Joan Leotta is a writer and story performer who presents one-women shows specializes in strong women and folklore. Learn more about her and her books at her blog.
An appetite for reading and writing? While it has become quite fashionable to include recipes in books over the past few years, the combination of literary and culinary arts has been around for much longer. Many famous books, poems, and even plays, focus on a family meal or a single food.
In my case, being Italian, I’m sure no one is surprised that my books are permeated with the aroma of tomato sauce cooking on the back of the stove and that much of my poetry and many of my short stories were instigated by favorite foods or recipes.
My Legacy of Honor Series is an example of that. Meals are mentioned in each book of the series. While writing them, I remembered the strong women of my own childhood who put tasty meals on the table while conquering other worlds at the same time—education, war efforts, journalistic pursuits, careers, and family crises.
Giulia Goes to War, the first book in the series takes on the issue of honoring tradition while breaking out into modern life. The book takes place during World War II. Giula leaves home to work for the war effort, thwarts spies and falls in love with a young man who is not Italian-American.
In the late 1960s my own time to break with tradition came. Unlike Giulia, my move was not due to war or over education or about a boy. My father simply said, in response to my request that he go apartment hunting with me, that once I had finished college, even after I had a job, I would be living at home. I had already lived in Europe during college and attended college in another state. Still, my father maintained that a good girl, in the same city as her parents, lives at home. I moved my job search to another city.
Food and traditional holiday celebrations are one way I maintained my ethnic pride and identity while in that “other” city, a place where there were few Italian Americans—Washington, DC. People were excited to receive invitations to my house for dinner—hoping I would make pasta with red sauce or braciole or lasagna or …any one of my grandmother’s recipes.
When Giulia marries her non-Italian sweetheart, I imagine this sort of culinary attachment to her culture. The core recipe of all of this is the Sunday Sauce—a tomato sauce served over pasta on Sunday and probably at least one other day during the week.
For the purpose of this blog, I’ve included the quick sauce—no meat—only needs to cook twenty minutes—easy to make. Leaves you without excuse when facing those jars of sugared chemical-filled sauces on the grocery shelves. If you want to add meat, cook meatballs and other meats first, double the sauce recipe, add the meat and cook for two-three hours minimum. Enough for two meals.
Family Marinara Sauce
This is the sauce you can smell on the pages of my books
One pound of your favorite dry pasta
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 can water
1 clove garlic, sliced in half
2 T olive oil
2 T fresh flat Italian parsley or 1T dried parsley
2 basil leaves or 1T dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste
grated pecorino romano cheese (optional)
Brown the garlic in hot oil. Be careful not to let it burn. Remove garlic after it’s browned. Add tomatoes, one can of water, herbs and salt. Stir. Cook on medium heat for 30 minutes, more if you want the sauce to be thicker.
Prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain. Place in bowl. Toss with sauce and top with grated cheese if desired.
Giulia Goes to War
Wartime works draws Giulia DeBartolo out of her close Western Pennsylvania family into a world of intrigue, spies, and new friends in Wilmington, North Carolina’s shipyard building Liberty ships.
Giulia soon discovers supporting the war effort can include fun evenings like dancing with young servicemen at the local USO. It is at one of these dances she meets John O’Shea, an unsuitable suitor according to her old-fashioned parents.
As they grapple with the problems of their own budding relationship, John and Giulia encounter a Nazi spy tasked with blowing up part of the Wilmington shipyard. Saving the shipyard from the spy may prove easier than convincing her parents to let her marry John. Giulia must decide what it means to be a good daughter while still following her own heart.
Giulia Goes to War is currently out of print, but the author has copies for sale. If you’re interested in purchasing this book, contact her through Facebook.