23 September 2010

AUNTIE PASTA: And Now Meet Nonna Stella

SARONNO, Italy - After last week’s post on the TV cooking program Nonna ed Io, I found another Italian Nonna demonstrating Italian recipes, Nonna Stella. But this cooking program does not take place in a television studio, it takes place in Nonna Stella’s kitchen in Bari. It is a typical Italian kitchen with no gourmet pots and pans hanging from decorative ceiling racks or an endless supplies of trendy serving dishes. There are no shiny kitchen appliances; in fact her food processor looks like it has seen better days. In other words, it is a normal Italian kitchen with a real life cook.

 Meet Nonna Stella
In one of the early videos Nonna Stella, who is 88 years old, explains why she is doing the series. It seems her grandson Michele wanted to learn more about her cooking techniques. So she cooks, he films, he eats and they are both ahppy. It’s obvious how much he loves her, and her food and I suspect he may have suggested the video cooking lessons just so he could eat more of it. But whatever the reason I for one am delighted that she agreed. Let me tell you what I learned just watching a few of her videos. You may already know these tricks, but they were new to me.

Tip No. 1. When you make orechetti with cima di rape, one of the typical dishes of Puglia, put the cleaned and chopped cima in the same pot as the orechetti when the orechetti are about half cooked and let them finish cooking together. I always cooked the cima first, taking it out of the pot and then cooking the orechetti in the same water, but her way is so much easier and it accomplishes the same thing.

Tip No. 2. If you put celery, parsley, basil, carrots and onions in a food processor and whiz it, adding a little olive oil about half way through the process, you end up with what Nonna Stella calls “pesto.” She calls it pesto because she mashes it together, and that is what the word pesto means, to mash together. She uses it as a seasoning for just about everything else she cooks, including spaghetti sauce. She puts the five ingredients in a blender and when it is liquefied she saves it in a canning jar with about a half an inch of olive oil on the top. Then she puts it in the refrigerator. The olive oil keeps the pesto fresh, and she says it will stay that way for up to three months.

 Orechetti with Cima di Rape

Since I just discovered Nonna Stella this week and love almost everything she makes, I was in a quandary trying to figure out what to try first. I finally decided to try the Pennoni Rigati alla Pizzaiola. It’s Video Lesson No. 1 on Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnh-2xC-SjM) if you want to take a look at it.

Nonna Stella is so smooth the way she moves from one step in the recipe to another, you can see that she is a woman who knows her way around a kitchen. And because I too have been cooking since the Dark Ages I figured it would be a simple dish to try. It was. But it didn’t turn out to be quite as good as I thought it would. In watching the video again today, I see the mistakes I made. First of all I added parsley to the basil and garlic. Far too much parsley, as it turned out and it drowned the taste of the basil. Not good. And I didn’t mix the ingredients as often as she did which meant that the pasta and the tomato sauce were not as well combined as they should have been. Also not good.

 Getting Ready to Cook
 When I tasted my pasta dish I understood why she mixed the just cooked pasta with heavy cream. It cuts the acidity of the tomatoes. I could have used more cream. And in my opinion the tomato sauce could have used a little seasoning instead of being used straight from the bottle. It was my mistake. I should have tasted the sugo before I added it to the pasta.

Another thing I found very clever was her advice to only cook the pasta for 2 minutes instead of the 9 minutes called for on the package. She says on the video that the reason she does this is because the pasta will cook in the sugo, and it does. So now that I know better, I’m sure the next time I make this dish it will turn out just fine.

 My Version of Pennoni Rigati alla Pizzaiola
Another recipe of hers I like is oven roasted leg of lamb with potatoes Here she uses parmigiano, tomatoes and the basil, celery and parsley, (this must be where I got the idea to mix parsley in with the basil) mix it all together to season the lamb and the potatoes. It’s Lesson No. 23 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLKLq5-UOZg) if you want to watch the video.

You’ll find all of Nonna Stella’s videos on Youtube.com. Even though they are in Italian I think you can follow what she’s doing. Just make sure you get the Nonna Stella from Bari and not the Nonna Stella with the agriturismo in Tuscany.

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