Mangia! Mangia! Real Italian Food

GROWING up in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton in the 1950s, I had the good fortune to be surrounded on all sides by immigrant Italian families.

The only problem with that was the aroma of their delicious slow-cooked food would waft into my parents’ tiny terrace, making me unappreciative when Mum served up overcooked chops and three veg that had been boiled to a point of no return.

Renilda D’Agostino lived next door and became my best friend. Her house always smelled of a magical combination of crusty Italian bread, ice water and capsicums. It seemed that Mrs D’Agostino spent the whole day cooking, which she probably did.

I thought the family in the house at the end of the laneway were a little crazy and kept my distance, mainly because they would decorate their roof with wooden trays of tomatoes and leave them there for days – my first introduction to sundried tomatoes at the age of five!

Two women whose parents came to Australia in that same wave of migration from Calabria in Southern Italy have captured the culinary traditions and culture of their parents and grandparents in a new cookbook called Mangia! Mangia! (Eat! Eat! in English).

Teresa Oates and Angela Villella have been friends for more than 30 years, after meeting on their first day of high school.

After realising the elders of both of their families were passing away, the women set to work, determined that their recipes, which had never been written down, were not lost.

The book is simply set out, easy to follow and full of interesting anecdotes. The first section deals with making passata, where the abundant summer tomato crop is transformed into a whole year’s supply of homemade tomato sauce and the entire family joins in the ritual.

The store-bought variety bears no comparison to the freshly made product.

There is also a section on autumn preserving, where olives, peppers and other vegetables like eggplant (malanzane) are preserved in jars for the coming winter and chilli sauces are made.

Other chapters deal with the ritual of "making the pig", where the making of salumi is also a family affair and every part of the pig is transformed into a variety of products including salami, sausages and cured pork neck and belly.

Another deals only with dolce, or sweets, where the authors explain that for every religious festival, and there are many on the Italian calendar, there is a special dolce made in celebration.

These include spiced chocolate biscuits, white nougat, ricotta cake and honey and almond biscuits.

No Italian cookbook would be complete without a section on homemade pasta and pasta sauces, and these are here in abundance.

A common mistake often made in the making of Bolognese sauce is using minced beef only as the basis for the sauce, rather than the traditional half beef, half pork mince.

There is pasta with broccoli, pasta with beans, pasta with peas, sardines, quail and fish and many, many more.

This is a heartwarming memoir of Southern Italian life and traditions as much as a cookbook.

Mangia! Mangia! $39.95 is published by Lantern, an imprint of Penguin Books.


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