When I'd ask what we were going to have for dinner, he just say a dialect word which to my ears sounded like "ba-BOOK-ya", with the "ya" part trailing off becoming nearly imperceptible. I knew the adventure was about to begin...
As it turns out, the word is papocchio...
(or papocchia), pronounced "pah-POH-kee-yo". Now that I see it spelled out, I can picture my father pronouncing the "P"s almost like "B"s, with his soft-mouthed, mumbling Molfettese manner of speaking. Words are blended in his dialect. The end of words sort of trail off. So, "ba-BOOK-ya" fits perfectly with my memory!
Papocchio can have multiple meanings: Intrigue, cheating, trickery, a mess. Shockingly, I have even discovered that the word was used by northern Italians to refer to someone messing up a situation, in the "typical Southern Italian style", or "papocchio". Wow! Northern Italians had many such words and idioms that denigrated the Southern Italian. So, in this context, a "papocchio" is described as a screw-up not worthy of being considered a Northern Italian.
The sarcastic use of the word was used as the title of the 1980 comedy film Il Pap'occhio--the Pope's Eye. They took the meaning of the word "papocchio" and added the ' between the "pap" and "occhio" forming the compound word for Pope's Eye. It was such an irreverent look at the corruption of the Pope and the church that the film was shut down with two weeks of its release.
He told how his poor immigrant family would gather around the table for the family meal, each having their own fork but only one big bowl in the middle of the table. He said that they would use whatever they had that day to make the meal... a tomato or two (if in season, grown in their tiny Hoboken backyard), some ramps (wild onions picked near the railroad tracks), broken up pieces of stale bread, potatoes, smelt or eel or crab (if he or his brothers caught any that day on the river), a bit of cheese, some salt and olive oil. Sometimes he would fry the leftover ingredients to heat everything together in a large pan. Other times he would make a sort of cold rice or pasta salad. He also liked to make a frittata using eggs as the base for all the found leftover ingredients. Mom had her mainstay recipes, but with Dad, it was as if he was a stand-up comic doing an improvisational skit--being able to handle whatever the audience threw at him.
Ecco... Ba-BOOK-ya... Papocchio!
Recipe? Not really...
Here is the simple method of how my father, Sal might have thrown a papocchio together for a weekday meal.
- Get a large bowl ready.
- In the bowl add leftover pasta or rice.
- Cut up some tomatoes, if handy. Wedges are fine.
- If you have some dried oregano and basil (or fresh from your garden), toss some on top of the tomatoes. While you're at it, sprinkle some salt on top of the tomatoes.
- Any greens? Cut some up--not too much--and add some.
- If you have a bell pepper, cut out the middle and toss the seeds. Chop the rest into small pieces. Add it to the bowl.
- If you have a leftover baked potato, crush it--skins and all--and add that.
- Throw a couple of handfuls of olives into the mix. Or maybe some leftover cooked cannellini beans.
- Take the leftover crusty Italian bread and cut it into cubes. Throw that in, too.
- If you have a can of tuna, use that. If you don't and have a leftover sausage, cut it up. Or maybe you have some leftover chicken or turkey that you can tear into pieces. If you've come back from fishing or crabbing, steam or fry your catch, break up the flesh and mix that into the bowl.
If you have small bowls, portion out the dish. Otherwise, everyone grab a fork and dig in, but no fighting! Serve with crusty bread and a glass of red wine on ice mixed with 7-Up.
That's the way Dad would have done it...