On a rainy afternoon, the nonnas are having coffee in the kitchen. In the next room, separated only by a doorway, their grandchildren are turning the pages of old photo albums and rifling through loose black-and-whites. A grandson rushes in and waves a photo at a nonna.
“Who’s this?” the child asks.
“He’s great grandma’s brother,” she says. “He never came to America. He . . . ”
Satisfied, the boy returns to his place among the albums. But in seconds, a granddaughter stumbles under the weight of an album as she enters the kitchen.”Who are all these soldiers?” she asks.
“Oh, let me see,” a nonna says.
“No, me first,” another says. Each nonna reaches out to claim the album that holds photos of their sons, their sons’ friends, and the neighborhood’s only West Point graduate — a commissioned officer. They begin to pass the album around. When one lingers on a page, someone elbows her and tells her to “move on.”
“Never mind,” the girl says and starts to walk emptyhanded to join her brother in the next room.
“Wait,” a nonna calls to her. “This is your father when he was in tthe Army.”
“Come and see,” she calls to her brother. “Here, look at all Daddy’s medals.” They take a look and quickly run back to the photos they are separating from the pile and stealthily removing from albums — recent photos of themselves.
At the table, the nonnas laugh at images of now bald sons-in-law, images captured when the men had full heads of dark curls. “Look, there’s the block party when they all came back home.” Another says, “That’s the one we made the special lasagna Genovese for.” On they go, laughing and pointing. (See The Block Party.)
Then, silence falls. Each simply crosses herself as she looks at a photo of a young man smiling proudly in his uniform. “He was nineteen, Nino — in the Pacific,” one says. “God rest his soul. ” She gently closes the book. They dab at their eyes.
The squabbling of the children in the next room breaks the silence. “Hey, don’t fight with your sister. Come and have some cake and milk.”
The children leave a stack of photos showing them opening Christmas gifts, standing before a Christmas tree that looks the same in each photo, and — recognizable only to themselves — in Halloween costumes.
The girl enters the kitchen carrying an album covered in white satin. She manages to hold her fingers between two thick pages to mark her place.
“Here I am,” she says, handing the album to a nonna. “I’m the flower girl, see?” She passes around the album showing a photo of a post-World War II wedding.
“Oh, you were so beautiful,” a nonna says happily, teary. “They all waited to get married until after the War– but some, like Nino, didn’t see the War end.” She sighs. (See The Bride’s Getting Out of the Car.)
Each nonna pinches the children’s cheeks, gently ruffles their hair, and hugs them. Silently, they understand: no collateral damage here. They nod in agreement.
- 3 cups basil leaves
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, roughly grated
- 1 to 1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- Dried red pepper flakes to taste
- In blender or food processor, pulse all ingredients, until sauce is thick and creamy.
- Add more oil if necessary.
- Set aside.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- 1 pound curly edge lasagna noodles
- 10 fingerling potatoes, scrubbed, salted, thinly sliced, steamed until tender
- 1 pound green beans, sliced on the bias, salted, steamed 5 minutes
- 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, coarsely grated
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella, diced
- 2 cups whole milk ricotta, drained
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, minced
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Boil noodles in salted water, according to package directions, drain well.
- Blend mozzarella, ricotta, and eggs with parsley; salt and pepper to taste.
- Layer pesto, noodles, green beans, pesto, grated cheese, potatoes, blended cheeses, pesto.
- Continue stacking ingredients in the same order, ending with noodles, pesto, and a sprinkling of Parmigiano.
- Cover loosely with aluminum foil; bake 35 minutes; remove foil; bake 10 minutes, or until golden brown.
- Let rest 15 to 20 minutes before serving.