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Nourishing Nostalgia: Comforting CSA-Inspired Recipes from Generations Past

June 26, 2024

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Nourishing Nostalgia: Comforting CSA-Inspired Recipes from Generations Past

Grandma’s Gnocchi and the Art of Pasta-Making

Before putting pen to paper for this article, I dug into a bowl of buttered radiatore pasta. The simple dish was all I could wrap my head around for dinner that evening. I had just put our six-month-old baby Hudson to bed, our fridge was bare, and my to-do list was extra long. Buttered noodles are my comfort food. While not particularly nutritious, a bowl of pasta is nourishing, no-fuss, and often nostalgic.

As it turns out, pasta is also the comfort food of choice for award-winning chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman, the founders of the Enjoy AM Restaurant Group. In their own words, “Pasta is our favorite thing to eat. And it’s Andy’s love language,” jokes Michael. Their restaurant group includes Hog & Hominy, Bishop, Catherine & Mary’s, Josephine Estelle down in New Orleans, and their flagship Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen.

Honoring Family Traditions

Catherine & Mary’s, which celebrates seven years in downtown Memphis this fall, is named for Andy and Michael’s nonnas – their grandmothers who introduced their now-chef grandsons to the art of cooking. Catherine Chiozza was Hudman’s grandmother from Tuscany, and Ticer’s was Mary Spinosa of Sicilian heritage. “Any time we talk about food, especially pasta, it’s always them – that Sunday afternoon tradition,” says Andy.

That Sunday scene is artistically interpreted on the walls of the restaurant, where colorful swirls and strokes fill two oversized canvases. The almost-psychedelic scene boasts bowls of pasta and faces of the two women who fueled Andy and Michael’s culinary careers. A production in itself.

The Pasta-Making Process as Art

Currently at the helm of the Catherine & Mary’s kitchen is Mustafa Shirazee, who has been with the restaurant group since 2018. Known among the team as “Mus,” he sees pasta as a form of art in itself. “I’ve always found the process extremely fascinating,” he reflects. “You start with some flour, eggs, and olive oil, and knead that together into this beautiful bright yellow color. From there, turning it into all kinds of shapes, some with a beautiful filling, all the way to cooking it off and pairing it with an amazing sauce – all the way to the customer. Pasta will always be special to me.”

That production is artfully spotlighted in Catherine & Mary’s architectural design. As you approach the restaurant, its floor-to-ceiling glass windows envelop the bottom floor of the historic Chisca Hotel. Standing on the sidewalk, you can look through one of the windows and watch pasta being made. And arguably the best seat in the house is in the center of the restaurant, where you can see into the heart of the kitchen.

“We designed the kitchen window so that the diner or downtowner can put themselves in our process,” says Michael. “And especially at night, with the hustle of the team and those heat lamps over us, it’s like a romantic view of what’s happening in there. You can’t hear anything,” adds Andy, “but you can see the commotion.”

Pasta as the Centerpiece

Pasta has always had its own section on the Catherine & Mary’s menu, both by demand and by design. While coursed and portioned to precede the mains, pastas are considered the centerpiece. With eight menus per year – in addition to a monthly waitlisted wine dinner – the opportunity to test new techniques and collaborate with the restaurant group’s chefs keeps the pasta menu fresh and revolving year-round.

“From a new agnolotti filling to an amatriciana sauce Andy puts love into for four hours – or a new flour we are milling in-house and a crazy laborious trofie shape our chefs will only tolerate for a special wine dinner menu – pasta really allows us to keep reinventing,” reflects Michael.

One pasta element that diners can rest assured will never be adjusted or omitted is Maw Maw’s gravy. While the noodle shape will rotate from a rigatoni to a bucatini or even a ravioli, the classic sauce remains an anchor of both Catherine & Mary’s and Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen.

“Personally, I love treating the pasta as a shared course where we can explore the various techniques, shapes, and sauces that make the cut each season,” Michael agrees. “Everyone digs in, and it’s that same feeling of family,” he says. “That’s how we learned hospitality.”

Andy says he relies on that sense of ancestry when he’s cooking. “Anytime we’re in the kitchen, we feel like they’re with us. It’s very comforting.”

