My families are a mixture of Italians and Southerners, so family recipes were always pretty interesting. Here's one my grandmother used to make. She lived alone, but she always cooked meals for herself and would sit down with a nice plate to enjoy her food. I loved that about her.
Nona's Telephone Road Relish
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped olives
1 pickled green jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 unpeeled piece of garlic
pepper and salt
Combine the first three ingredients in a mixing bowl. Take the piece of garlic, put it on a cutting board and then take a big chef's knife and cover the garlic with the wide, flat side. Give the knife a couple of hard smashes using the heel of your hand (you can cover the knife with a towel if this scares you). Take the peel off the garlic, then toss the garlic into the bowl. Stir well, sprinkle with pepper and salt, and stir again. Transfer the mixture to a jar, like an old pickle jar or mayonnaise jar that has a screw-on lid. If you don't have a jar, a glass bowl will do. Pour olive oil over the mixture until it comes up to the top of the vegetables. Screw the lid on tightly (or cover the bowl with some plastic wrap) and let sit in the refrigerator overnight.
You can serve this relish with hamburgers and sandwiches. I like to add about 1/4 cup of it to a 14-ounce can of tomatoes and simmer it in some of the oil from the relish. This makes a nice sauce for pasta with shrimp or tuna.
My other grandmother was from a once well-to-do Southern family. She was an only child, and I don't know who taught her to cook but it must have been my great grandmother. They both had some wonderful specialties -- my mom still moans over the fact that she never got Mama Hallie's lemon meringue pie recipe. Here's one my grandmother taught me how to make.
VEGETABLE BEEF SOUP
1/3 - 1/2 lb. Beef scraps (steak bones, leftover steak, or two oxtail bones from the grocery store)
1 onion, diced up
2 pieces celery, diced
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
1 14-ounce can tomato sauce
1 cup of each:
green beans cut to 1"
1/4 cup barley
1 14-ounce can cream-style corn
pepper and salt
Put a big soup pot on the stove over medium heat. Add some vegetable oil to the pan, enough to barely coat the bottom. Cut up the steak into little bite-size pieces. Add it to the pot along with any soup bones you're using and let everything brown evenly, stirring frequently. Next, add the chopped onion and celery and cook until it's softened. Then, add the tomatoes and the can of tomato sauce. Fill each of the empty cans up with water and add the water to the pot. Break up the tomatoes with the back of a spoon as you're stirring. Season with pepper and salt, about 1/2 tsp each. Cover the pot and let this simmer for about 30 minutes over low heat.
After 30 minutes, uncover the pot and add the remaining vegetables and the barley. Cook for another 30-45 minutes or until the barley is tender. Last, add the can of cream-style corn and cook until the soup returns to a simmer and is bubbling hot. It should be thick, but not as thick as a stew, so add some extra water to loosen it up if you think it needs it. Remove the soup bones and serve.
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