If you live up in my neck of the woods, there’s snow on the ground. Yesterday there was too, and tomorrow and the day after there will probably be snow outside as well.
Since we’re all stuck inside with no place to go (that’s certainly not a new experience), one of the topics that usually pops up in these situations is comfort food. Specifically how people love to make it and eat it when it’s cold, icy and snowy outside.
I find the term comfort food to be one of the most misused and abused terms in the food world. By my count, everything ever cooked except steak, lobster and caviar is considered a comfort food. If you at some time in your life liked it and didn’t have to mortgage the house for the ingredients, it’s a comfort food.
About 90 percent of what’s described as comfort food in my experience is laughable, but then again, my experience is colored by a mother who cooked as well as Taco Bell makes…well, anything. My Dad was the cook (he passed that on to me) so comfort food was pretty much whatever he made.
As a result, when people wax on about chicken soup being comfort food, I think of something awful that came out of a red and white can. Meatloaf? Growing up, I’d rather take a bite out of the guy singing “Paradise By The Dashboard Lights.” Beef Stew? Ours was Dinty Moore’s cheapest variety of mushy ingredients, covered in a brown, motor-oil-like gravy.
You get the picture.
The old man had a philosophy of comfort food that I’m not sure isn’t a good way to look at it. He thought – probably because he was really good at cooking it – that Italian food was the ultimate comfort food. He also made a distinction between the kind of food his father grew up with in the Potenza region of Italy in a town called Melfi, and what people in this country have long viewed as Italian food.
The stuff he was raised on – and loved – he referred to as “peasant food.” Where his Dad grew up, there wasn’t much money, meaning there was virtually no meat in dishes, you grew your own tomatoes and spices like basil and oregano, and you got your best flavor from using the freshest of ingredients you could find. He said once Italians came to America, meat and other ingredients were much more available, and it changed how a lot of dishes were made.
That’s why my dad called spaghetti and meatballs the ultimate peasant food. Pasta was just flour and eggs, you made the sauce from items in your garden, and if you did find some beef, it was really tough, so you ground it up and added bread crumbs and every filler you could to turn half a pound of meat into two pounds of meatballs. Then you let it simmer for hours until everything was tender.
My Dad extended this frugal philosophy into other dishes, which is why my top 5 comfort foods is probably different from yours. Here’s mine, in no particular order:
That’s my list, but I’m always looking for better. Got a better comfort food? Leave a note about it in the comments!
...And I’m right there with you. Absolutely the best.
In my (Jewish) home, noodle kugel = comfort food. Has that same “thriftiness” idea to it.
My mother also made a potato-noodle soup (bring on the carbs!) that is the very definition of cheap comfort food.
My mother grew up in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, and a lot of her favorite foods were influenced by all the great Kosher Delis in the area, so she preferred salami and eggs. My Dad, growing up in Altoona, PA, preferred bologna. He also preferred Scrapple, which is something that will never come into my house, refrigerator or kitchen. It's an acquired taste I will NEVER acquire
We had virtually no money and even less skill but frying up a can of spam sliced thin with sliced onions and sliced potatoes made us feel like we were living pretty well—and it chased a third roomie—who thought we were disgusting—out of the apartment.
I think it was a Navy thing. I know it was an acquired taste I never quite acquired