Ravioli. Always on a Sunday

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Ravioli. Always on a Sunday

 

The Confalone’s garage of Thomastown, has a series of annexes.  Nonna Cristina’s kitchen is one of them and forms an L-shape that extends from its rectangular structure. Her daughter Giuliana, is not sure if the kitchen was built at the time the garage was being constructed, or whether it was added on later. However, it remains in her memory as having always been there, a space especially for Nonna to cook and make her preserves.

Upon entering Nonna Cristina’s garage kitchen, it could be like any kitchen in a house.  It is clean, painted white.  It’s a small and practical space, clearly a woman’s domain.  Red chillies hang from the ceiling, drying and a rotary dial phone attached to the wall, ensures Nonna stays connected with the outside world.  Recycled Chianti bottles store olive oil, poured from bulk receptacles on the bench near the sink.  The table, covered with a red and white checked tablecloth, hides a fireplace used to boil passata bottles in a 44-gallon drum.  To the right, through the lace curtains with the apple and pear prints, is a view of the garden complete with Hills hoist, all in keeping with the template of provinciality.

The sun spills into this little kitchen and Nonna centres herself in its full rays.  Giuliana stealthily reaches behind the door, and unhooks a wooden board hung from the wall.  It is covered in gingham fabric with a drawstring and is placed on top of the kitchen table.

The wooden board was part of the dining table set in the sun room of the old house in Reservoir. Nonna welcomed many young paesani (local villagers) at this table, who’d made the journey to Australia in the 1950s and 1960s, with a traditional home cooked meal.

Now a shadow of its former self, it is used as a pasta board.  Surrounding it today, are four generations of Nonna’s family.  A quintessential necessity for this Italian household, the pasta board was used to make pasta every Sunday.  Sunday was the day of rest for Nonna, at the end of a hard working week of pressing shirts at the Pelaco factory.  It was the time dedicated to make a meal from scratch and share with the family in the kitchen in the garage.

Nonna’s weathered hands gently stroke the board, as if to bless the ritual before the making.  She spoons out the flour stored from the 10-litre tubs that habitually live under the table and she begins to create a valley with the flour, recounting her journey to Australia.  Her brother was interned as a prisoner of war in the 1940s and worked as a farmhand in South Australia.  When he was released, he returned to Italy.  Having formed a good working relationship with his boss in Australia, his return was promptly sponsored, followed by Nonna and her husband.  Was it 1940?, 1952? Nonna mixes up the dates, confusing her narrative.

Nadia enters with her great grandchild, Ari.  Nonna’s attention turns to the child.

“Cosa fai? (What’s happening?) No piangia (Don’t cry),” says Nonna Cristina as she quickly releases herself from her task to cradle her great grandson.  I witness the memory failing dates of years gone by, but the love for familial generations remains.

Flashback….

There’s Nonna in a photo, pictured with a life full of vigor, looking at Nonno with a broad smile, celebrating his 60th birthday in the garage.  The trestle tables are covered with white linen tablecloths.  Family and friends sit in company, silhouetted against the recycled kitchen cupboards, balancing oversized framed photos of their village Pescosanonesco in the Abruzzo region, famous for that almost saint who was one short of a miracle.

In another photo is Nonno.  Behind him is his workbench, converted into a bar, with his arms widespread, receiving his guests, celebrating life.

The bench is now covered with cobwebs echoing Nonno’s welding industry of the past.  Enter annex number two, adjoining the kitchen- a museum of Nonno’s remnant winemaking and hunting activities.  Wine barrels and strainers are stored on the high shelves whilst a small cabinet door containing brass scales used to weigh bullets, has been left on the lower ones.  It is as if Nonno left them deliberately open to continually call on the hunting spirits to embark on a wild pursuit.

It’s nice and cool in annex number two.

Back in annex number one, the temperature rises and sweat beads form at the temples.  Giuliana is frustrated because she cannot find a knife that can cut.  It seems the recycled cutlery in this kitchen may have passed its use-by date.

Nadia meanwhile, has picked up where Nonna has left off, combining the eggs into the flour with a fork, with the same precision and intuition.  Nonna sits in quiet approval as the fan blows in, receiving its tepid air, and fanning Ari, who’s cradled in a deep slumber in her arms.

“How do you know how many eggs you need?” I ask.

“Oh Nonna’s recipe measures approximately one egg per person,” Nadia affirms as she begins to hand knead the dough.  “Until the dough is soft and malleable.  You just know.  It’s got to be all sticky.  I’ve watched Nonna make it so many times, you just know.”

Raising her arms with an animated voice, Giuliana exclaims, “Do you know what?  I was disappointed that the two girls making ravioli in recent episode of My Kitchen Rules added salt to the dough.  Don’t they know that salt hardens the dough? I mean really, what were they thinking?”

How would they know? They probably never watched Nonna Cristina Confalone making pasta from scratch on Sundays.

 

 

As the dough rests, the filling of spinach and ricotta is prepared.  Nonna won’t let go of Ari.  Nicolao, Giuliana’s husband, the quiet achiever, has already par boiled the small pumpkin-sized tomatoes, freshly picked from the garden, and chopped the vegetables to make the sugo (sauce). He’s also snuck in a giant zucchini to grate for his side project – fritters.

It’s a common scenario – in these garage kitchens – where families congregate to cook and where culinary knowledge is passed on from elders onto the younger generations.  Quantities are measured by intuition “of about that much” and within an organic timeframe of knowing it’s “just about right”.

The pasta machine has been unearthed from annex number two. It’s time for the dough to undergo its transformation.  As Nadia cranks its squeaky handle, it misbehaves by continually dislodging itself.  She tenaciously works with its resistance, passing the dough once, twice, three times, converting it into thin flat sheets, resembling fine paper.  Making pasta in Nonna’s provincial kitchen, is akin to hard manual labor for these modern women who, in their own kitchens, choose the ease of a Kitchen Aid.  Once all the dough has been flattened, the ricotta and spinach filling is spooned neatly on one side and little pods are formed as it is folded over.  Giuliana seals each pod partly using the cutter and partly using her thumb.  Then they are ready to be put to boil.

The ravioli resemble large gondolas made of dough, floating on the top of the pot for the boil, ready to set sail for the Adriatic Sea and then into our stomachs.  Once cooked al dente, they are served with sugo (sauce) made with vegetables from the garden.

Nonna’s hand leads me to the dining table, modestly set with a complementary salad of greens from the garden and Nicolao’s zucchini fritters.  A kind and customary gesture of hospitality, she directs me to my seat and fills my plate, lacking any cognition of portion control. Throughout the meal Nonna continually beckons me to eat more.

“Mangia, mangia,” (eat , eat)  she instructs. “Si non mangia non cresci” (If you don’t eat, you won’t grow).  I laugh at this sentiment as I am already approaching middle age but understand in Nonna’s eyes, it’s an expression of generosity in welcoming a guest to the table.

“I don’t know how she did it,” reflects Giuliana, taking the time to pause after a long day in the provincial kitchen. “How she would make pasta from scratch to feed us every Sunday…”

 

ravioli recipe

 

 

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