Tag Archives: Abruzzese

An ‘Abruzzo’ evening in Melbourne at La Cucina di Sandra

IMG_0774 A few weeks ago I had the pleasure, along with my husband and five other diners, of attending a cooking class with Sandra del Greco. Sandra runs cooking classes for small groups at her home, which she shares with husband Alf, in the inner Melbourne suburb of Richmond. From the moment you arrive, you feel you have entered an intimate, private dinner club. Sandra’s classes each focus on a different aspect of Italian cooking, but don’t be fooled into thinking that she only cooks Italian. No, Sandra is accomplished in many world cuisines such as Thai and Moroccan amongst others. Her eclectic home has floor to ceiling shelves to contain her numerous cookbooks. But with her new venture, La Cucina di Sandra (just over 14 months old now), she focuses on regional Italian food as well as special focus classes on say mushrooms, or matching pasta shapes with sauces, or zuppe e minestre (types of soups). We were fortunate to attend the class  La Cucina Abruzzese ~ the cuisine of Abruzzo. This is Sandra’s home region; she was born in Pescara on the Adriatic coast. Abruzzo is well known for its many delicious seafood dishes but as its geography also includes rolling hills and mountains that run along the central spine of central Italy, the dishes of the shepherds feature prominently as well. After introductions and a welcome beverage and spuntino (a snack of parmesan biscuits to have with our wine), we gathered at Sandra’s long kitchen bench and watched the proceedings. Lively conversation and debate ensued about fresh vs dried pasta, cheese with fish, misconceptions about Italian food, how emigration has created different ‘Italian’ dishes, plus imported or local ingredients, small goods and cheeses available for home cooks in Australia. Sandra continued to cook through all the discussion, explaining each step along the way. So what did we eat? Our first course of Minestra di brodo di Pesce (a fish soup with broccoli and pasta). It contained lovely pieces of firm white ling and whiting, plus prawns in a very refined clear fish stock. IMG_0836 Next, we enjoyed Cozze ripieni al forno (stuffed baked mussels). The oven cooking created a savoury crust without over-cooking the mussels. IMG_0780 For the next course we moved inland. Sandra browned finely minced lamb with white wine, saffron, sage and stock. This formed the base upon which rested rigatoni pasta that had been tossed through beaten egg. The process of blending the wheat starch from the still-slightly-wet pasta with the raw beaten egg created a beautiful, satiny emulsification. Topped with freshly grated pecorino, this had to be my dish of the night ~ Rigatoni all’Abruzzese con salsa allo zafferano (rigatoni with saffron sauce). IMG_0799 I am not a sweets lover as a rule, but I love a desert that includes cheese. Sandra’s desert course, Ricotta all zafferano (saffron ricotta) used ricotta sourced from local Melbourne business La Latteria. She had drained the ricotta overnight then flavoured it with lemon, saffron sugar and some sweet Marsala wine. Topped with shaved chocolate, chopped hazelnuts and a crostoli biscuit, this was a fresh and light finish to a great meal. IMG_0801 Before attending her class we had never met Sandra, but already we’re talking about how we can swing another trip to Melbourne. Sandra’s passion for Italy and generosity with her knowledge make this an experience worth travelling for. We drove eight hours from Adelaide to get to La Cucina di Sandra and it was indeed ‘vale la pena’ – worth the effort! Here’s all you need to know to book your own evening or buy a class for a friend. So go ahead – take a trip to Italy, if only for an evening.

La Cucina di Sandra

62 Lyndhurst Street Richmond Victoria 3121 Australia Telephone: 0419 503 805 or (03) 9421 1883 Email:          lacucina.disandra@ozemail.com.au Website:      http://www.lacucinadisandra.com.au/

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Uncle Mike’s Pizzelle

Our great uncle Michael Izzo married into the Mezzacappa family and acquired not only his wife, my great aunt Ethel, but four more sisters.  All potential suitors had to be scrutinised by our great grandfather Nicola Mezzacappa, who could be, by all accounts, somewhat frightening and very protective of his five daughters. So having passed muster, you knew he had to be a decent man.

My grandmother Anna, her older sister Maria Luisa and their parents were born in Morro d’Oro which is in the Teramo province of the Abruzzo region. The three younger sisters, Agnes, Filomena and Ethel, were born in Philadelphia after the family migrated in 1909. Like millions of migrants before and since, their food traditions were their connection to the motherland.

