Grandma's garden

Lidia and Nonna Erminia lovingly tend their backyard plot

In celebration of my 14th and newest cookbook, Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine, my mother, 95-year-old Erminia Motika, and I talk about the pleasures of cooking family meals with food from our expansive garden with AARP.

Here’s an excerpt:

Lidia: From the time I was a little girl, I gardened. We were Italian, living behind the Iron Curtain in Istria, which is now Croatia, right after World War II. We grew everything we needed to survive. Then, in 1956, we escaped to Italy.

Grandma: I left beautiful house, beautiful apartment, mother and father. And everything was big desperation. But what we can do?

Lidia: There was no garden in Italy. We lived in a refugee camp for two years. But then we came to the United States in 1958, to Astoria, New York.

Grandma: Right away, she go to look for a garden.

Lidia: Yes! We used to go to Astoria Park and collect the dandelions from the park for soup. Food became my continuous connection to where I came from. These days, we grow everything we need here in our garden in Queens. We start with seedlings in the house, and then we plant. Look, we got everything: parsley, garlic, onion, radicchio, arugula, carrots, beets, kale, eggplant, all different peppers. Fennel for soups. We even have a fig tree.

Grandma: I am director of the garden.

Lidia: Nothing goes in without her OK. The other thing about gardening is that it’s not only about food. It’s nice movement when you’re at a mature age. You have to bend down. It’s continuous moving, back and forth. Mamma never went to a doctor till she was 80, and finally I told her she had to go.

Grandma: They do this test, that test, they shake me up and down. At the end they say, “You know what? Go home. Do what you did until now.”

You can read the rest of this article, including my recipes for Raw Summer Tomato Pasta Sauce and Spaghetti with Pesto Trapanese, and view a video of me preparing them on AARP