Yes, I Am An Italian Mamma

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Back in December, on a particularly cold and rainy day, I drove my son to school. Why, I reasoned, should he have to stand outside in a downpour waiting for the bus when his school is a seven-minute drive from our house?

Nearly four months later, I am still driving my son to school. In fact, this ritual may go on for another two or three years, until he is old enough to drive himself. This morning it occurred to me after I dropped him off that the transformation is complete; I have become an Italian mamma.

The stereotype of the Italian mamma is well known. We smother shower our children with affection and mawkish terms of endearment (unless we’re yelling at them). We pick up their rooms and do their laundry and praise them up and down in ways that would make a Tiger mom shudder and turn up her nose in disgust. Our love is poured into the bowls of pasta and risotto that we set before them at the dinner table. Our kids are not necessarily spoiled, but they are indulged. (There’s a difference.)

I used to think that the Italian mamma might be headed for extinction, a relic from another era. But this piece in the Wall Street Journal (a shout-out of thanks to Panini Girl, who brought it to my attention), confirms that they we are alive and well.

It’s true. I do coddle my kids. I make them breakfast, I still pack their lunches, even though one is 14 and the other nearly 13 (and, in fact, would happily pack her own lunch if I told her to). I drive my son to school so that he can get a few extra minutes worth of sleep (my husband drives our daughter but she has a valid excuse, as her school is near his office and there is no bus).

Nick would take the bus if I asked or told him to. He does chores like any other kid and can certainly fend for himself. Although he likes the extra time in the morning it really doesn’t matter one way or another to him. The thing is, I like taking my son to school. Not because we have great conversations or heart-to-heart moments. Far from it—remember, he’s 14. Most of the time it’s a pretty silent ride, punctuated by me asking whether he has remembered his homework and if there are any missing assignments he needs to hand in. We listen to Morning Edition and occasionally this will generate a short discussion.

When he’s feeling particularly chatty, my son might tell me about the plot of a South Park episode (did I mention he’s 14?). But most mornings he’s still pretty sleepy and doesn’t have much to talk about (at least to me). We say our goodbyes:

Me: Bye, Nick! Have a great day! See you this afternoon!

Nick: Uh, OK, bye.

He doesn’t know this but I watch him in the rear-view mirror as he lopes across the schoolyard, shoulders hunched, eyes cast downward but still taking in the scene. I heave a sigh as I drive away and think about what I’ll make him for dinner.

Makes 4 servings

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Copyright 2011 Domenica Marchetti

This is one of Nick's favorite dinners, an Italian mamma classic. If you're feeling particularly ambitious, it's really really good made with homemade pancetta.


  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large cloves garlic, lightly crushed but left whole
  • 5 ounces thickly sliced pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for the pasta water
  • Freshly ground black pepper---lots of it
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino Romano
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 pound dried spaghetti


Heat the oil and garlic in a large skillet placed over medium heat. Saute for about 5 minutes, pressing down on the garlic to extract its flavor. Remove and discard the garlic as soon as it begins to brown. Drop in the pancetta and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring now and again, until it has rendered some of its fat and is slightly crisp. Raise the heat to medium-high and pour in the wine. Let it bubble for a minute or so, until some of the wine has evaporated. Turn off the heat and cover to keep warm.

Whisk together the eggs, cream, salt, and lots of pepper. Stir in the cheeses and the parsley.

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and add a generous quantity of salt. Add the spaghetti to the boiling water and cook until it is al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander set in the sink, taking care to reserve some of the cooking water.

Return the pasta to the pot. Slowly pour in the egg and cheese mixture, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon or metal serving fork as you pour. Keep stirring to ensure a creamy, rather than scrambled, sauce. Add a splash of cooking water to loosen the sauce if necessary. Stir in the guanciale, along with any drippings from the pan. Toss the spaghetti well to incorporate the ingredients. Serve hot, with additional cheese for sprinkling on top.

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19 Responses to Yes, I Am An Italian Mamma

  1. Nina April 1, 2011 at 2:05 pm #

    I love this post, Domenica. Your carbonara looks perfectly delicious. Alla famiglia!!

    • Domenica April 1, 2011 at 5:44 pm #

      Grazie, Nina.

  2. Liz April 1, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

    I am making this for dinner tonight!!!

    • Domenica April 1, 2011 at 5:44 pm #

      It really is a family favorite, Liz. Delicious, if rich! Nick, who is the most judicious eater among us, always has seconds.

  3. janie April 1, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

    I think you’re a wonderful mom! All too soon they will be gone and off on their own.

    • Domenica April 1, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

      Thank you Janie. You are right. They are already so big. Thanks again for pointing me to that WSJ article.

  4. Barbara | VinoLuciStyle April 1, 2011 at 6:25 pm #

    I’ve often thought a Scandinavian relative slipped quietly down to Italy, had a tryst and from that event a baby that was unknown to be part Italian. Because I feel I must have some Italian blood and your story today has done nothing to quiet that thought!

    The food, the decor and now the mothering are evident of that in me. Who knew. Certainly not my parents!

    One of my all time FAVORITE dishes. I promise in true Italian spirit that my carbonara will never ever include evaporated milk.

    • Domenica April 1, 2011 at 11:02 pm #

      I love your speculation, Barb. Evaporated milk–yikes! I do put just a couple of tablespoons of cream in with my beaten eggs–because, you know, it’s not rich enough!

  5. Cathy April 1, 2011 at 7:25 pm #

    Love this post. I did not have an Italian mamma, but now I wish I did.

  6. Liz the Chef April 1, 2011 at 9:47 pm #

    Will you adopt me?!

  7. foodwanderings April 3, 2011 at 5:48 pm #

    This is the sweetest, touching post. Italian moms sound like me and my mom, and many other Jewish or other moms:). That is true we coddle them and engulf them with love, I am guilty of that, but they do know how to fend for themselves and give a helping hand with cleaning the car or the garage, which is my son’s project when he get home for Summer vacation from his freshman year in college:).

    • Domenica April 3, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

      I agree Shulie; Jewish and Italian moms have much in common. I’m sure you will be so happy to have your son home for the summer!

  8. Food Lover Kathy April 3, 2011 at 6:27 pm #

    Domenica – I think it’s great that you’re an Italian mamma. You nailed it with your distinction between indulged and spoiled. I read that same article in the Wall Street Journal and loved it (thinking others that don’t understand Italian mammas would be disgusted). I had an Italian mamma (she passed away). When I read that article, I thought, “Yep, my mom would have done that for me, too!” Though I can certainly cook for myself, there’s NOTHING better than a meal cooked by mom.

    • Domenica April 3, 2011 at 7:00 pm #

      Thank you, Kathy! My mom still cooks every day. She loves it and it is one of the things that keeps her going. She is 80+ but continues to play around and create new recipes. I love it. Cheers and thank you for your comment.

  9. Susan April 18, 2011 at 8:32 pm #

    Good for you! I am lucky to have a great Italian mamma and was even luckier to have a wonderful Italian nonna (may she rest in peace). But we can’t be greedy. Time to give all that love and care to our children as well! Brava.

    • Domenica April 18, 2011 at 8:46 pm #

      Susan, thank you for your lovely comment. It made my day. Buona Pasqua!

  10. Ralph December 11, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

    That looks lovely. Quite right for a cold California night 🙂

    • Domenica Marchetti December 11, 2013 at 10:26 pm #

      Thanks for dropping in, Ralph. We just finished off our carbonara and it did hit the spot. Hope you give it a whirl, so to speak.


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    […] Spaghetti alla Carbonara and Confessions of an Italian Mamma – Domenica Cooks […]

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