Secret Nonna Business – The Art Of Pasta Making

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I get it now, when Nonna tells me ” I don’t have a recipe, I just know.” Why?, because this weekend I learn’t how to make ravioli with brother No 2’s girlfriend.

Her background is Maltese and her family makes pasta quite often. She needed to make a big batch for a family function of hers that was coming up and I mentioned how interested I was in learning how to make it from scratch.  She said great and  was very happy to have a second set of hands in the mix. I offered to get the filling and bring wine for dinner for the ‘after the pasta making’  session and she said she would do the rest. The filling for the ravioli was ricotta, parmesan and parsley…simple, yes,  but I was assured that if we have the best quality ingredients we wouldn’t need anything else. She got parsley from her parents garden and I knew of a place that makes fresh ricotta that I could buy direct from the producer – word also got out and I ended up getting extra for family – a total 9kg of ricotta and some parmasen in fact. The Italian lady I ordered it from gave me a quizzical look for ordering that much but as soon as I held that ricotta, I knew it was worth coming here, it is was so fresh and still warm. We set up at her place with another extra set of hands from the youngest sister,  so we were ready to begin. We started with mixing the filling which was done by hand so you can feel and taste when it is ready. Extra pepper and parsley was added to really give it a punch of flavour.

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Then it was onto making the dough. We had a basic recipe to follow and at first I was just following her step by step but after a while I got used to how it is meant to be –  the feel between my fingers, if it needed more flour or water and thin enough to just be able to see my finger tips through the pasta.

During our dough session, the eldest sister arrived and offered to help and if she could enjoy it when we were done. We had a little factory going now, we filled and cut out the pasta like an old Nonna, one that had done it a thousand times, our job made easy with the pasta cutters. We needed to portion and freeze them, flouring each piece so they wouldn’t stick. Pasta making is definitely a workout…no wonder there was no need to go to gyms in our Nonna’s time.

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We made a Neapolitan sauce to go with the ravioli, well the type we made is called Agnolotti the difference being instead of being made from two squares of pasta, ours were made from one round piece and folded – they were named after a cook Angiolino from Monferrato, known as ‘Angolot’ and they had different fillings for different feast days.
Sitting down to dinner after making it all day was such an achievement and a joy watching our loved ones eat it. I can imagine this is what the Italian and Maltese women feel when they make it for their own families but on a weekly basis.
The fresh Riccota made a huge difference, it was so creamy that the pockets of pasta oozed in your mouth like honey.

I am so blessed to have this knowledge to pass down to my own friends and family. Bellisimo!

 

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The pantry is stocked

IMG_6836My Italian man and I visited his sister in-law at work, she works for a fine foods company called Sandhurts. They distribute and sell products like succulent olives,  sweet artichokes, tinned ‘Sole Mare’ tuna you can eat straight from the tin, nothing needs to be added to this simple pleasure. Plump & juicy sun dried tomatoes and this time I came across semi sun dried cherry tomatoes, which I have never seen before, I cant wait to pop the jar open to taste them. They also import tantalizing  ‘Mutti’ tomato products straight from Parma in Italy, you can taste the richness from the earth and the warmth of the sun have combined to provide you with this unique fruit. Almost anything Italian that you would need for your pantry they will have it and because we are family she took us to the store attached to the business (which is also open to the public). We were like kids in a candy store, the car was loaded up as though we were setting up our own store. But it was all for us, to be created into beautiful meals.

Birthday dinner for My Italian Man

Spaghetti Carbonara

Spaghetti Carbonara

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

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.

Visiting Nonna and Nonno

Nonna and Nonno's garden

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.

Male and Female

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.

A little too quite Family Dinner

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This week was a simple family dinner as much as it can be. Although it was unusually quiet because one of the sisters has gone to Cambodia for study and a holiday. Until now, I never realised that she was the loudest one at dinner, it just isn’t the same without her and her man. Whenever you see them they are bursting energy and so much to tell you no matter how mundane it may be. I am looking forward the family dinner when she returns will be a fun one.

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For tonight’s feast Mamma made some family favourites.

