Throughout the Nonna in the City series, we've been struck by how a love of family expresses itself in lovely food. CityMag's resident Italian, Anthony Nocera, sat down with his Nonni - Ida and Cathy - to talk about what cooking means for them.
Nonna not in the city: Cathy and Ida at home
Nonni are (often) small, but their effect is big.
The relationship between an Italian boy and his nonna is equal parts love, fear, adoration, feeling full, fear and doing an impression of her when she leaves the room. I wrote fear twice because the fear is twofold: there’s fear when you’re in the room with her because even though she’s small (and shrinking), she’s survived the war so who knows what she’s capable of. But there’s also fear because she’s responsible for the Type 2 diabetes that looms over my family like a dark cloud.
A nonna’s love, whether at home or in business, manifests itself through food. And each one has a signature dish. Nonna Ida and Nonna Cathy cooked them for us in the good kitchen in the main house, not the second kitchen that’s tacked on out back where they usually cook.
“This for special,” they said.
Nonna Ida’s Brodicello:
Brodicello isn’t a dish you can Google, because I don’t really know how to spell it.
“I no write down,” Nonna Ida said when I asked her, probably because these things aren’t written down. It’s chopped onions, chilli and capsicum cooked down with tomatoes into a sauce with crispy ham, salami and sausages with a few olives tossed in, that you dip bread into.
“Brodicello is very old. It take time to cook, bello,” says Nonna Ida. “It take time. You cut up the onions and capsicum and cook til they soft in the oil. The oil turn red. Then the sausages and when they cook, everything else.”
I ask her why she makes it better than everyone else.
“No, no. I no make better. Mah, we no have the same hands. We all make different. I just make for a long time.” But she smiled, smugly. As if she knew that, for me at least, no other Brodicello would ever quite make the grade.
Nonna Cathy’s Chicken Cotoletta:
When I walked into the kitchen to check on Nonna frying the cottoltti (schnitzels), she turned to me, “you want one now?”
“No, I’ll wait.”
“Why? What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing” I said.
“You always take one!”
“Fine!” She said, looking me up and down suspiciously. Wondering if I’m sick – or worse; on a diet.
“They look good, though.”
“It’s the parsley in the crumbs,” she smiles, “the fresh one. I keep it cut big so that you can really taste it. And it’s the meat. You get good chicken, or veal- these are chicken,” she snaps, pointing at the pan, “and you don’t have to do much to it. It’s soft and juicy. Beautiful.”
We sit down to eat and when we eat, it’s almost in complete silence. There’s bread and olives and Nonna forces me to drink almost a bottle of Pepsi and I just say yes. Last time I refused lemonade she slapped me in the face and said, “why no? What happens when I die and you no take?” So I just take it and unbutton my pants.
“Good?” They ask, almost in unison.
“Good,” I say, “Very good.” And they nod, in unison again, and we get back to the food and they watch me for a second. And me eating, saying ‘good’ is more like saying ‘thanks Nonna, for everything’.
I love you, I love you, I love you.