At his briefing on March 29th, Governor Andrew Cuomo invoked the Cuomo family kitchens of the past during that day’s “dharma talk” (as we’ve dubbed his “personal opinion” musings). Painting a picture like Don Draper in a boardroom selling you hard on a slide carousel, he weaved together scenes of meal-making in the Cuomo homes over the years—from his grandparents to his parents to his own kitchen, as a divorced dad determined to carry on a Sunday family supper tradition with his daughters.
“You campaign in poetry; you govern in prose,” his father Mario once said. He may deny having his sights set on the White House, but Andrew Cuomo is bringing the poetry into his typically prose-filled governing these days.
During the briefing, he told viewers around the nation, “This is disorienting, it is frightening, it’s disturbing. Your whole life is turned upside down overnight. To the best you can, you find a way to create some joy. You try to find a silver lining in all of this. How do you break up the monotony? What do you do? How do you bring a smile to people’s face?”
His solution: food. And it’s not a bad one.
During that day’s briefing he went on to describe Sundays in his Italian-American home. “Sunday was family day. We had the big family dinner… spaghetti, and meatballs, and sausages, and my family would all get together and it was a beautiful time. I didn’t really appreciate it as a kid, but it was just beautiful… The food was really just the attraction to get people together. You know, everybody talks about how the Italians love the food. That’s true, but really they love bringing the family together and the food was the way that people came together, and then you sat at the table and it was just a two, three-hour affair.” This went on for a while, and by that evening there were some requests for Cuomo family recipes. I was able to unearth Matilda Cuomo’s recipe for lasagna in a 1980s NY Times spread:
I asked my friend, photographer Lee Towndrow, to document the process of making this lasagna over the weekend, and you can click through above for some of his photos of the process. Here’s a video showing more—turn it up for satisfying sounds of sizzling meatballs.
He began with this recipe for homemade lasagna noodles, and also shared some thoughts: “I found the sauce to be not enough, I would double the quantities of tomatoes, garlic, parsley and tomato paste—say, 2/3 garlic and 2/3 parsley for the sauce, and then the other 1/3 garlic and 1/3 parsley for the meatballs. I’d add a note to finely chop the meatballs, rather than just crush. Crushing leaves chunks that are too big.” And for the top, he notes, “I added some sauce and another layer of pasta, as well as some Romano to make a crispy cheesy lid.”
Towndrow’s tasting notes: “It was pretty good. Not too fussy, tasted a little like what you’d get in Little Italy during the San Gennaro festival. Solid Italian American comfort food.”
In the October 1983 NY Times story which featured this recipe, the author notes that Christopher Cuomo (then 13 years old) was a big fan of this lasagna, and preferred it to “almost anything else.” That year, as a surprise for his birthday, “Mrs. Cuomo invited several of his friends to Albany and made the lasagna herself — all 90 lbs of it.” At the time of publication, there was still some in the freezer. This also gives us a helpful tip for today: if you make this lasagna, make some extra to freeze and revisit as we ride this thing out.