Tag Archives: Italian migrant families

Two dishes, from two regions and two bisnonne… Abruzzo and Calabria

When we cook the same dishes that our ancestors cooked it connects us to them, to our history and it also brings us back to something within ourselves that we mightn’t have thought of for some time or something we hadn’t yet discovered. Just the aroma of a dish cooking can release a trigger of deep memories that lets things rise up and take shape in us.

I grew up in Australia, far from where my great-grandmothers, Maddalena and Francesca lived in Italy. And yet, here I am, almost a century on, cooking the same dishes they cooked, a lovely connection to these two strong women. The dishes are maccheroni Calabrese (knitting needle pasta) and pasta alla chitarra (guitar pasta) made on a ‘chitarra box’ I got from Abruzzo. I sought to make sauces that reflected their history too. The maccheroni Calabrese (pasta rolled on a knitting needle for its shape) has a richer red sauce with melanzane and chillies that Francesca’s town of Palmi is known for. And the chitarra pasta has bitter, wild greens added to the passata, inspired by Maddalena walking hillsides near Fossa picking wild greens into her upturned apron and taking them back to cook with. It also has pecorino cheese on top because that part of Abruzzo is known for its sheep.

These dishes (pictured) are from my kitchen so they are a little rustic (as are their photos!) and mightn’t live up to those cooked by my bisnonne, but they made me feel happy and reminded me of those before and sometimes maybe that’s all we need when it comes to cooking.
Hope your next time cooking is delicious and joyful! Zoë xx


Filed under dishes + recipes

Saluti a Nonno Anni…

It’s Nonno Anni’s birthday in a few days so there was once a time when all the family would be getting together this weekend at my grandparents’ house. Several tables would be pushed together, Nanna Francesca would cook huge bowls of pasta and either polpette or cotolette, and of course there’d be cake, champagne and maybe Franjelico, or Sambuca with a coffee bean lit on top.

Although Nonno Anni has been gone some while now, I still miss him terribly but I’m so grateful for the times we had and so on October 21st will raise a glass, or a polpette, to Annibale (Joe) who continues to inspire me. xxx

(For the record, that air-conditioner behind Nonno Anni in this photo is the one I wrote about that Nanna Francesca refused to let me turn on even on the hottest days because it created a ‘cold draught’!!) 😊

Buon compleanno, Nonno, con amore sempre. Tante cose belle. Zoë xx


Filed under books + writing, inspiration + history

Keeping the past…

Came across this in an old, cardboard box of photographs of my grandmother’s:

Fossa, 1975 – Nonno Anni looking melancholy (his first time there again since 1939), and Nanna Francesca, sleeves rolled, her usual harried look when about to get back to a pot on the stove or the washing or something. So very them.

Have kept it in a frame on my wall and whenever I wish I could seek their advice or miss just having a chat, it’s a comfort to remember how they were at times. (I think Nanna Francesca had almost this same look peering from the doorway when I arrived in Fossa for the first time 20 years later!!) xx


Filed under art + photographs, italy

Abruzzo Economia interview…

Italian magazine, Abruzzo Economia, recently interviewed me for their Lifestyle section and it was lovely to speak to Raffaella Quieti Cartledge about Abruzzo and writing Mezza Italiana, including some questions I’ve never been asked before about the area. The article in Italian may be read here…

Abruzzo Economia – Una scrittrice australiana Mezza Abruzzese

or you may read an English version below…

An Australian writer who is half-Abruzzese…

by Raffaella Quieti Cartledge

Australian and author of the autobiographical book, Mezza Italiana, Zoë Boccabella describes her discovery of Abruzzo, her familial origins in Fossa (AQ), and her subsequent trips to the region and the rest of Italy. The memories of her grandfather’s stories come to life in the family home while Abruzzo reveals a part of itself that will transform her forever.

What inspired you to write the book?

The first time I arrived in Abruzzo where my family came from, I had a feeling of coming home, even though I had never been there before. I stayed in the house in Fossa that had belonged to my ancestors for centuries and my grandfather, Annibale, who was born in Abruzzo, told me stories of when he grew up there, the history of the area where he lived and how he left part of his heart behind when his father sent for him to join him in Australia in 1939. The experience had such a profound effect on me. Walking around the villages, hillsides, forests and deserted castles, I felt at once that Abruzzo was a very special place. Each time I returned and explored the area more, I wrote down family folklore, village stories and began to think more about my experiences growing up as an Italian-Australian, how I felt ‘half and half’, not like I fully belonged to either culture.

Who is your main audience and please tell us about them.

I began writing what was to become Mezza Italiana at the kitchen table in the house in Fossa, not thinking it might become a published book one day. Over time, I added more research and stories as I discovered them. Then the 2009 earthquake occurred in Abruzzo where my family’s village was and it was important to include this too. Especially when I saw how the Abruzzese handled the tragedy with such grace, strength and forbearance.

