Yesterday I went to a pasta cooking class, an event organised by the Kingston Library at its Clarinda branch. The presenters were husband-and-wife team Hilda and Laurie Inglese who used to run a cooking school in the Yarra Valley. I learned why our ravioli fall apart, and I learned a few tips for making great pasta – the most important of which is that you should roll the pasta at least 20 times, maybe more, and that you should always, always, always weigh the ingredients so that you get the ratio of flour and liquid right. (Did you know that in a packet of a dozen, eggs can vary by 6 grams from smallest to largest? If you’re working with only 100g flour and the 50g egg is only 44g, that’s enough to spoil your pasta.)
And I bought the cookbook: it’s called Wow! it’s Italian, because that’s what Hilda’s cooking students used to say when they got to taste what they’d cooked.
You could be forgiven for wondering why I did that, when you see my existing collection of Italian cookery books…
I learnt to cook Italian from the Leggo’s Italian cookbook back in the 1980s. It’s a commercial publication, produced by the manufacturers of tomato paste and pasta sauces, but only a small section of the book involves ready-made sauces; the rest of the book taught me how to make the classic dishes from scratch, apart from using the tomato paste. From there I went on to acquire the other books, learning all kinds of interesting recipes from various different regions, and I make a superb Mushroom, Red Pepper and Ricotta lasagne from The 90s Vegetarian.
Wow! It’s Italian is a collection of really simple recipes, with ingredients all available at the local supermarket. It’s a book that’s perfect for beginners because (quite apart from the fact that Italian cooking is pretty easy anyway) it sets out instructions step-by-step with lots of photographs. I don’t really need a beginner’s cookbook these days, so that’s not why I bought it…
It’s because these recipes are from a little village called Roccacaramanico in the Abruzzo region, high in the Italian alps, and the recipes are unique to that place. They are Laurie’s mother’s recipes, adapted for an Australian context. These days their little village is cultivating a tourist industry and many of the houses are just seasonal holiday homes owned by wealthy lawyers and doctors, but when Laurie left there as a boy aged four the village had a barter-based agricultural economy. Because the climate is very, very cold, and the village is abutted by a national park, land for farming is limited, and so is firewood. Rather than light an oven every day the villagers shared a communal oven and were rostered to have a turn once a fortnight. The women would get up at one in the morning on the day it was their turn, and prepare the dough for thirty loaves to get them through the fortnight. They were huge loaves so that they would have a very thick crust which kept the bread fresh for the full two weeks. (Though they also had some great bruschetta recipes for if it did get a bit stale!)
The cold weather was no joke. The photo of Laurie’s house in the book shows that the houses had balconies on the upper storeys so that when they were snowed in on the ground floor, they could use the doors on the upper storeys to get in and out. A really bad winter meant that they had to use the third storey doors. So they cultivated staple foods that they could store, like potatoes and borlotti beans, and they kept a pig on the ground floor, the people living in the upper storeys. (They didn’t just use the pork meat, they used pork fat to preserve foods until the next harvest). Their recipes were hearty but simple, but they ate only once a day. They were, Laurie said, slender people. Not malnourished, but they went to bed a little hungry all the same.
It was from Laurie’s mother that Hilda learned to cook, and their cooking school and this cookbook was the result…
Well, today I tried making their Napoli sauce. It’s a bit different to how I usually make a sauce, mainly because there’s a lot more olive oil in it, including a tablespoon of extra EV stirred into the completed sauce. The onions had to be cooked for 8 minutes, and a roasted red capsicum for four more, and (I’ve never done this before) the tomato paste had to be stirred into and cooked with the onions, garlic and capsicum for a whole minute before adding the tomatoes. The recipe says that gives the sauce a lovely sweet taste, and it’s true, it does. I departed from the recipe at this point because I have tomatoes harvested from the garden and didn’t want to use tinned tomatoes, and I also used vegetable stock instead of stock cubes because I think stock cubes are horrible salty things and I never use them. I also used fresh herbs from the garden (basil, parsley and oregano) instead of dried, but while I usually add a glass of whatever red wine is open, this recipe doesn’t call for it so I left it out. It’s a beautiful sauce. I’ll be making this recipe again.
We still have pumpkins left over from last year’s harvest, so I’m going to try their Roasted Pumpkin and Onion Pizza, and next summer when we are drowning in zucchini I shall try their Zucchini Fritters. Their minestrone is interesting: the protein is borlotti beans, not meat. It looks nice but I’ll use spinach not silverbeet, I think.
We have a zillion cherry tomatoes from the garden, so I’m going to try the Pappardelle with Roasted Cherry Tomato and Zucchini, and yes, I’m going to have a go at making the Pappardelle myself. And I’m definitely going to make the ravioli, because that’s why I went to the cooking class in the first place!
Desserts include Nonna’s Apple Pie, Zia Mary’s Lemon Cheesecake, Pears poached in Marsala, and (oh, yum!) Nonna’s Ricotta Cake. There are also recipes for Biscotti, including one with fruit, nuts and chocolate.
The 101-page book is divided into sections for Entrée; Sides, Soup, Sauces, Pasta, Mains, Desserts and Biscuits. It has an index and full colour, full page illustrations for every recipe, something I really like in a recipe book.
The only disappointment is that there
aren’t any recipes is only one recipe with potatoes, (gnocchi) which is a bit strange considering that potatoes were a staple in the village diet!
Update 26/3/17 I was wrong, there are potato recipes, they are just not indexed separately. I’m going to try these ones
- Roast veg and Baby Spinach Salad
- Minestrone (I should have realised this, Minestrone always has potato in it’!)
- Pasta e Fagioli soup, and of course
- the gnocchi. I love gnocchi!
BTW I used the Napoli sauce to make a Bolognese sauce and we had it for our Sunday night dinner with home made pasta using Hilda’s recipe. With a glass of shiraz, crusty bread from the Europa supermarket and a salad using tomatoes, cucumber, capsicum fresh from the garden, it was divine. I’m going to use up the rest of the Bolognese sauce in ravioli tomorrow night. Will try to remember to take photos…
PS 27/3/17 I have permission from Hilda to share this extra recipe using potato with you:)
This is a good vegetarian option with meat as the chickpea is the protein.
Cube vegetables approximately the same size.
200g pumpkin, 300g potato, sliced 180g brown onion, 1 large red and green capsicum, 1/2 medium eggplant and 1/2 large zucchini, 1 tin rinsed chickpeas, 1/4 cup evoo, season to taste (chilli optional).
Place in baking dish. Toss vegetables with oil to coat and bake for 30 minutes at 220C. After 15 minutes turn vegetables over to cook evenly. Season to taste. Vegetables should be golden to maximize flavour.
Serve with couscous and feta. Enjoy!
Authors: Hilda and Laurie Inglese
Title: Wow! It’s Italian
Publisher: self-published, 2013
Source: Personal recipe book collection, purchased at the cooking class, $35.00