Written by Chef Tom Brooks, director of food and beverage at The Essex Resort and Spa.

This past weekend I decided to take a little trip back home to see my parents, for no other reason than I missed them.

Before I headed down, I called to let them know, insisting that they were not to make any special plans or cook any special meals, but sure enough, my mother went ahead and cooked anyway. To be honest, I’m glad she did.

I arrived just in time for dinner Friday night, and my mother had prepared one of my all-time favorite rainy-day meals, called Po-Po. It is undoubtedly one of the easiest dinners to make, but it’s also, interestingly enough, one of the easiest dinners to mess up. The reason? Well, it’s so simple that everyone wants to dress it up and make it into something that it’s not.

I’m not sure if Po-Po is a traditional Italian dish (or if it’s even spelled that way, for that matter), but it was served by my great-grandmother, who was fresh off the boat from the very poor region of Puglia. She made it regularly for my grandfather and his 10 brothers and sisters. When he married, she introduced it to my grandmother, and then it passed down to my mother and her three brothers and sisters. When I was growing up, my mother served it to me, and now every single one of my relatives, on the English side and the Italian side, serve this dinner when we need a little love and want to remember those relatives that loved us.

Here’s the recipe, presented in memory of great-grandma DeMarsh. Just remember: Follow the directions, and don’t add anything to it. You’ll thank me later.

Enjoy!

Italian Po-Po
1 very large dense head of green cabbage
2-3 cloves of smashed garlic
one-fourth cup extra virgin olive oil
1 loaf day-old Italian bread
one-fourth cup water
Hot pepper flakes

Core the cabbage and then cut into two-inch pieces. Cut bread into 2-inch slices. Bring olive oil up to temperature, and saute the garlic just until it infuses into the olive oil. Add the cabbage and water and cover the pan. Cook until cabbage is almost mush. Take the lid off to let the liquid reduce a little, and then add the bread on top of the cabbage. Re-cover and let the bread steam a bit in the pot. After about ten minutes, take the lid of the pot. Stir in the pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper. Serve.

Makes four large servings.

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