The disappearance of the Sunday dinner in America is lamentable. It was the meal where the family once renewed its bonds over a roast, fresh vegetables, mashed potatoes and at least one home- made fruit pie. A meal to look forward to all week. A meal where life relaxed and food was savored.
These days in America, family gatherings too often are confined to life-changing events and holidays. But Julietta De Chiara has been serving Sunday dinner to her sons Nicky, Enzo and Renato ever since she came to this country from Italy 11 years ago. Known in Washington as Juliet, from the erstwhile restaurant Romeo and Juliet, she patterns her Sunday meals after those dinners she enjoyed in Naples with her brother, Romeo Salta, now a well-known New York restaurateur.
Her Sunday meals are likely to be ragout, gnocchi, mixed fried fish, pizza for the children and pizza rustica with escarole. For dessert she serves, appropriately, zuccotto della mama -- a kind of frozen zabaglione cake with whipped cream, sponge cake, chocolate chips and almonds. Some of these recipes were served at Romeo and Juliet, and others were too much like home cooking to be presented at such an expensive restaurant. "I make what my husband and sons like for Sunday dinner," she explained. "It is our time to be together."
Juliet's "home-cooked" family meal now is often prepared in the kitchen of a family restaurant, and she invites the whole family as well as outsiders to enlarge the gathering. "In America the family is small," she says. "In Italy everybody -- mother, father, sons, children, grandparents -- came for Sunday dinner."
But the food she serves never is newfangled. It is the old favorites, the food that soothes, that makes her sons come back to Mama. PIZZA DI SCAROLA (Escarole Pie)
Serves 8 to 10 Crust: 2 1/3 cups unbleached flour Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 1/2 package dry yeast dissolved in 1 cup lukewarm water 2 tablespoons olive oil
Make a dough of the flour, salt, pepper, yeast and olive oil. Knead as well as possible, adding additional oil if needed. Form into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise for 30 to 40 minutes. Filling: 4 bunches escarole, about 3 pounds 1/2 cup olive oil 4 cloves chopped garlic Salt to taste 1/2 cup pignola (pine nuts) 1 1/2 cup pitted black olives 1 tablespoon capers 4 tablespoons raisins
Wash the escarole well and saute in the oil with the garlic for about 10 minutes or so. You may have to do this in several batches. If any additional water remains, raise the heat to get rid of it. Chop well. Combine with the remaining ingredients and set aside to cool.
Divide the dough into two unequal parts, rolling out the larger part to overlap a 10- inch greased pie pan. Fill with the escarole mixture. Roll out the remaining dough and cover the pie, pinching the dough together to form a complete pie crust. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 45 minutes or until the pie swells slightly.