Every time I make this dish, it smells like Nonna’s been cooking in my kitchen. And that makes me smile.
Nonna wasn’t the typical grandmother. She had movie-star good looks, perfectly coiffed blonde hair, and nails painted red. She smoked cigarettes, told jokes, danced, and was the life of the party. I simply adored her.
Nonna was my first roommate. She stayed with us about three nights a week when I was growing up, as she took turns visiting her daughters. She didn’t drive, so there was no way to tell if she was over when my brother and I would arrive home from school.
But when Mom would answer the door and sing out, “Guess who’s here!” we knew.
“NONNA!” we’d shout, throwing down our bags and kicking off our shoes so we could run into the family room to see her. We’d find her sitting on the carpet, leaning against the arm of the couch, watching General Hospital. (She called it “The Program,” pronouncing it “prroh-grrom.”) Her whole face would light up when she saw us, the youngest of her 14 grandchildren. She’d outstretch her arms to envelope us in a hug as we’d lean over to shower her with kisses.
Then, we’d notice the scent of delicious food coming from the kitchen. Nonna was a fantastic cook, and always had dinner prepared early, believing that “The food has to wait for you,” and not the other way around. Nonna’s fish with tomatoes was often waiting for us on the stove, especially if it was a Friday. She usually made it with thick filets like cod or halibut.
I tend to make this dish with catfish, as shown in the pan, or tilapia, as seen below. It’s best to use a thicker fish though, so that the tomatoes have time to cook down. Either way, it’s a meal my family has always enjoyed. I think up in heaven, that makes Nonna smile, too.
(Recipe Source: Adapted from my Nonna, who used lots of olive oil in this dish)