Rossella Rago and her Nonna Romana have published a new cookbook as a follow up to the highly successful “Cooking with Nonna.” In this latest edition, Rossella returns with a book subtitled “130 Classic Holiday Recipes from Italian Grandmothers.” This cookbook provides an extensive culinary guide for the holidays including favorite recipes associated with the major holidays of Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving, plus beloved recipes for New Year’s Eve and Day, the Epiphany, Little Easter, St. Joseph’s Day, Carnevale, All-Souls Day, Valentine’s Day, Women’s Day, Mother’s Day and Saint Rocco’s Feast. To complete a year-round Italian tasting tour, recipes for weddings and other celebrations are also included.
Rossella spent her childhood in the kitchen with her maternal Nonna Romana, learning the long legacy of recipes from Puglia passed down through the generations. Launching Cooking with Nonna TV has allowed Rossella to expand her culinary expertise to the rest of the regions of the world’s home for extraordinary food – Italy.
Anyone who is familiar with traditional holiday recipes will immediately thumb through the book to see which classic holiday dishes are included and how authentic are the recipes. The answer to the first question is many; the answer to the second question is very. The author sets the appropriate tone by describing an event from only a few years ago that would rank as a catastrophe of Biblical proportions in an Italian American household – a power outage on an important holiday. In the case of the Rago family, it was on Christmas Day and of course it happened to be at the location where the extended family was to gather for the holiday feast. Swift revisions were made and everyone went to Nonna Romana’s apartment in Brooklyn. If you have grown up in an Italian American extended family, you know exactly how the day played out. Regardless of how small a kitchen may be, every Nonna seems to have mastered a magician’s trick of making dish after dish appear as if out of thin air. While many people of different nationalities have enjoyed Italian antipasto, many have never experienced a true antipasti – a table filled with numerous platters of dried meats, cheeses and marinated vegetables. Another magician’s trick is employed by the guests – that of consuming the various delights of the antipasti and still have enough room for the pasta, roasts, contorni and the innumerable desserts and cookies that will appear on the table during the next few hours.
It is in this kind of atmosphere that the true beauty of this book appears. It is touching and sentimental, without being gushy or trite. It is authentic and traditional, without being out-of-touch or out-of-date. It captures the spirit of each holiday, but looks behind the curtain at how Nonna’s manage to make every holiday special. You may at times be reminded of a duck in a pond. Everything looks serene above the waterline, while the duck paddles like mad just below the surface.
With advice from Nonnas from all around the country, this book touches holiday dishes from part of Italy and includes holiday memories from the Nonnas themselves. Specific instructions and tips are provided when cooking for a crowd and especially valuable are recipes. As for the preparation of ingredients, they include those stored and used throughout the course of the year, such as Vin Cotta (cooked wine) and sweet Estrastto di Limoni (sweet lemon zest).
Humor is present throughout the book and brings a refreshing quality to the narrative. Where Rosella appears at times to be compelled to prepare yet another dish for a holiday, it is more a matter of genetics than anything else, since when it comes to cooking, as Italians and Italian Americans, we just can’t help ourselves. There is always Zio’s favorite dessert to consider and the dish that always brought a smile (and a story) to Nonno’s lips.
Beginning with New Year’s Eve and Day, the listing of recipes is a Who’s Who of holiday delights – among the dishes, Cotechino Sausage with Lentils for the former and Sfincione Siciliano for the latter. Then it is on to Valentine’s Day, with a wonderful recipe for Panna Cotta con Amarene and through the remainder of the year. The dishes are beautifully photographed and the recipes well-described. The reader will find themselves referring back to the different sections throughout the year and in all likelihood, for many years to come.
Cooking with Nonna: A Year of Italian Holidays (Hardcover – 264 pages) is published by Race Point Publishing and is available through Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.
About the Author
Rossella Rago, together with her mother and her Nonna Romana, won the “Italiano Battle” episode of the Food Network’s 24 Hour Restaurant Battle in 2010. She is the host of the popular web TV series ‘Cooking with Nonna,’ where in each episode of the show, Rossella invites an Italian American Nonna to cook with her and share traditional Italian recipes and memories. A graduate of St. John’s University, she lives in Brooklyn and has traveled the country with cooking demonstrations. Rossella’s first book was “Cooking with Nonna.”