Among other things, being locked up inside for a few weeks has made my mind wander through many memories, none more recurrent than those of days spent in the countryside with my grandma. She’s no longer around, but her voice and her stories will probably stay with me forever. But this is not about those stories, though they’re all excellent and at the time she was telling them I remember thinking I could write a book. This is about five simple meals she’d cook for me during school holidays or on some weekends, and that I need to make more often for myself.
1. Polenta with sunny side up eggs
This was a great quick lunch on summer days. Of course, the eggs came from my grandma’s chickens, so the yolks were bright yellow and the taste was incredibly rich. She would just heat up the old frying pan until it was sizzling, then throw in a couple of eggs, carefully cracking each one to get perfect results. When the edges of the eggs would be super crispy and golden-brown, she would flip them and let them cook just for a few seconds, thus keeping the yolk still runny. There was just so much satisfaction in breaking the slightly salted top layer with my fork, and dipping the polenta in the yolk, that my mouth is watering every time I think about it.
2. Polenta, milk and salt
This was more like an entrée, but sometimes, when it was really hot outside, it would be just about enough on its own for lunch. There were two variations, and preferably nothing in between: either the polenta was hot and the milk was cold from the fridge, or the milk was heated and the polenta was cold, leftover from the previous day. The milk, of course, came from my grandma’s cow and had been previously boiled, so it had a very special taste that milk we get in shops can never have. And the salt was a must, there was just no way of having this dish unsalted.
3. Cheese-stuffed polenta ball (boț)
So this was not really a meal, but one of my favorite childhood snacks. I used to play all day around the yard with my cousins and my grandma would at some point come find me and hand me over the most delicious treat, wrapped in newspaper: some fat cheese of the melting type, made from either cow or sheep’s milk, tucked inside a handful of hot polenta, so that the cheese would melt right away. Sometimes, butter would also be involved. Of course, I had to eat it while the polenta was still hot, otherwise there was no point.
4. Garden tomato salad with rustic bread
OK, so this one reminds me more of my summer holidays as a high-school kid. In my grandma’s garden, there would often be beef tomatoes that had a very rich taste. The salad consisted just of roughly sliced tomatoes, loads of onion and a bit of oil and salt. And it just had to come with a thick slice of rustic bread from the village bakery, that would be used for soaking in the tomato sauce remaining after eating the salad. That garden tomato – salt – onion combination is just to die for.
5. Fried cheese-filled pies (brânzoaice) with chocolate milk
I left this one for last, because it was my grandma’s staple pastry and the ultimate taste of love. As kids, we would get up in the morning and watch grandma kneading the dough, letting it rise and then spreading and filling it with a simple egg, cheese and sugar mixture. She would then proceed to frying, until a nice pile of pies started forming onto a plate, with powdered sugar in-between. This wonderful breakfast would have not been complete without chocolate milk (milk, cocoa, sugar and a dash of salt) and until this day I get excited at the thought of it.
I’d like to end this with a picture that must have been taken in 2003. I was in my second year of university and I would gradually take less trips to the countryside, so that must have been one of the last summer holidays spent with my grandma. And until this day, when I think of my happiest times, those are the memories that always pop up.
So there it is, I wrote this post mostly for me, perhaps afraid of one day these memories will fade away. You can see more pictures and a description of my grandma’s village in this older post.