Our Nonna grew up in wartime Italy. She knew what it was like to be hungry and she learned by necessity how to grow and cook her own food; stocking up the “cantina” so that there is always something good to eat. Did I say good? I meant great. Nonna’s cooking is simple, but delicious. She never uses a recipe book, her cooking skills have been handed down from generations of Nonna’s and even at 90, she remembers more recipes that I can count.
I was so impressed with Nonna’s connection with food; healthy food, that I wrote about her in my book; The Black Belt Investor. “Being with Nonna in her kitchen and eating her food at the table is an experience in nutritional mindfulness. She is adamant about not wasting, using every part of every vegetable and animal – chicken, cow, pig. She cannot fathom people leaving food on their plates. If for whatever reason you cannot finish what you eat, then you bring it home with you. If it can’t be eaten, then it’s recycled; chestnuts shells for the fire, leaves and stems for the compost. Nonna is conscious of all that she has, managing a food archive in her freezer that would impress any librarian!”
In these times of forced self-isolation, Nonna has so much to teach us. She spends her days alone now, to stay safe, but the family takes care of her needs and calls her regularly. If the truth be known, she needs very little. The cantina and the freezer have everything Nonna needs to stay healthy. My calls to her are always to ask what she’s cooking that day. A long conversation usually ensues where I am taken through the preparation of a dish that might have pasta, some frozen vegetables from her garden, tomato sauce, chopped garlic and onion….. and the list goes on. Nonna comes from a region of Italy close to Naples where beans are a staple; pasta with beans are a local dish. Her explanations of food preparation are always enthusiastic, filled with information on how the garlic is cut, the temperature of the olive oil and how thick the tomato sauce should be when everything is said and done. Of course, there’s always parmesan to sprinkle on top, a bit of wine with the meal and perhaps some bread.
Since Nonno passed away a few years ago, Nonna has carried on alone taking care of her garden, stocking her cantina and preparing her meals. This time of isolation has physically distanced her from her family, but she can still feel the love of community through the food she makes and the telephone conversations she has with children and grandchildren. She has a daily routine that hasn’t changed since Covid-19 came into our world. Her freezer and cantina was already stocked, not for fear of a pandemic, but because it’s always been that way in Nonna’s home.
With a bit of planning and a simple but healthy approach to food, you too can conquer confinement. By following Nonna’s example, you’ll never be caught off guard if you can’t leave the house and you’ll save money as well.