On June 26th, 2013, I had the honor of hosting a dinner at Joanne Trattoria on New York's Upper West Side, owned by Joe and Cynthia Germanotta. From the moment I entered their charming restaurant, I felt a responsibility to throw an unforgettable Cooking With Nonna production. I immediately felt at home in their cozy dining room, and chef/manager Travis Jones' warm and friendly demeanor made me feel as if we had known each other for years. Upon meeting the team at Joanne, I knew I wanted to plan something really special that would allow both of our businesses to work together.
Last March, Nonna and I were incredibly fortunate to teach a class at La Scuola di Eataly. The formula for the classes are usually the same, featuring a 3 or 4 course cooking demonstration and a plated meal, with a wine presentation in between. Now, to be honest, doing live cooking demos was never quite my forte in the beginning of my career, but they've actually grown on me quite a bit. I used to be plagued by nervousness and anxiety before, I'd have to stand in front of a group of people and prepare them a dish. I would just say a prayer that everything would turn out edible and I wouldn't end up banally rambling about how the bookstore was all out of Live Cooking Demo's for Dummies just to fill up time. These days, I really feel a connection with an audience, and teaching classes has become something I look forward to. In fact, I try and replicate the learning experiences I had learning from my own Nonna in her kitchen. After all, having the Nonne present in the classes is such a precious gift to begin with.
Given the great success of the Eataly class, I couldn't wait to plan another event with some of the same structure. I was thrilled when the crew at Joanne was as excited as I was about the idea. The result ended up being an unforgettable evening for all who attended. From the moment the guests arrived, they were in awe of the amazing tablescapes created by Maryla Colandrea of Art of Perfection Event Design. She created incredible centerpieces using empty tomato cans filled with basil, sunflowers, and artichokes, creating an environment as fragrant and rustic as Italy itself. Everyone was seated in such close proximity that by the end of the evening they were all friends. It completely warmed my heart overhearing bits and pieces of conversation such as, "We should get together next week" and "I can't wait to share this recipe with you". As for our recipes, we decided on a Sicilian/Pugliese fusion menu, honoring the southern Italian heritage we share with the Germanottas. We served an appetizer of Arancini, a typical Sicilian street food prepared by Nonna Angelica, a wonderful Sicillian woman who is definitely no stranger to cooking. Her family owns a chain of pork stores in New Jersey called Tuscany.
Nonna Angelica also lent her expertise preparing a typical Sicilian entre, Swordfish Spiedini stuffed with raisins, breadcrumbs, and pine nuts. Nonna Angelica finished the evening with authentic Sicilian Cannoli, which everyone enjoyed watching being made--and eating!
In between each course, Sommelier Annie Shapero of Omni Wines gave wonderful insight on Sicilian wines that paired beautifully with our menu.
Rossella and Nonna Romana
Of course, Nonna Romana had to make an appearance doing what she does best: Pasta! Nonna and I made an amazing variety of pasta called Maritati, a rather tongue-in-cheek dish, which is a mixture of Orrecchiette and Maccheroni. They're name comes from the literal translation of "married couple," because the Orrecchiette and Maccheroni represent the male and female anatomy that compose a married couple. We garnished our pasta with a delicate tomato sauce and tiny eggplant meatless meatballs. These were a variation of "War" meatballs, or meatballs made during World War II, which were very popular in poor southern Italy when Nonna was a young girl.
Videos from the Evening