Comfort food indeed. As I finish my buttered noodles, I can’t help but feel a similar sense of nostalgia and belonging. The simple dish may not be the most nutritious, but it nourishes the soul in a way that only grandma’s cooking can.

Rediscovering Family Recipes at the Thornappple CSA

As I reflect on the importance of family traditions in the kitchen, I’m reminded of my own cherished memories growing up. My grandmother’s gnocchi, handed down through generations, was a staple on our dinner table. The pillowy dumplings, bathed in a rich tomato sauce, would transport me to simpler times – Saturday nights spent gathered around the table, laughter filling the air as we passed the bread and poured the wine.

At the Thornappple CSA, I’ve discovered that my family’s story is not unique. Members often share their favorite heirloom recipes, passed down from parents and grandparents, that they’ve rediscovered through the seasonal bounty of the CSA.

For Janine, it was her grandmother’s pickled beets that sparked memories of summers spent canning in the kitchen. “The scent of the vinegar and spices instantly takes me back to being a little girl, helping Nana prepare jars upon jars of those deep red, perfectly tender beets,” she told me, eyes shining. “I hadn’t made them in years, but as soon as I saw the beets in my CSA box, I knew what I had to do.”

And for Michael, it was his mother’s beloved cabbage rolls that became the centerpiece of his weekly meal planning. “Mom would spend all day stuffing those cabbage leaves, layering them in the baking dish with tomato sauce and rice. The smell would fill the whole house,” he reminisced. “When I saw the heads of cabbage in my share, I knew I had to recreate that comforting dish.”

Preserving Culinary Traditions

These stories highlight the power of community-supported agriculture to not only provide fresh, locally-grown produce, but also to serve as a conduit for preserving cherished culinary traditions. As members unpack their weekly CSA boxes, they’re often transported back to childhoods spent in the kitchen, helping parents and grandparents prepare the foods that nourished both body and soul.

For many, these heirloom recipes represent a connection to their cultural heritage – a way to honor the flavors and techniques that have been passed down through generations. And by rediscovering them through the seasonal offerings of the CSA, members are able to continue that legacy, sharing these beloved dishes with their own families.

Cultivating Comfort in the Kitchen

But it’s not just the recipes themselves that provide comfort. It’s the act of preparing them – the familiar motions, the rhythmic chopping, the simmering aromas. As members step into their kitchens to cook with their CSA bounty, they’re often met with a sense of calm and contentment, as if they’re being enveloped in a warm hug from the past.

“There’s something so soothing about making grandma’s meatballs or mom’s applesauce,” reflects CSA member Emily. “The repetitive tasks, the way the flavors meld together – it’s like a meditation. I always leave the kitchen feeling grounded, connected to my roots in a way that nothing else can replicate.”

And for those members who may not have strong culinary traditions of their own, the Thornappple CSA provides an opportunity to create new ones. By experimenting with unfamiliar ingredients or reconnecting with long-forgotten recipes, they’re able to weave their own personal narratives into the fabric of the CSA community.

A Seat at the Table

Perhaps most importantly, these rediscovered family recipes serve as a means of fostering connection and togetherness. As members prepare and share their cherished dishes, they’re not just nourishing their bodies – they’re nourishing their relationships, their sense of identity, and their place within the larger community.

“When I bring my grandmother’s borscht to the CSA potluck, it’s like I’m inviting everyone to my family’s table,” says Lena. “I get to share a piece of my heritage, my history, with my fellow members. And in turn, they share theirs. It’s a beautiful exchange of cultures and traditions.”

Indeed, the Thornappple CSA has become a tapestry of stories, each member’s culinary journey woven together to create a rich, vibrant community. And at the heart of it all are the recipes that have sustained us for generations – the comforting, nourishing dishes that remind us of where we come from, and inspire us to continue building a future rooted in tradition, connection, and love.

So as you unpack your weekly CSA box, I encourage you to let your mind wander back to the kitchens of your childhood. What flavors, what techniques, what memories come flooding back? And how might you incorporate those treasured recipes into your CSA-inspired cooking, forging new traditions while honoring the old?

The answers, like a perfectly al dente gnocchi, are waiting to be discovered. All you have to do is dive in.

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