Uncle Mike was a warm man who loved food and his adopted family. From what I remember he was often in the kitchen helping his beloved Ethel.  It’s Mike’s pizzelle recipe that’s made its way from Abruzzo to Australia, via Philadelphia and Minneapolis.

Pizzelle are a typical sweet from Abruzzo. I have also heard them called cancelle or ferratelle. They are like a waffle but made thin and crisp. You can also form them into little cones as you take them off the iron (there’s a special wooden tool for this) while they are still pliable. But you have to be quick as they become crisp as they cool down.

My sister Annie acquired our grandmother’s pizzelle iron which had ended up with Mike and Ethel after our grandmother died. Uncle Mike dictated the recipe to Annie over the phone. She wrote it on a card and gave it to me on one of my trips to Minneapolis.

Irons for sale at the Wednesday market in Roseto degli Abruzzi

Irons for sale at the Wednesday market in Roseto degli Abruzzi

When we bought our pizzelle iron a trip to Roseto degli Abruzzi in 1998, we considered buying a modern electric one that makes two pizzelle at a time, but the single manual style was easier to transport around Europe and back to Australia.

On a recent Saturday we needed a light desert to serve with coffee and tea. August is still officially winter in Adelaide and pizzelle always remind me of winter, each one looking like a snowflake. So, my husband got out the trusty pizzelle iron and in no time had made the perfect post lunch treat.

Uncle Mike’s recipe calls for anise, and we usually split the recipe into two batches – in half the batter we substitute a splash of lemon and some lemon zest. I love both flavours.


The master at work

With salted caramel ice cream!

Since we lack the tool to make cones (you can do it by hand) we just made ice cream sandwiches!

And here’s the recipe. Enjoy!

Uncle Mike’s Pizzelle


3 beaten eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 cup melted butter
2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-3 teaspoon anise seeds


Heat the iron and brush or spray once with oil.
Drop a tablespoon at a time of batter onto the hot side of the iron (if using a manual iron).
Close the iron and cook for one minute.
Turn the iron over for 20 seconds or so to cook the other side thoroughly.
As the iron gets hotter, reduce the cooking time. You want each pizzelle to finish with a golden colour.
Place the cooked pizzelle on a cake rack to cool so they will crisp up.
Repeat until all batter is gone.
Once thoroughly cooled, pizzelle can be stored in sealed tins or containers for up to a month, if they last.

An Italian Obsession

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It started with a photo. My grandparent’s wedding photo.

I always had a sense that we were different. My mother’s parents had a funny accent when they spoke English and they talked real loud. My friends couldn’t understand our grandfather. I was used to it and explained that my Pop-Pop was Italian and that he was from ‘the Abruzzi’.

He did have a thick accent but we must have grown used to it. Mom-Mom not so much. Pop-Pop was only 13 when he arrived in America and he was already a tailor. His schooling lasted 3 years before he was taught a trade at age 9. Imagine that today. Mom-mom arrived with her mother and a one of her sisters to join their father who was already in Philadelphia. She went to high school and although Italian was the language of home, she was educated in English through her high school years in ‘l’America’.

But the photo. I was a little obsessed with it for some years. It seemed like something from another time and place than our rather normal Anglo existence, it was foreign and exotic and we just weren’t!

I don’t remember seeing the wedding photo until I was in High School, probably after my grandmother died and my grandfather sold up and moved to the Jersey shore. It turned up at my parent’s house amongst the possessions that Pop-Pop no longer needed in his tiny apartment on California Avenue, Atlantic City. He had been totally dedicated to Mom-Mom, Anna, who he referred to as ‘my Annie’. He survived another 18 years after she was gone.

But I digress. The photo was taken in 1922 in Philadelphia and I don’t know the other people in it other than my grandparents, the bride and groom. They were 9 years apart. My grandmother was only 18 and my grandfather 27 or so. The bride, bridesmaid and  flower girl have the best hats and the biggest flowers, but the little boy ring-bearer is just the funniest looking little fellow with wild hair that looks like he had recently tumbled out of bed.  They all look so serious.

I was reminded of this photo again when a fellow Italy obsessed blogger Debra recently posted a blog entry about a wonderful looking museum with equally great photos from the Museo Paolo Cresci in Lucca. Refer to the post here.

So, my lovely grandparent’s wedding photo started me on a journey to discover my Italian heritage. It encouraged me to visit Italy numerous times to meet my grandparent’s families and see their villages in Abruzzo and learn how to speak some sort of Italian!

I would love to hear what you think or if you have a story (or even an obsession) associated with a family photo.