Viva la mamma - the heart and soul of Italy
Franceso's mum, known as Nonna Lili, is a star on the Mangia Mangia website as well as in our Italian family for many reasons, she also makes the best lasagne full stop. It's her unique recipe we wanted to share with the world, starting from the Cathedral city of Lichfield in Staffordshire. Her beautiful food was the inspiration behind the beginning of our small family business cooking authentic Italian from our UK home. Nonna Lili has never been to Lichfield, she looks after her own mum Nonna Fifi who needs full-time care, but we hope one day she'll visit and maybe even run a course for those who'd love to learn to cook the Italian way.
Mother's Day is celebrated differently in Italy. Cooking is not seen as a chore, thus co-incidentally it's la mamma who prepares a special feast for her loved-ones. They come from far and wide to sit as one big noisy family at her table, at least that's what happens in Nonna Lili's house.
The pride of a mother seeing her happy offspring (and their offspring too) gathered together in her kitchen is the biggest gift she could ask for and cooking their favourite dishes for them is a labour of pure motherly love. I truly believe that what you put into cooking can be tasted, especially joy.
Nonna Lili even refuses to let us do the dishes!
From our blog post Mamma Mia - "A mother's love is more than food, but in Italy, it's where love lies."
Our Italian Mother's Day lunch
Lasagna is known as pasticcio /pas-ti-cho/ in northern Italy. The quintessential dish is identical but regionally named differently. Many Italians will defend una lasagna as a sheet of raw pasta and lasagne as the dish, but it depends where they grew up.
Nonna Lili will always make her classic ragù pasticcio for lunch with a vegetarian option for me (the wayward daughter-in-law). We'll eagerly look forward to it, making sure we have lots of space for lots of food! Besides her glorious pasticcio (AKA Lasagna Classica on our Mangia Mangia menu) there may be a spinach and ricotta version or crespelle ai funghi, rolled savoury pancakes filled with mushrooms, baked in bechamel sauce.
She'll have prepared cooked vegetables in advance such as sliced, grilled aubergine or wilted spinach, sometimes grilled red peppers with a salad of radicchio freshly cut from her kitchen garden.
If we're lucky, pasticcio will be the primo (first course) and we'll be presented with a secondo (second course) of tagliata! This is what happened the last time we were at the nonni for lunch!
For most of the family tagliata is a real treat, it's prime beef, grilled and sliced, served rare on a bed of rocket leaves.
We'll always say, "What can we bring?" or "Let us bring dessert!" but Nonna Lili will always refuse saying, "It's already all done and I've bought pasticcini."
So we bring her cards and gifts and things she loves but only after a large tray of Italy's glorious mini pastries, pasticcini, while we're sipping our coffee, will she sit down at the table to open her presents with a contended sigh.
Not content because of what she will receive but because of what she already has.
Mother's Day is a time to celebrate our mums who've got us to where we are through sheer determination and often selfless choices. They say being a mother is the hardest job - it's true that feeling a sense of accomplishment for a task completed is a rare thing - one never truly stops being a mum, but with so many little life conquests, motherhood may well be the toughest job, but surely the sweetest...
The divine mother figure has been cherished throughout eternal history in many capacities, but as we know, there's always a legend in Italy and this one starts near Assisi as many legends do (see our blog post about San Valentino).
The year is 1957 and Mother's Day has been officially celebrated in America for decades, but not in Italy. In the small sleepy hamlet of Torbidetto, Umbria, High Priest Don Otello Migliosi decides to throw a religious party named 'Festa della Mamma' - The Mother's Party on the 12th of May. His motives lie in a sadness that overcomes him - having lost his own mother at 5 years old he wants to pay tribute to her. With cakes, music, dancing and singing in the piazza, the party is instantly a roaring success, so much so, that soon it's a national thing, and is staying put.
The Italian Festa della Mamma is celebrated every second Sunday in May with hand-made cards, little gifts and well-wishes of "Auguri!" In our family we acknowledge the occasion twice a year, but in Italy it often feels, through thoughts, deeds and words, that la mamma is celebrated every minute of every day.