Polpette and peas in gravy, such an ‘Australitaliano’ combination – meatballs and peas in tomato sauce. Comfort food at its best. Nanna Francesca cooked this a lot (and when I was a kid, I found it a bit confusing that, being southern Italian, she called the tomato passata or sugo – ‘gravy’ considering my Australian Mum called gravy a deep-brown liquid accompanying a roast). Nanna Francesca would’ve been 95 today so it seems fitting to cook her polpette e piselli in gravy. We always celebrated her birthday on the 12th, the day she was born though the official date on her birth certificate was the 19th (lodged late as her parents argued who to name her after). Tradition won, as did her father, and being the first-born, Francesca was named after her paternal grandmother.
This photograph of Nanna Francesca isn’t the clearest unfortunately, but she just looks so natural and happy in it, I couldn’t go past it. It’s from the 1960s and I love how the flowers she holds look like they’re from a garden rather than bought. It seemed all her life she worked so hard – at the farm, at home, in the fruit shop and milk bar, at the ANFE club and always looking after family. And she spent many hours at the stove cooking for four generations of us. It’s lovely to see her dressed to go out and given some flowers.
While it’s almost twenty years she’s been gone, I feel lucky to have had her in my life for the time I did and of course, the memory of our loved ones lives on, especially when we cook the dishes they cooked. (I’ve included the recipe that was printed in Delicious magazine and yes, the dish they made for the article photo is much more elegant than my at home version you see pictured here!)
Buon compleanno a mia Nonna, with love and recognition for all your love and hard work – and your polpette and peas in gravy! xx
January 6th – Epiphany and the visit of la Befana, the wise men and women and marking the end of 12 days of Christmas. Whatever your beliefs, ‘epiphany’ is a lovely word with connotations of insight, discovery and a sudden understanding of something that is very important to you.
Am pleased to say that la Befana brought my nephew some little toys rather than coal last night and also that she managed to find her way from Italy to Australia!
In another Italian tradition… after learning about Abruzzese pizze fritte – its song and secret recipe handed down from mother-to-daughter (and sometimes son), but only on New Year’s Eve – Roger and I decided to end the year by cooking these.
Except, not knowing all of the secret recipe that contains anise and saffron, we decided to make our own version with toppings of basil pesto and crispy prosciutto, bufala di mozzarella, melanzane, tomato and basilico leaves from the garden. The fritte were also cooked in a wok and finished in the oven, which worked well, but isn’t quite traditional! Yet they were delicious and I loved thinking about their connection with Abruzzo.
Wise women and men arrive on Epiphany. Fresco painted in 1303 by Giotto and his team of painters, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Veneto Italy.
And thinking about this today, I guess I had an epiphany of sorts that it doesn’t matter if something sometimes isn’t ‘perfectly traditional’. The fact I’ve grown up on the other side of the world from the Italy of my ancestors and still treasure the centuries-old traditions and recipes is still expressing a love and honour for them, the past and Italia. If it otherwise means not following a tradition at all because it’s too hard or the recipe is lost, perhaps it’s okay to adapt them at times. For that becomes part of our history too, all of us adapting here and there along the way over the years, while still understanding what is important overall. Tanti auguri di felicità per l’Epifania! Many wishes of happiness for Epiphany! xxx