As young children, my brother, sister and I spent countless hours at my grandparents’ home. Although for us it seemed an eternal drive to get to their house, most of our aunts, uncles and cousins lived near them. So no matter the time of year – or day – being at Nonna and Gramps’ house ensured we would be surrounded by family. We would run through the field near their house, play in any of the numerous cars in need of repair which my uncle had parked in the yard, swim in the lake, walk to our cousin’s house a short distance away – we never needed to look for something to do. In truth, there never seemed to be enough time to fit in all the activities we could do.
One thing for sure, we never missed meal time. And we always ate well.
My Nonna was an incredible cook. If I had realized that at a young enough age, I would have spent fewer hours doing what children do and more hours watching and learning from her. She could make a simple salad dressing, with the most basic of ingredients, somehow taste amazing.
Although she was of French descent, her husband — my grandfather — was Italian. When they married, Nonna became a student of her mother-in-law, learning all the secrets of traditional Italian cooking.
Some of my fondest memories at Nonna and Gramps’ house were the days when Nonna made “homemades.” I can’t tell you how many pounds of pasta she turned out at one time, but let me try to describe it. They lived in a very large farm house, with numerous rooms. On the first floor was the kitchen, a casual dining room, a formal dining room, a music room, a den and two bedrooms. Envision, if you will, laundry racks taking up most of the floor space in all but the kitchen – and all of those racks covered with rows of drying noodles. Layers of noodles covered the beds as well, on top of electric blankets (to help the drying) and stacked between towels. It’s a vivid memory. I can recall the childhood excitement of hiding behind one of the beds, and the pleasure of sneaking a bit of raw noodle when no one was looking. It was a precursor to the delicious meal we would enjoy that night – fresh noodles, covered with a heavenly homemade red sauce, all made that day by Nonna’s loving hands.
The process of making pasta is not complicated. Years ago, as an adult, my brother spent a day cooking with Nonna. When he asked for a recipe, Nonna stated simply, “Eggs and flour.” She then took out her pasta board, and began to shape a mound of flour before adding eggs. That pasta board, by the way, is a family heirloom. When my Nonna passed several years back, she was living with my Aunt Judy. So Aunt Judy naturally took possession of the pasta board. My brother asked my aunt if he could take the board…Have you ever gotten “the eye” from an Italian? We’ll just say it’s unlikely that board will be leaving Aunt Judy’s kitchen for a very long time.
As the recipe for pasta really is that simple, I’m sharing another of my Nonna’s secret recipes along with our family’s legendary marinara sauce.