The hardest thing about being Italian is finding a house that has big enough closets to save everything you have to save. There are so many things you just cannot throw out. The nagging fear that you will need a particular item at some time in the future stops you. If you are a true Italian, your closets will be full and your car will just fit in the garage between the shelves holding your treasures.
A hundred plastic shopping bags is only the beginning. Every rubber band from the morning newspaper that has been delivered for the last twenty years will hang on a doorknob. At my house, the rubber bands have outlived the newspapers. I can't stop. When relatives die, you inherit their collections. There is negotiating at the wake. Believe me. Everyone knows margarine containers with lids are considerably more valuable than cottage cheese containers. And all heirs will fight for the corks, because someday the cleverest Italian in the world will sell all those corks back to Spain and make a fortune.
My Aunt Celestina was pure Italian. She had a big home. All her closets were full. Three of those closets were refrigerators. She never threw a morsel of food away. She saved all leftovers and turned them into something else. A man named Mussolini tried to starve her once and she remained scared for the rest of her life. Cooking to her was kitchen communion, and she taught me that it's a sin to waste.
I would watch her twist the scraps of pasta from the ravioli into cookies. She would deep fry the bows and powder them with sugar. And in a fancy box decorated for an upcoming holiday, she would place them gently to rest. The cookies would become a treat for a guest or a grandchild. Now you understand, she would say to me, why you should never throw anything out, it's truly a sin to waste.
I do not sin. I want my place in heaven. And I have two refrigerators. I copped Aunt Celestina's last refrigerator at her memorial. It was still plugged in. My sister, a financial genius, scored the cork collection.
I work miracles with leftovers during the holidays. One of my favorites is to use the day old dinner rolls from Thanksgiving or Christmas. I cut them in half, rub with fresh garlic, olive oil and toast until crispy brown. If you want to get fancy, sprinkle grated cheese on top after toasting.
I use my garlic toasts as an appetizer served with sherry or an afternoon snack with a cup of chicken broth. The toasts are also perfect to serve alongside a salad before supper. Use stale bread and good olive oil. Drink a glass of wine. You have performed kitchen communion.
This piece was originally published in Eat In Eat Out, Canada's first food-focused digital magazine.