Preserving a Central Italian legacy - La cucina di Alberta

Rebecca Vagnoni realised that her Nonna’s legacy does not just symbolise delicious Italian food but also the value of family, love, tradition and togetherness.

The majority of us preserve our nonnas’ recipes by writing them down in a notebook that we keep in a kitchen drawer. However, my sister Rebecca, aged 27, from Adelaide, took it a step further by publishing our Nonna Alberta’s recipes in a cookbook. The book is entitled “La Cucina di Alberta” (Alberta’s Kitchen) and is focused on traditional cuisine from central Italy, specifically from Le Marche. The book includes Olive Ascolane or Olive Ripiene (Ascoli Olives or Stuffed Olives), gnocchi, a traditional Easter cake, and fried ricotta ravioli, to name a few. 

However, the book is so much more than a cookbook. It highlights the culture and traditions that surround the food on show. In the book, you will find our family’s traditional Easter menu, from appetisers like Good Friday chickpea and potato Soup, Easter Sunday lunch including Chicken cotolette and lasagne. Nonna Alberta’s prayer before eating, the story of our family’s annual tomato sauce day, and other family stories and traditions enrich the experience of the book. 

Rebecca explained her motivation for writing the book: “As a child, during the school holidays, I would look forward to a cooking day with Nonna and my two sisters, Isabella and Christina.” We would typically make gnocchi, eat lunch, and then Nonna would take us to the park to play and stop to buy us ice cream. “This is one of my fondest childhood memories and inspired me to create this cookbook. I want to share my Nonna’s recipes with my own family someday,” explains Rebecca.

Rebecca Vagnoni and her nonna Alberta

La Cucina di Alberta
features the black and white wedding photos of our Nonna and Nonno Eolo Vagnoni at their 1963 wedding in Ascoli Piceno, Le Marche, Italy. The pictures capture a bygone era: the men wearing black and white pinstriped suits with black bow ties; the women modestly dressed in blazer dresses; family and friends standing outside the church on their wedding day.

Our Nonna Albertina was born in Ascoli Piceno, Le Marche, Italy in 1944. Her family home was situated on a farm in the village of Appignano Del Tronto. Albertina was the fourth of five siblings, and her family lived rurally. All the food the family ate was organic because they harvested the crops themselves. Eating from the land is a prominent part of Italian food philosophy. Nonna Albertina’s family had farm animals for meat and other sources of food, including pigs and rabbits, chickens for eggs and sheep to make cheese. As fridges and freezers didn’t exist when Nonna was a child, the family used their cantina to preserve food for longer. The cantina is where they kept their homemade wine and also hung cured pork which lasted all year long.

Life on the farm was hard because the family’s livelihood and the food they ate were fully dependent on the crops they were able to grow and sell. There were times of uncertainty when bad weather caused crops to fail, but Nonna said her family had no other choice to survive, so they always made do. 

There were happy times as well. When Nonna was about five, she accidentally got drunk when she came across a bowl of wine unsupervised in the cantina. She also recalls dressing up as characters with her siblings for religious feast days. From ten years old, Nonna also made gelato from snow. Her brothers, sisters, and she did this by adding homemade red wine on top of clean snow. Nonna describes how delicious it was. 

Nonno Eolo and nonna Alberta on their wedding day

Nonna met Nonno in 1963 when she was 19 in Ascoli Piceno. Nonno was 32 and had already been living in Australia. He came back to Italy to find a bride. They courted for a few months and were soon engaged. Nonno hired a white Fiat 500 to drive around the village. He took Nonna shopping to buy the things she needed to move to Australia. Three months later, they were married.

As a couple, they boarded the Marconi Galileo, which took 19 days to sail from Italy to Australia. Nonna was also pregnant with my father Filippo on the journey, and morning sickness combined with sea sickness was not a fun experience for Nonna

Many years later, one of Nonna’s favourite ways to spend time with her grandchildren was to teach us to cook during the school holidays. These are precious memories my sisters and I are grateful for. Rebecca finished by saying that “My hope for this book is to inspire others to cook, bring their family and friends together and hopefully inspire them to preserve their grandparents’ traditions too.”

Cover photo: Nonna Alberta
Images provided by Christina Vagnoni