I think we can all agree that Italian food is delicious. There are so many Italian restaurants in the UK that sometimes I do feel I’m at home (the best pizza I have ever tasted was actually in East London!) What’s the secret behind these amazing recipes and flavours? Fresh natural ingredients? NO! The secret ingredient to make the best Italian dishes is actually the Nonna, Italian for grandma.
Yes, I’m going to refer to the Nonna with capital N, she’s like God to me. Italian Nonnas are known all over the world to be the caring heart of any Italian family, and as Italian myself, I can admit this is the most accurate stereotype that applies in real life! I grew up living with my grandma who has been a very important figure in my life since I was a kid, all the way through teenage years, and more so now. Nonna Licia (that’s her name!) was always cooking in the kitchen; I have endless memories of her in the kitchen and me sneaking in to eat the raw gnocchi on the table (note: this may be a very Italian sentence, but if you’re Italian and reading this, you know what I mean: RAW gnocchi & tortellini are so so good.)
Nonna Licia would talk to the food: she would refer to the food as some sort of invisible member of the family, always checking that the Ragu’ sauce was talking before turning it off (it’s commonly known in Italy for the Ragu’ to talk, this refers to the sound that the sauce makes when it starts sticking to the pan, as if to say: “I’m ready!”).
The Nonnas have been the centre of a lot of marketing campaigns and equal fresh, home cooked food. The most recent one was the one created by Buzzfeed that filmed Italian-American Nonnas trying different dishes of the Italian tradition. The result was interesting & hilarious at the same time, with a series of looks of horrors on their faces! Looks that will never top Nonna Licia’s when she walked through the Ready Meal aisle in M&S. Wish I photographed it. It seemed like she ended up in Hell; she touched her chest area and left immediately before she started swearing in vivid Italian.
There’s something so caring about her relationship with food, that almost transcends the survival action of having something to eat on the plate. It’s so much more than that, it’s mostly a feeling of joy, conviviality and happiness. Nonna Licia was not wealthy at all but has managed (and still does nowadays) to cook food for battalions of kids, her husband, extended family members, nephews, & nieces, using only a few ingredients. A couple of potatoes, some rosemary, a kilo of risotto rice — job done!
Nonnas represent the heart and values of Italian families and food is just a materialisation of their superpowers. It's no wonder Marketeers love them!
It is the original foodie nation, a place where the notion of celebrity chef recipe books is just as likely to be swallowed as ready-made lasagne. Unlike us Brits, with our ubiquitous collections of Jamies, Nigellas and Delias, Italians learn to cook from their parents and grandparents, and take a serious amount of pride in knowing how to rustle up supper without a recipe to hand.