Hi there, let me introduce myself: my name is Maura. A while ago you met my mother Anna, and read about her erbazzoncini. What you don’t know is that nowadays when she makes them she uses the vegetables my husband grows in our vegetable garden. My story is a little different from hers though: I've always worked as an accountant and when I got married, I had really no idea how to do anything in the kitchen. One day I asked my mother to teach me the three or four recipes I liked the most, and I copied them down into the diary from 1980 that I still have to this day.
Our recipes are truly our own. When we talk about "meatballs" what we really mean are "Grandma Anna’s meatballs", make no mistake. One of the recipes the children love the most is undoubtedly the minestra imperiale (Imperial soup): made with parmesan, eggs and flour. The pasta that goes in the soup is kind of like an omelette about half a centimetre high, with a pinch of salt. Some also add ground nutmeg, but I find that children don’t tend to like it. The pasta is cooked in a hot oven for about ten minutes, until it becomes golden, and is then cooled and cut into little cubes. It was the perfect recipe for parties and weddings and also convenient as it could be prepared a couple of days before. Two tablespoons in each plate, a bit of hot stock and you would even have enough for fifty people.
During the cold months of the winter, the minestra imperiale is a real favourite on our table. I am very lucky as my neighbour is a farmer and she keeps fifty hens. Every three days she finds herself with an abundance of eggs which she very kindly gives to the whole neighbourhood. During the spring and summer, I use some of the eggs to batch-cook portions of the pasta which I then freeze for the winter.
When I cook our family recipes my mother says, "you're really good, you're ten times, even a hundred times better than me,” but I don’t believe her because she has always been an artist in the kitchen. Until a few months ago, she was able to make the thinnest homemade pasta dough by hand. I looked at it against the light and wondered how she managed to do it. I can just about make gnocchi (where if a few holes appear in the dough it’s not a problem), but the dough to make cappelletti needs to be rolled out quickly so that it doesn’t dry out, which would make the cappelletti hard to close. She knew how to do it effortlessly. Then we, her daughters, four sisters, positioned ourselves around the table and before long ... we had enough cappelletti for everyone!
Nowadays we use the pasta machine, but thankfully we still have those moments when we are all in the kitchen together. We start as early as November, and we choose a Saturday, a Sunday, or just a morning when we are free from commitments, and we begin preparations for Christmas Eve. Now there are quite a lot of us, almost thirty: everyone goes to Chiara’s for dinner, as she has the biggest house. We’ll always have our recipes and so will our children as Nonna Anna wrote them all down in a book for them.
There are those who pass down a ring or a watch from generation to generation, and then there are those who paint their family’s history or write it down in a book. We tell ours through our recipes - dishes that have been with us on celebratory occasions and during the hard times too. These are the dishes that have heard us laugh, maybe even argue, and chat about this and that. Like I said at the beginning, these are the recipes that are truly our own, and we cherish them as we would the most precious of memories.
Maura’s recipe: minestra imperiale (Imperial soup)
150g of grated Parmigiano Reggiano
150g of semolina or flour
100g of butter or margarine
50g of finely chopped mortadella (optional)
Ground nutmeg (optional)
Melt the butter or margarine and then mix all of the ingredients together. Grease a mould, pour in and roll out the dough. Bake in a moderately heated oven for 15-20 minutes. Cut the pasta into little cubes and cook it in the hot-boiling broth.
Text by Carlotta Fiore
Photo by Diego Rosselli