My name is Anna Lucia, but everyone calls me Anna. How old am I? I’m 90 years young.
I live in the place I was born: Reggio Emilia. I had a great childhood although the war is certainly ever present in my memories of it. My mother had to make bread every day, because after threshing the guards used to collect the wheat, leaving us with just a couple of ounces each. That’s why we had to be extremely careful not to waste anything. Those were years in which abundance was inconceivable, but we never starved.
In my memories, my mother, Olga, who we all used to call Stella, was often in the kitchen, making tagliatelle, cappelletti... I remember her kneading the dough and teaching me how to roll it out. The table was too high for a ten and a half year old, so I had to climb onto a stool every time. She used to wash the dishes, while my brother was in charge of drying them. As I was the youngest, cutlery and anything unbreakable was left to me. Many years ago, on the night St Lucy fills children’s stockings with sweets and candies, I wasn’t in the mood for helping. And I wouldn’t listen to my mother’s warnings either “St Lucy is watching you, you know!” The next morning I woke up before Luigi and ran to the stocking I had left the night before for St Lucy. But, to my great surprise, it was empty. Since my brother’s stocking was of the same colour and fabric, I decided to swap them while everyone was still sleeping. However, I didn’t notice that Luigi’s stocking was much longer than mine! I got caught immediately, but I wasn’t punished for that. We shared the sweets my brother received. Of course, Luigi wasn’t happy about that.
As the years passed, and I had my own children, the day before St Lucy’s day, it was traditional to make the filling for the tortelli we used to make for Christmas. We would boil the chestnuts, make the jam, adding grated lemon zest, sultanas, chocolate, and later even coffee. The pan was so big that it wouldn’t even fit into the fridge, so we would leave it to cool down on the balcony. When my daughters were alone, they would go out in the cold with their spoons to steal some of it. They thought I would never notice, but I always knew. That was also why I used to make such a huge amount.
We have many family recipes, like pasta rasa made one day in advance; ‘tagliatelle cake’, which my daughter calls ‘butter concentrate’. My grandmother used to love zuppa di pane, a soup made of stale bread. When I was a kid, I used to hear her saying to my mother “Stella, don’t make anything for me. I’m making myself panèda”. And I would run upstairs, because I knew there was always some for me too. Of all our family’s traditional dishes, there is one in particular that says a great deal about us. It’s my mother’s recipe made with fried gnocco dough puffs filled with chard from the garden. Why fried? Because everybody knows that fried food is much tastier. She used to call this recipe erbazzoncini and there isn’t a single person in the world who doesn’t like it.
My daughters still make them for their children, because passing on family recipes is like walking down memory lane, treasuring the words of our mothers so as never to forget. That’s why a few Christmases ago, I decided to write these recipes down and give them to my grandchildren as a gift. And in the card I wrote:
If your tastes never change, I would like you to have my recipes.
Anna’s recipes: erbazzoncini fritti (fried erbazzoncini)
For the gnocco puff dough
1 kg of flour
4 teaspoons of salt
5-6 tablespoons of olive oil
½ litre of milk
For the erbazzoncini
1 kg of chard or spinach
3-4 tablespoons of olive oil
150 g of Parmigiano cheese
Chopped parsley and garlic
For the gnocco puff dough
Knead all the ingredients together and leave to rest for one hour.
For the erbazzoncini
Sear the chard and spinach and chop finely together. Fry them in a pan with oil for 10 minutes. Take off the heat, add the parsley and cheese and salt to taste.
With the puff dough - which must not be too thin - make the tortelli, closing them tightly all around and pinching them in the middle. Deep fry a few erbazzoncini at a time in plenty of oil.
Also in Emilian Voices - Voci Emiliane
There are some moments, unrepeatable intersections of space and time, when life poses a question and the answer can change the course of life forever. For us, that moment arrived when we turned forty: we had a choice: continue following our path in life - the known road - the road we had learned to call our own, or go off the beaten track, reignite our passion and perhaps envisage a new version of the future.