lovers, you can also add some ground meat, brown before adding to the crock pot.

For the Vegetarian in you, subtitute the meat with a can of Fava Beans, Lentils and Chickpeas

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all.

Thank you for your support in my writing and blogging journey this past year.

I look forward to sharing more interviews, recipes, contests and a variety of topics in the New Year. Stay safe, happy and enjoy your family and friends.

Hugs,

Selena



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