73: A Tradition Continued

73: A Tradition Continued

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love

A Tradition Continued

Giving your son a skill is better than giving him one thousand pieces of gold.

~Chinese Proverb

It’s often said that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and on November 6, 2010 that became my reality. At 5:38 a.m. I awoke to a telephone call that my lovely mother, Jean Coscia, passed away after a brief battle with cancer. Family life was changed forever.

We all have unique relationships with our mothers. My relationship with my mother was about food, recipes, and television chefs. We were always talking food and adding a pinch of this or a tablespoon of that to give our recipes a new and improved flavor.

We gravitated towards the culinary expertise of Mary Ann Esposito and Lidia Bastianich: the queens of Italian cooking, in our humble opinion. Mom was an Irish girl but when she married my Italian dad in 1956 she became an honorary Italian and embraced Italian cooking. Without a Food Network channel she had to rely on her in-laws, her own instincts, and the trial and error approach.

Truth be told, Mom was an incredible cook, though she would never admit it. I could never understand why. There was always a self-deprecating quip whenever I offered a compliment. Maybe it was modesty. Maybe it was because she wasn’t a born-Italian so she felt like an outsider and feared being judged by the real Italians. But through the years Italians and non-Italians gathered around the dinner table and feasted on her delicious meals.

In the days following the funeral I reached for the index card box Mom kept on the top left shelf of the cabinet above the kitchen counter. Inside were her recipes neatly typed on three-by-five index cards. As I held each card, a flood of memories came rushing back. I remembered sneaking into the refrigerator late at night to steal a slice of peppermint or chocolate cream pie, to nibble on a stuffed Cubanelle pepper, or to savor one of Mom’s beloved potato croquettes.

Not all the recipes were in the box. Some, like the stuffed peppers and potato croquettes, were part of Mom’s being, her soul, and never needed their own index cards. Once I asked about the potato croquettes and she told me how she made them — well, not exactly. She listed the ingredients without the amounts, except for the potatoes, of which there were a dozen.

Those potato croquettes were truly heavenly. Being so time-consuming to make, they became a special family holiday tradition, and not a year went by without the potato croquettes sitting center table on a white porcelain platter. With Mom now gone I decided to make them myself. It was my way of easing the huge void that her death created.

In order to prepare, I wanted a “mom” atmosphere in my kitchen. The first thing I did after I peeled the dozen potatoes and put them in a pot of boiling water was to put on some of Mom’s favorite music: Neil Diamond.

While sautéing the onions in olive oil I remembered the time we all went to see Neil Diamond in concert. Our tickets were up in the rafters, the nosebleed section, and to see Neil we needed to use binoculars or watch the huge video screens that book-ended the gigantic stage. Just the look on Mom’s face when Diamond crooned “Sweet Caroline” or “Song Sung Blue” was worth it. By the end of the concert she was like a teenager, cheering and applauding.

The next step in the recipe was to mash the potatoes and add the parsley, sautéed onions, parmesan cheese, butter, and salt and pepper. This was going to take some effort with my mashing tool, so I poured myself a glass of wine, white zinfandel to be exact, to prepare for the task.

Whenever I visited Mom we would open a bottle of white wine and we’d sit around the kitchen table catching up. Eventually we’d add cheese and crackers to help soak up the wine, and then whatever else we found in the refrigerator. After a while the conversation would veer from the latest on the grandchildren to what we wanted for dinner. Food. Recipes. Our special connection.

After more wine and more mashing the mixture was ready for the next step: the dipping and the sautéing. I carefully rolled the mashed mixture into oval balls, dipped them in beaten eggs, rolled them in Italian style breadcrumbs, and gently placed them in the heated olive oil. I did this for forty-eight croquettes.

As the first one was finished I couldn’t resist the temptation and took a bite, igniting my senses with years of potato croquette reminiscences. It was delicious, but not quite as good as Mom’s. It was missing a little something that only Mom could give it: her touch, her love. But there they were — the first batch of potato croquettes I ever made. I served them on a white porcelain platter for the perfect presentation.

In my heart I know that with the potato croquettes Mom lives on, and every holiday they will be part of my holiday menu. A labor of love. A fond remembrance. A tradition continued.

Joan Coscia’s Potato Croquettes

12 potatoes

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

2-3 onions chopped

Pinch of salt

Pinch of black pepper

4-6 tablespoons butter

Chopped fresh parsley

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

8 eggs beaten

Breadcrumbs

Oil for sautéing

Peel potatoes. Boil them as if making mashed potatoes. Drain the potatoes.

Sauté chopped onion in olive oil.

Mash the potatoes and add onion, salt, pepper, butter, parsley, and grated cheese.

Form into croquettes.

Dip each croquette in the egg batter and then roll in the breadcrumbs.

Sauté the breaded croquettes in the oil until golden. Drain on paper towel.

Makes about 4 dozen croquettes.

~Michael Coscia

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