By Rebecca Meyer

When the name Josephina was mentioned at my grandma’s house, everyone got excited and hurried to the table to sit down for dinner at 6 p.m. We thought that a blonde lady with bright red lipstick from Milan would be walking in soon, with her red stiletto pumps, black Audrey Hepburn style dress, matching black hat and black gloves. We were sure she would make a grand entrance while calling out to everyone, “ciao bella!” and proceed to come and sit down with a glass of red wine and have a bite to eat with the family. After all, going to my Italian grandma’s house was always fun and interesting and it was like going to Italy without having to get on a plane. Since we didn’t live by her, we really didn’t know what to expect each time. Every visit was an introduction to new people, food and places. I always thought that the name Josephina sounded elegant and European, and since my family loved to tell stories of Italy and how wonderful it was, I thought this was just another distant cousin who was coming to visit. As it turned out, it was nothing like we thought. 

Dinner always consisted of a large quantity of food that was delicious and took hours to finish. The setting was like that of an Italian restaurant with a tablecloth spread across the large dining room table and empty chianti bottles doubling as candle holders. The white candles were always lit with wax dripping down them that seemed to become works of art, which everyone loved to talk about. Of course, brand new bottles of wine were scattered around the table for easy reach. There were white dishes and wine glasses at each place setting, and even the kids were given wine glasses filled with ice-water or tea. It didn’t matter, because we were transformed into another Italian world of family, tradition and stories. 

I remember when my grandma sat down at her designated chair next to my grandpa for dinner, she proceeded to explain to the grandkids about Josephina. She told us it wasn’t a person but instead, an old special recipe. She then called the dish “Josephinas,” and told us mama Maria passed down the recipe to her years ago. As she spoke, the spaghetti and meatballs were already on the table in very large pasta bowls next to the salad bowl and garlic bread. As my grandpa was getting ready to bless the food, grandma had one of the uncles bring out an oversized platter filled with extra-large pieces of Josephinas. The dish was presented to the family as though it was a special prize. It consisted of fresh hot Italian bread, cut in half and smothered with two types of cheese melted over the heavily buttered bread, with mild chili peppers tucked neatly beneath the melted cheese. It was rich and creamy and piping hot, ready to eat. The aroma from the dish filled the entire room along with the pasta dinner sitting on the table. After the blessing, we started to eat the Josephinas first, since this had been the highlight of the evening. It was delicious, and we had never tasted anything like it. Surprisingly, it wasn’t too spicy and was a nice addition to the giant meal that was on the table. Everyone enjoyed the dinner, and like always, it wasn’t finished until at least 9 p.m. when the question of dessert came up. The Josephinas were a hit and have continued to be a favorite with my own family. We usually have them as a snack on game day. A few of my family members have been known to make them their entire meal for dinner. Either way, give it a try and enjoy this mouth-watering dish with a nice glass of moscato wine while cheering on your favorite sports team. ◆

Grandma Lena’s Josephinas

1 large loaf fresh Italian bread 

½ cup mayonnaise 

16 ounces mozzarella cheese (block)

16 ounces Monterey Jack cheese (block)

One or two 4.5-ounce cans chopped green chilies (mild or hot) 

½ cup butter or margarine spread  

Preheat oven to 400 F. Slice the large fresh Italian bread half horizontally. Spread the butter on both half loaves and be generous with it. Spread the green chilies across the bread using either mild or hot chilies. In a separate bowl, crumble the two blocks of cheese. Don’t shred the cheese, but instead, break it into pieces that will look like chunks of cheese. Add the mayonnaise and stir well. Spread the cheese mixture evenly on top of the two half loaves of bread. Place the half loaves on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Be sure to keep an eye on it since you want the cheese to melt and cover the top of each loaf, but not burn. Once it is finished, remove from the oven and slice into individual pieces. Grab your favorite glass of wine and enjoy!