Christmastime, you know, in Italy means family. And we are a large tribe: I have three brothers, eight nieces and nephews, and two little great-nieces. We all live in the same place, around a big courtyard: this means that I get the chance to call up the troops at Christmas and share my gastronomic traditions with the younger generation.
When it comes to cooking, passing on knowledge by example is fundamental and the only way traditional dishes have been handed down for hundreds of years. These include ravioli and veal with tuna sauce. These dishes have always been on the Christmas menu at home, ever since I, as a child, used to make them with my grandmother.
Being together in the kitchen preparing them, sharing the tasks according to age, is wonderful.
Even the little brats already take part, kneading with their little hands the ravioli filling prepared by their mother, discovering at their age whether it is tastier to just put mortadella or add prosciutto (spoiler: I don’t put prosciutto). Nonna Mariuccia, matriarch of the family, oversees tasting the filling. She is the one who checks there is not too much Parmesan cheese or too much salt in the mixture. Or even too little! At this point, the eldest get busy with the ravioli, some rolling out the pasta sheets, others filling them. We in my family are crazy about very thin pasta sheets, so the filling really stands out.
Up to this point, we all work together, like a production line in which everyone plays a specific role. But nobody can even come near the sauce for the vitello tonnato (veal with tuna sauce), that is exclusively my responsibility. For me, the first ingredient to use in the kitchen is love and this is where I put a lot of it, as it is one of my favourite traditional recipes. The right balance of tuna, anchovies and capers is crucial: only if you taste – and then taste again – do you get the perfect sauce. For me, then, the sauce is best if it remains rather thick, not liquid: it should be put on the side of the meat, which must be of high quality, so as not to overpower the flavour.
And the best thing? While rolling out the dough and filling the ravioli, joyful chatter and laughter immediately fill the room. And cooking turns into an excuse to bring different generations together.