I have known Gina Radioli for years. I even know her Father Jack (Giacomo) and her sister Laura (pronounced Lao-ra… and make sure you get that right) as well as I know my own family. But I had only heard about Graziella Radioli, or should I say Graziella Travoli Radioli Cosetta Bortoli Ostellino Mereghetti Schwartz. Gina’s Mother had married well. Six times. She had begun her serial marriage sequence in Sicily when she became betrothed to Gina’s Dad and then when that ended, she simply married her way up the boot until she hit Milan.
Gina’s parents met near the outskirts of Palermo when they were kids. And when I say kids, I mean when they were 2 years old. They had always known each other. Gina’s Dad used to say he couldn’t remember not knowing Graziella. Gina’s Dad’s family had made a very comfortable living in olives, pistachios and sheep and her Mother’s family owned the adjacent lemon grove. It only seemed natural to both families to encourage Giacomo and Graziella to marry. But encourage is really not the correct word. I’m trying to think of a better word.....forced......that’s it, forced. Gina’s parents had no choice whatsoever with regard to whom they would marry. It's just the way it was in those days. And it made perfect sense to everyone in the village, except for the couple that would eventually become Gina and Laura’s parents.
Jack used to joke, with his thick Sicilian accent, “Ita wasn’t like a we were on an ark. We had a car you know.” But both Gina’s parents knew the reason their families wanted them to stick around. Both families had a very nice life in the country. The government had left them alone for decades and they didn’t want things to change. The trucks would come in, pick up the crops and the wool, pay for the goods and be gone. Life was simple.
But when someone from town got the idea in their heads of finding an adventurous new way of life, things didn't always work out as hoped. All too often, a kid from the region would go off to the big city to make his fortune and come back either wearing far too much jewelry and cologne, return a pale, broken version of their former selves or arrive home in a pine box. Glamour was hard. Olives were easy.
So Giacomo Radioli and Graziella Travoli were pronounced man and wife.
Well, sort of.......
(To be continued........)
While we were waiting for Graziella's limousine (yes, limousine) to arrive, I made Jack Radioli's favorite lunch: Steamed Mussels with a midwestern twist. BACON! I am not Italian, but everytime he would eat them, he'd look at me and say, "Ita just like a home!" Then he would gather the fingers from his right hand to his lips and fan them out with a kiss. "Bellissimo!"
Steamed Mussels with Smoked Bacon
¼ pound Smoked Bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large jalapeño, seeded and thinly sliced crosswise
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ pound plum tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 cup drinking quality dry white wine
4 pounds medium mussels, scrubbed and debearded
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
Parmigiano-Reggiano Croustades to serve
1. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, cook the bacon over moderate heat until crisp, about 6 to 8 minutes.
2. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat. Add the shallots and jalapeño, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 4 minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 4 minutes.
4. Increase the heat to high and add the mussels. Cover and cook, shaking the pan a few times, until the mussels open, about 5 minutes.
5. With a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels to 4 large, shallow serving bowls. Remove the casserole from the heat and stir in the lime juice, butter and chopped Italian parsley.
Ladle the sauce over the mussels and serve at once with the croustades.