I wrote what I saw and felt, rather than thinking about who might read it one day. And because I grew up as a descendant of Italian migrants in 1970s and early 80s Australia when it wasn’t as accepted to have a Mediterranean background like it is now and migrants weren’t always treated well by everyone, I did come to hope that by sharing my story perhaps just one person who read it, who was a migrant descendant and feeling confused or ‘half and half’, might not spend decades surrendering part of themselves as I did.

Are you going to have the book translated in Italian and how many copies have you sold so far?

It has been such an unexpected and lovely surprise that Mezza Italiana has become a bestselling book in Australia and the best part of that has been hearing from so many different readers who shared similar experiences to mine. It has recently also become available in Italy, the rest of Europe, the UK and US as well.

What is it of Abruzzo that strikes you as different from other regional characters?

Secluded by the magnificent Apennines, in many ways Abruzzo remains untamed, natural, beautiful, but still accessible, with wonderful, down-to-earth people, talented artisans in centuries-old crafts and culinary traditions, and medieval architecture unchanged. When writing both my books, I travelled throughout Italy from the north to the south and in between and whenever Italians in other regions asked where my family came from and I mentioned Abruzzo, their responses were very positive with much respect for Abruzzese, who are well known to be forte e gentile – strong and kind.

What do you think is Abruzzo’s main resource (in every way, geography, people) and what do you think Abruzzese should do to stimulate its economy – attract niche tourism?

Because I live in Australia I can only answer from the perspective of a visitor to Abruzzo, even if that includes staying with family there. For me, the charm of Abruzzo is its many untouched landscapes and traditional ways. I understand it is important to be economically strong in the best interest of the Abruzzese people while protecting its valuable assets of the natural beauty and historical art and architecture of the region, so there is a fine line. To me, Abruzzo’s great strength is having more green space than almost any other region of Italy, as well as its fauna. This is a great tourist enticement.

A popular, growing part of tourism is photography tours where serious photographers are led by tour guides to photograph wildlife, flora and scenery. I believe Abruzzo’s renowned national parks, lakes, mountains and forests, brown bears, chamois, eagles and wolves among other wildlife are a superb attraction.

Abruzzo has a very rich art history and again this would suit tailored tours as well as culinary tours that could include local feste, not so well-known and waiting to be discovered.

In the past, due to its untouched areas and medieval buildings, areas of Abruzzo have also been used as locations for films, including Hollywood’s ‘spaghetti westerns’ and films such as, In the Name of the Rose, Ladyhawke, The American and The Fox and the Child and the region could continue to be a place that hosts international and local film locations.

Should the region establish better contacts with the descendants of Abruzzese ’emigrati’ abroad through their associations and bring them over to visit the land their grandparents came from?

This is an interesting question. Visiting the region did strengthen my ties to the area and prompted me to encourage more people to discover it too. For descendants of migrants, it can be such an enriching, valuable experience to see where their parents or grandparents came from. Some in Abruzzo may not be aware that many migrants in Australia continue to carry on traditional Abruzzese and Italian ways to this day – bottling their own passata, making pasta alla chitarra, sausage making, and celebrating traditional festive days – all to respect and keep alive their heritage.

How did the discovery of your grandfather’s region change you?

The first time I went to Italy I was unaware Abruzzo was about to have its way with me. As I journeyed up into the Apennine Mountains to L’Aquila and then Fossa, it was as though the Italian blood in me suddenly surged with recognition and I couldn’t resist the magnetic pull the place had on me. Abruzzo completely exceeded my expectations in its special beauty and gave me a sense of ‘coming home’ and belonging. Family history and ancestral links have an instinctive pull and over the next two decades I felt compelled to return to the house that had belonged to my family for centuries and for longer periods of time.

Curiously, as much as Australia is my home, going to Italy felt like going home too and each time I returned with my heart more open. It made me feel proud of my Italian heritage when I was back in Australia and of course to write about that and to share it with others. When I first stepped onto Italian soil, I was hopping off a train and a bird dropping landed on my shoulder. This is meant to be ‘a positive sign’ according to Italian folklore and I guess for me it truly was!


Filed under books + writing, italy

from Abruzzo to Australia…

Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar continues each weeknight on ABC Nightlife – thank you to all who’ve sent messages upon discovering the book – lovely to hear from you!

By chance, I came across this photograph when looking for something else for the next book and realised it might be the only one to show the family unit of Maddalena and Vitale and their two sons Elia (left) and Annibale/Joe (right) taken not long after they were reunited in Australia.

Financial hardship, separate migration, the Depression and WW2 forced Vitale and Maddalena apart for all but about three of their first 26 years of marriage, the boys without their father, and then Maddalena and Annibale apart for a decade after he migrated at 15. So lovely to see them reunited here. They remained close for the rest of their lives in Australia with Maddalena and Vitale even living with Annibale and his family for many years.



Filed under italy