Shopping for Christmas presents is not always the best thing about Christmas (I maintain it’s the baking, but you already knew that). For Italian-Canadians, no one can be harder to buy for than Nonno and Nonna. I know this because I struggled with it for years. Though I no longer have grandparents with me, I now help shop for my husband’s grandparents and often get questions from coworkers and friends who would love some gift ideas for Nonna and Nonno.
As someone who turns to the internet for solutions, searching for “gifts for nonni” won’t get you far. Most recommendations will be for an Italian-flag t-shirt of some sort. That’s pretty lame. So I’m writing the post that I would have wanted to stumble upon when I was searching for gifts for Nonni and I’m hoping it will help others.
Of course with gifts, it’s key to take into account what your Nonni are interested in….knitting (so they get yarn), fishing (so they get new lures), cooking (so they get a new pasta cutter). But at a certain point it’s difficult to get them anything that you haven’t already purchased them or something that is useful to them. Sure you think the new pasta machine attachment for the KitchenAid mixer will save all sorts of time, but Nonna still wants to roll the dough by hand. You can’t beat tradition.
But you can beat the stress of shopping for Nonni, at least this year. Here’s my top 5 gift ideas for Nonni:
Recently I was able to contribute an article to Panoram Italia magazine (the Montreal edition) about “What We Used to Get“, meaning what Italians used to receive for Christmas or the Epiphany back in Italy or when they were new immigrants to Canada. It was so interesting and entertaining to interview older Italians about their early Christmases – it is certainly amazing how well they remember the small gifts they did receive. It’s clear that in the times of poverty in Italy and the struggles in Canada, every small gift and joy left such an emotional impact. Torroncini, torrone, oranges, chestnuts and dried figs were all common gifts to receive and some remain tradition to have at the table for the holidays to this day. Up to just a few years ago, my mother still gave us stocking with oranges and chestnuts at the bottom as a reminder of what simple gifts she used to receive in Italy.
Last time our good friend, Laura D’Amelio, asked us to write for her wonderful blog (An Italian Canadian Life) we discussed growing up Italian and the tradition of zeppoli. By popular demand, we’ve decided to post our recipe for these delightful dough-balls.
This widely known Sicilian street food is served year round but it is especially popular on March 19th for the Feast of St. Joseph. As legend has it, a severe drought in Sicily, around the middle ages, had many people pray to St. Joseph to bring the rain. When the drought ended the people celebrated and made these zeppoli as a tribute to the saint. It’s suspected that St. Joseph had worked as a baker making these very delightful sweets at some point in this life.
That’s the story I grew up with anyway. There might be other variations out there but one thing is certain, these fritters are absolutely delicious.
Zeppoli can be made savory or sweet. If savory they’re usually made with anchovies or lightly dusted with salt. If sweet there are many possibilities including drizzling honey, nutella, and cannoli cream or even just lightly dusting them with sugar, which is the traditional way to eat them.
Please keep in mind that this recipe has been in our family for well over 75 years. It’s been modified only slightly over the years. In Sicily, the recipe and the preparation varies depending on which region you’re in. I have found that most families have their own special way of making these. The beautiful thing is that you can have fun experimenting and coming up with something unique and special. As you read through the recipe remember to have fun.
Cooking should be a joyous occasion. Buon Appetito!
Zeppoli Ingredients (Yields about a dozen zeppoli)
1 package active dry yeast
1 cup of water
A pinch of sugar
4 tablespoons of oil
1 tablespoon of salt
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract (optional) *
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
Oil for frying
I’ve been a little slower on the blog postings the last couple of weeks…why? Well, it’s the season for gift shopping, cookie baking and get togethers. Like the bright lights in the photo above, life around these next few weeks becomes glowing with activity and joy. I’m trying hard to keep a balance. So for today, we’re doing a quick review of the month in Italian-Canadian news and buzz.
This month…mob stories, sausages, and some jazz singing. More after the jump.
Frost has been coating our roof and backyard lately, the chill is in the air here. I’ve been lucky to be able save the last of our summer harvest to still enjoy as the nights get colder. Our third collection of parsley from our herb garden, wrapped well in paper towels to keep them fresh, were begging to be used this weekend after spending a few weeks in the fridge. I wanted a way to keep the flavour of parsley for the winter in a refreshing way, so I mixed it with citrus to create a parsley lemon pesto. This recipe works well fresh or from the freezer. Now I’ve got a couple of jars to get me through the winter.
Parsley Lemon Pesto
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 cup bread crumbs (store bought are fine, but the large homemade kind are even better)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons lemon zest
Salt to taste
My house has more than it’s fair share of kitchen gadgets – more than I think my grandparents ever had and I still can’t match the quality of food they used to put on the table. But there’s one thing they used constantly in the kitchen that I can’t live without either.
I learned early on when I was on my own that all I really needed to cook or warm up food or get that good home cooking taste was a frying pan. My grandparents would slow cook frittatas, potatoes even “spaghetti pie” in a frying pan. A microwave was no way to warm up pasta, it goes rubbery in a hurry, but a little water in a frying pan made it piping hot in minutes. Those frying pans, large and small, held a meld of fresh garden vegetables and home spun recipes that were a throw-back to old Italian living.