Pasta con Piselli

by Christina Sforza

 

When I was six years old, I broke my leg. During the last kindergarten field trip of the year, I fell off a ledge that led to a fireman’s pole, missing the pole entirely and landing straight on the ground with a disconcerting thud. The days and weeks that followed the fall were traumatizing and life-altering, from the moment I had a steel rod drilled into my leg to the endless weeks I lay in bed until my broken femur slowly healed. My parents, who weren’t exactly thrilled about the situation themselves, tried to make things better for me with regular visits, constant coddling and, of course, delicious treats.

 

My mother would often bring me homemade meals so that I wasn’t forced to partake in the hospital’s daily offering of sliced ham and blanched potatoes. She knew exactly what I loved: focaccia, panzerotti, biscotti, hot dogs, chocolate cake. What I loved the most, and looked forward to regularly, was a dish that she perfected: pasta con piselli (peas and pasta). It was a comforting, simple dish that she prepared just right, evoking flavours that my palate adored. I’d devour the sweet peas, sautéed onions with pancetta and the ditalini pasta that comprise this signature Italian dish. Although her trek to the hospital was a long one – approximately a 40 minute drive – the dish always arrived warm to the touch and just right to taste. It was sheer perfection. For brief moments, knowing that dish was on its way removed the dread caused by my unfortunate circumstances. In some strange way, pasta con piselli gave me hope.

 

When I was in high school and more involved in the preparation of my lunches, I packed whatever was easy for me to make: a basic ham sandwich, a small yogurt snack and a seasonal fruit. It was nothing special but I blended in just right with the other kids whose lunches resembled mine. Occasionally, though, I would bring along the last remaining panzerotto from the batch my mom prepared for last night’s dinner, or a slice of homemade focaccia she had made for the week. And if I got really lucky, I would bring leftover pasta con piselli. It wasn’t a frequent occurrence, but I believe my sporadic lunches of that simple dish got me through high school. I never thought I’d be saying that.

 

High school lunches of pasta con piselli were often necessary; they elicited a sense of nostalgia I needed to get me through some of the more trying times of my adolescence. On days my growth spurt would hit me with a strong dose of insecurity, the dish brought me back home, where I was loved and appreciated for being myself. It gave me pause when my science classes got tougher. It took away the anxiety, occasional lonesomeness and frequent confusion that plagued my teenage years. It made me feel better, happier, stronger, and loved, even if it was just during the occasional lunch period.

 

I think every child needs a lunch that takes them back home; a lunch which reminds them that, really, it’s not all bad. Every child needs their own “pasta con piselli.” It’s that pat on the back, outstretched hand and warm embrace you seek when life gets challenging. It’s a reminder that you are loved and that you will be just fine, even when the world around you might seem a little tough.

 

Christina Sforza was born and raised in Montreal. Her heritage stems from the province of Bari in the Apulia region of Italy. She writes for a series of blogs and is working on a collection of creative writing.

 

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