EXCERPT FROM Easy Tasty Italian by Laura Santtini
Forget Domestic Goddess! With five boys, three hotels, and a wayward husband, "Nonna' Armelin Pasqua, my paternal grandmother and the best cook I ever knew, was a Domestic Sergeant Major – she had to be!
My grandfather believed that if there was no visible action on the stove by 6 a.m., when he left the house, lunch was not worth coming home for. Wise to this excuse for a liquid lunch, Nonna Pasqua rose early to fill a selection of pots with water and the odd rib of celery, all of which would be bubbling with false promise by daybreak.
It was in Nonna Pasqua's kitchen that I learnt my broken Venetian dialect, and how to skin, gut and chop all things dead. She taught me to fish gnocchi out of the bollito misto, to grate nutmetg in the accompanying mashed potatoes; and that size does matter when it comes to a fist full of pudding rice. It was at her starch-stiffened table that I first scooped warm marrow from a bony Stonehenge and chased sauces round my plate with petals from my hollow bread rose. I helped where I could, the concept of a culinary wonderland crystaliizing in my mind. I began to understand the power of food and temptation. It was Nonna who taught me, way before Joan Armatrading, to mix some water with my wine.
The biggest lesson was 'Waste not, want not.' Her reluctance to put anything in the bin led to the preparation of cicciole, my absolute favorite treat. Cicciole are made from any excess fatty skin on a chicken, usually from the neck or around the cavity opening. Nonna would slice these quilted remnants into small waxy strips and fry them in hot olive oil. I would watch, with my mouth watering, as they struggled and spat from the pan, then wait patiently as they rested on the yellow sugar paper, before munching them one by one with a sprinkling of salt. I fancy that if pigs could fly their scratchings would taste more like this: crispy bits of heaven.
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