Nonna doesn’t use a lot of prawns in her cooking, they’re not used much in her region, fortunately we have friends that do it right.
A few Saturday’s ago, our friends had us over for a BBQ lunch. He had been to the fish market that morning and bought an array of fresh seafood. He was most excited about the huge jumbo prawns he got. Now, before I continue, In Australia we do not call them shrimp. Shrimp are the teeny tiny ones that we have in dishes like fried rice. Prawns are usually at least the length of your index finger – sweet and juicy. They are versatile crustaceans and used in many dishes in different ways – deep fried, grilled, sauteed in garlic, honey, salt and pepper, laksa, spaghetti, salad – the list goes on. There are many varieties of prawns you can eat ‘natural’ and have their own unique taste. Tiger, which have an exquisite nuttiness, Banana, with there yellow tints and black tail are great for adding flavour to, King Prawns, great meatiness, salty and perfect natural or with a cocktail sauce. Yes prawns have varying degrees of saltiness, sweetness and smokiness.
But my all time favourite way to have them is chargrilled on the BBQ and there’s no other way to eat them but with your hands – the classic fingerbowl invented for such delights. There is such a simple pleasure in the way you peel and eat a prawn. The warm juices running through your fingers and trying to find the patience to wait until they have cooled down to peel them is very difficult. Snap and twist the head, trying to pull the shell off in one continuous rip, gracefully remove the poo tube, hold it by the tail and bite! It does sound a little gruesome, but you will know what I’m talking about if you have had the pleasure of doing it before.
Our friend had marinated them overnight in chilli, lemon, lime a few herbs and fried them up on the bbq. They were delicious. Their subtle chargrilled smokiness and lemony, sweet tang with a warm hum of chilli was exquisite. We sat on his balcony all day feasting on all of the seafood and soaking up the warm sun. A perfect summer lunch, washed down with some ice cold beers. I hope there are a few more warm sultry days with a cool breeze left before Autumn comes too quickly.
My Italian Man is turning 27 and this family night dinner was for him. To make birthday dinner’s a little special, we get to choose what mamma is cooking and what the dessert is for the night. Its Mamma’s personal gift to us. My Italian Man chose spaghetti carbonara followed by rocky road for dessert.
Mamma was a little apprehensive about making the pasta, she hadn’t made it in a while. You might think seeing as they are Italian she would use the best ingredients, so naturally pancetta in the cabonara. No, no, we are not in Italy where it is just ascheap as bacon. Mamma has to make a huge pot to feed everyone, so lean bacon was the choice for such a large amount. I’m sure she would’ve loved to use pancetta but she is much happier to cook enough for everyone to be able to go back for seconds or even thirds which the brothers do. Mamma was not happy because the egg was not right in the sauce, I honestly thought it was great, I had no idea what she was talking about. Mamma and Nonna are never 100% happy with their cooking, they always say they can do better. But I can never find a flaw with their cooking.
Recipe from Mamma’s cookbook
Although traditional carbonara only has egg and no cream Mamma has always followed this recipe, we all like it this way so she hasn’t changed it. I questioned this at first. You would think she’d only make it the traditional way and it would be ‘blasphemy’ any other version. But this is how Mamma’s family likes it and that’s all she is concerned about. The sauce was thick and rich coating each strand of pasta as though it’s a creamy veil. To go with the pasta, we had a garlic bread to scrape our plates clean and a huge green salad. Mamma was especially excited to dress this salad so she can use the gift I found for her. A balsamic raspberry vinaigrette, she loves to try new things and I knew she would like this one. Everyone crowded around the bench waiting for their turn to get some pasta, pulling the long ribbons of pasta up into their bowls and smothering it with the carbonara sauce. Settling down to dinner we all caught up on what everyone had been doing in the past week. I love sitting back sometimes and listening to all the different conversations along the table. This time all the men were talking about their cars and what needs fixing. They never have new cars they are always a project. The women were talking about laundry secrets and hints for removing stains. One I found interesting applying undiluted white vinegar to the rust stain by spraying or dabbing it on. I know this sounds a little stereotypical, they just can’t help it. This family is ‘Old School Italian’, and that’s what I find most endearing.
My Italian man and I went to visit Nonna and Nonno this week. We look forward to going to their place they always have something to show and teach us. We arrived at around 10 am not wanting her to have to put on lunch because we knew she had things to do and didn’t want to keep her. She still said we made her upset not coming for lunch because we were leaving with empty bellies. We went in through the back door, you never go though the front if you are family, its just her way. We were greeted with big hugs, double kisses, sat at the table as she had already starting to make coffee and bring out fruit from the garden and biscuits she had made earlier. She insisted they were not her best but we knew they would be beautiful. They were made with yoghurt, oats, cranberries, coconut and almond meal. They were thick, dense and even great biscuit for an on the go breakfast. She gave us as many as we could eat and some to take home seeing as we weren’t having lunch.
After chatting for a while we went into the garden they had lots of excess fruit and veggies they wanted to share. I love walking through their garden it is so well loved and looked after. This time I did come across this huge zucchini (courgettes) plant, it had lots flowers growing from it and I asked if she had gotten many from it this season she said yes but these ones coming up were no good. All the flowers were “female” and she said there had been no bees around to pollinate them to give her zucchinis and that they had finished. She then proceeded to tell us a story about the time she went on a bus trip and one of the ladies were complaining about how many flowers she had on her plant but no vegetables. Nonna told her that it sounded like no bees were pollinating the flowers. Her advice was to find the male flowers the one with the stamen and pollinate the female flowers or as she said “help the flower make love” we all laughed and it was even more funny with her Italian accent. She said the bus trip group made jokes with her after that about her Zucchinis being the biggest around.
We went home with a bag of goodies from the garden and lots of chillies to make chilli olive oil once we had dried them out.
A few helpful words from Nonna on this visit. See if they are useful to you.