Succulent steak cooked to perfection. It was never a particular type of steak. But if it was on special at the grocery store that would be the one, she does need 12 of them plus extra for left overs. Cooking them on the bbq was Pappa’s job, he always does a perfect job. Unless he gets distracted by something the family are doing, then you see him rush to the bbq bellowing with smoke to take them off as quickly as possible. Most of the time they are saved.

Wholesome veggies, corn on the cob, green beans from the garden and roast potatoes with Mamma’s blend of seasonings. (I need to find out what they are)

A mixed salad (that is different ever time) it doesn’t sound much but, her combination of Nonno’s home grown tomatoes, juicy ripe and succulent,. Salty kalamata olives, herbs from the garden, red onion, cucumber, feta, every kind of lettuce leaf with the perfect balance of olive oil and Vinegar.

My number one favourite, CATALONGA! Its cooked chicory, but it’s so much more than just fried greens. I will put up the recipe soon.

Catch of the day

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Last weekend my Italian man and one of his brothers went spear fishing (the kind where you free dive to catch fish, no air tanks just your own breath) and caught a few fish for our dinner.  They had a number of fish i was given a black fish, 3 goat fish and 2 leather jackets. They descaled and gutted them for me as I am not the best at handling fish, but I will get better. Not being very familiar with preparing/cooking fish, his brother said the leather jackets are best on the BBQ so I froze them until I needed them later. For the black rock fish he said it was not his favourite for eating and suggested to make a fish stock, it made a really mild stock great for most cooking.The goat fish I will use in a soup. I called Nonna to see if she had any tips or recipes, she said she just makes hers up as she goes and to look up a recipe and I shouldn’t go wrong. I didn’t get the recipe from any favourite cook book, I just wanted something simple that worked for what I needed at the time. I get so disappointed when you find a great recipe in a cook book to find “test kitchen” clearly hasn’t done their job and Its not even proof read correctly (2 cups instead of 2 teaspoons). Sometimes you just need to go for the simple ones that have been tried and tested. I got the recipe for the stock and the stew from www.taste.com.au. I excitedly went to the grocery store to collect all my supplies, I always get such a rush when shopping for ingredients.

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Beginnings of Fish stock here is the recipe

I started with the stock following the recipe step by step, with a few adjustments I have made in blue on the recipe. There was quite a lot so I halved it, measured out what I needed, froze the rest and the other half I gave to Mamma, she loves it when we share food.

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Then onto the soup, again I followed it by the recipe. I made a few adjustment in blue as well. Cooking the soup and fish stock was easier than I expected and doesn’t take that long to make, the longest time needed was waiting for the flavours to develop. We ate the soup with a crusty Ciabatta loaf and a chilled Sauvignon Blanc (lucky thats all we had in the fridge) a perfect meal . It turned out great. Such a great challenge. I will do it again.

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Nonna said- Don’t remove the skin that forms on the top of the stock this is extra flavour and it is where all the healthy omega 3 from the fish is.

I like to use the Mutti brand crushed tomatoes and passata ,I’m not trying to advertise, I am just in love with it.

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Voila! Italian Fish soup. Here is the recipe on taste.com.au

Inspiration to start

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This Christmas I have been inspired to finally start this blog. For weeks I have stewing over what to write, what is the best name to use and so on. So i am just going to go for it. I have gone back to my original inspiration of the ‘Word of the Nonna’ seeing as this is what started the idea of this blog in the first place.

I was talking to a foodie friend telling her about a dish that I made “I know its strange but this is what Nonna would do” and then she said ” well it works, its the word of the Nonna”

This blog wont only be about Italian Cuisine but anything that I may come across that I feel needs to be shared with you. I am not the best writer but i just love taking photos of what I have created or I am about to eat (yes I’m one of those embarrassing people that take pictures of their food every where they go, but at least i have a good excuse now).

The people in this photo are (hopefully soon to be) my Italian Family, Nonna and her children. I have known this family for seven years and they are the most kind, energetic,  exciting and beautiful people you could ever meet. They have introduced me to so much culture, food, wine and have inspired me to cook and experiment constantly.

I hope you enjoy my many posts and the fun of Wednesday night family dinners!