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
The mysterious… spigarello, this ancient, Italian, wild green that seems also called cima di rapa, cavolo broccolo, getti di Napoli, spigariello and mistero nero. Some say it’s part of the broccoli family, others dispute it. I found this bunch at a roadside stall in southeast Queensland hinterland, a long way from southern Italy where for centuries women have picked and gathered into their upturned aprons this bitter green from the mountainsides.
And I can say when tasted fresh, it is quite bitter! But when cooked this mellows to an intense, unique, grassy flavour, much more complex than kale and tastes so healthy it must be doing you good. Many traditional recipes suggest frying it in olive oil with garlic and salt, others add lemon zest, pine nuts and raisins or put it in what is called ‘black soup’.
When trying to find out more about spigarello, I often came across words like – ancient, mystifying, heirloom, unexplained, unusual. Not sure why that makes me like it more but there’s something about finding and cooking with ‘mysterious’ Italian greens that have such ancient history behind them.
There are as many versions of caponata as there are cooks… so it’s said. The first written recipes date to the early 18th century but of course it’s one of those dishes handed down over many centuries from mother to daughter (and hopefully a few fathers and sons too). While it’s famously Sicilian, other regions like Calabria also have versions and most likely my (very rustic!) caponata will be completely different when I next cook it. This time I went with pretty much what I had on hand that would suit and baked it instead of frying (although frying creates more caramelisation and is very tasty). I’m guessing many of you will have your own delicious recipes perhaps handed down through generations, such a lovely tradition of cooking and passing on family history. xx
Ingredients (on hand!) for this version of caponata.
Chopped and tossed (in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, salt and lemon juice).
Baked and ready to serve (warm or cold).