Tuesday, May 17, is Syttende Mai, which might not mean much to you if you're not Norwegian. But it's a date that has always been marked with occasion in my family as it commemorates Norway's Constitution Day. Lucky for me, Tony has embraced my Norwegian background and to celebrate this Syttende Mai he's created a lovely dish featuring Grilled Norwegian Salmon with Lingonberry Sauce.
I have fond memories of my 100 percent Norwegian-American grandfather telling Norwegian jokes and calling my siblings and me "tulabook" and "hukalars," Norwegian words he'd made up to use as terms of affection. But as much as he enjoyed talking about and celebrating his Norwegian heritage, it is his wife, my grandmother, whom I credit with sustaining the legacy over generations.
She is the one who makes sure we have lefse and pickled herring, still, on our Christmas Eve buffet. For as many years as I can remember, I have received a card every May 17, addressed and filled out in her handwriting, wishing me a Happy Syttende Mai.
I didn't know that Grandma Sunny wasn't even the tiniest bit Norwegian until I was almost a teenager. She was so devoted to honoring my grandpa's heritage that I'd just assumed it was hers, too. I loved growing up with such a special connection to my ancestry, and think of her example often as I honor both my Norwegian roots and my husband's Sicilian-Italian heritage with my own family.
When I was 9 years old, my parents offered me the opportunity to spend a week at camp at a Concordia Language Village. I was allowed to choose from any of their villages, which at the time included French, Norwegian, Swedish, Spanish, German, Russian and Finnish.
I adored everything about my Norwegian grandfather, so the choice came easily to me, and in the summer of 1979 I made my first of two journeys to Skogfjorden, Concordia's Norwegian Language Village located on Turtle River Lake near Bemidji, Minn.
Several weeks before I arrived, I received my passport which would grant me entry into the village. Upon arrival, I had to choose a new name, a Norwegian name, and exchange all of my American dollars for Norwegian kroner, which I could use to buy Norwegian candies and gifts at the kiosk and gift shop.
As a villager, in addition to daily language sessions, I could also sign up for a variety of cultural activities like rosemaling, macramé, singing, soccer and even an early morning polar bear swim. In the evening, before bedtime, our counselors would tell us stories based on Norwegian mythology and folklore.
Meals at Skogfjorden were typically Norwegian, with a smørbrød of specialties for breakfast, followed by a large midday meal of fish or meat with some type of potato and vegetables, and a lighter supper with dessert, along with an occasional American favorite. I had my first taste of røkt laks (smoked salmon) at Skogfjorden, as well as rømmegrøt, flatbrød, gjetost and lingonberries.
As I stroll down memory lane, I can't help but say "tusen takk" to my parents, grandparents and community for the wonderful connection my family and I have with our Norwegian culture. This summer, our son Gio will be attending a Concordia Language Village for the first time. He has chosen the Italian village this year, but I wouldn't be surprised if one of our trolls finds its way into in his suitcase.
His name might be Italian, but he's still a tulabook, after all ... or is that a hukalars? Happy Syttende Mai!
Syttende Mai Salmon with Lingonberry Sauce
Four 8-ounce fillets of Norwegian Salmon, skin removed (either by yourself or butcher)
1 tablespoon olive oil, to brush on top of salmon fillets
Fresh black pepper
Lingonberry sauce ingredients:
¼ cup shallots, finely chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sherry wine
One 10-ounce jar lingonberry preserves
3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
Directions for salmon:
Prepare the grill by making sure it is clean, hot and lubricated before using.
Coat the top of each salmon fillet with olive oil, and then sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper over each. Place the fillets on the hot grill and leave alone for 3 minutes before checking, to let grill marks set in. Check by lifting one side — if grill marks appear golden, turn the fillets by 90 degrees and continue to cook for 2 to 3 minutes to achieve "X" marks.
Flip each fillet and cook on the other side until done, about 5 to 6 minutes — "X" marks are not necessary for both sides. The salmon is ready when it is opaque inside. Serve immediately topped with lingonberry sauce, or cool and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Directions for sauce:
In a medium-sized pan, saute the shallots with butter over medium heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the sherry and continue cooking for 1 minute to reduce the liquid.
Add the lingonberry preserves, vinegar, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking for 5 minutes until sauce is thick enough to coat back of spoon.
Serve immediately by spooning over salmon fillets, or refrigerate for up to 5 days. Reheat before serving.
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 11-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at email@example.com and their blog at www.thelostitalian.areavoices.com.