Cooking with Nonna in Florham Park
I spent the early part of an afternoon at Nonna’s Italian Restaurant in Florham Park New Jersey. Rossella Rago was filming a webisode of Cooking With Nonna, the popular website that features Nonnas from different regions of Italy showcasing their recipes. What better way to preserve a family tradition of recipes and foods than to have a Nonna giving you lessons.
Rossella Rago, along with her father and business manager “The” Vito Rago, ventured into this media in 2009, after winning first prize in the Food Network’s “24 Hour Restaurant Battle”. Rossella and her mother Angela Rago, along with “Nonna” Romana Sciddurlo , three generations of Italian women from Brooklyn, NY, kept their cooking authentic with recipes passed down through their family. It was enough to have them win the competition and realize that traditional family Italian cooking was as popular as ever.
The cooking demonstration was sponsored by The Center for Italian-American Culture of Cedar Grove New Jersey. The turnout was tremendous, proving once again that authentic family Italian cooking is much in demand
The two stars of the show were Nonna Giovanna, who prepared a traditional Easter wheat pie (Pastiera Di Grano) and Nonna Annunziato who cooked up Pizza Rustica. It was a delight watching Rossella hosting the demonstration as she tackled mixing the dough with her hands, which she says herself is not her forte, and keeping the program moving and entertaining. And the best part of all was that we got to eat the delicious pies that were made at the demonstration and prepared ahead of time for the large crowd.
The two following recipes are courtesy of Nonna Giovanna and Nonna Annunziato. They have been prepared this way in their family for generations. One of my reasons for starting this blog was because I wanted to share the recipes my family prepared and carry on the traditions of delicious food with others. Rossella Rago is doing the same thing by bringing the recipes of generations past to her modern audience. I hope you enjoy them!
Pastiera Di Grano
- Yields 3 9-inch piesFilling:
- 1 pound of ricotta
- 5 eggs
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 pound of raw wheat (3 cups of cooked wheat)
- 3 tablespoons of sugar
- 1/2 freshly squeezed orange juice and 1/2 grated orange peel
- 1/2 cup of half-n-half
- 1/4 cup melted butter
- 2 ounces of Limoncello or Strega Liquor
- 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon of salt
Flaky Pastry (Pasta Frolla):
- 2 cups of flour
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon of baking powder
- 1/2 stick of butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons of milk
- 1 tablespoon of vanilla
In a pastry blender or food processor, beat eggs and sugar together. Then, mix flour and baking powder and add to the egg mixture. Mix everything together. Then, add the melted butter, milk and vanilla. Mix it well. Remove the mixture from the pastry blender or food processor and turn onto a lightly floured board or counter. Knead the dough until smooth. Form into a ball and set it aside for a short while. Then, roll out the dough, approximately 1/4 of an inch, and line the bottom of the pie tin, cutting the excess dough around the edge of the tin. With the remaining dough, cut out long strips and set aside for decorating the top of the pie.
The night before preparing the wheat pie, soak the 1 pound of wheat in water. The following day, in a large sauce pan, cook the wheat in the same water with salt and grated orange peel, butter and orange juice until very soft. Add sugar and let it melt. Then, add ricotta, half-n-half, limoncella, nutmeg and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and fold them into the wheat mixture. Stir everything well and beat until smooth. Drop the mixture into the buttered crusted pie tin. Then, place strips of dough crisscross over the filling to the edge. Roll bottom overhand up and over strips and press firmly. Preheat the oven and bake the pie at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Let it cool. Before serving sprinkle the wheat pie with confectioner sugar.
- 4 cups of sifted flour
- 2 whole eggs
- pinch of salt & pepper
- 1 tablespoon of dry yeast, melted in warm water
Make a well with the sifted flour. Add all other ingredients. Mix until resembles a dough ball. If dough is too soft, add flour. If dough is too hard, add warm water. Knead dough until smooth. Set aside and keep warm in a kitchen towel for approximately 2 hours.
- 2 pounds fresh ricotta, drained for at least one day refrigerated
- 1/2 pound grated Ricotta Salata
- 2 sprigs parsley
- 4 whole eggs
- pinch of black pepper
- 1/2 Sopressata, sliced or cubed
Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Mixture should not be too soft. Set aside.
Roll out 1/2 of the dough with a rolling pin. If the dough sticks to the pin, coat it with flour. Lay the dough onto a 16″ pizza pan. Put the ricotta mixture onto the dough, leaving a 1″ lip clear of mixture. Line the top of the mixture with the slices of sopressata, press into mixture. With a pastry brush, put warm water around lip. Roll out the other 1/2 of dough. Put it on top and press ends together with the tips of a fork.
Beat one egg in a mixing bowl. Brush egg over the pie. Poke tiny holes in pie, before placing in 350 degree oven. Pie cooks in approximately 40 minutes or golden brown, both top and bottom.
Can’t get those wheat berries………..and I’m drooling over your recipe. It was a favorite of mine growing up. My mother would make it for me when ever she found those berries through the year.
Tell me Peter, is St. Bernadette’s Church near you? Made my first communion there… loved the gardens… but the darkness inside the church used to scare me. 😉 The stores across the street…. oh boy. The bakery was a favorite especially on Easter Morning 🙂
Thanks for all you bring to us… as you share and get each recipe available for us. I’m thrilled.
Thanks again…. Happy Easter. Louise
It’s hard to get that wheat unless you live near an Italian area with good Italian stores. You can always order it online. My parish was Our Lady of Guadalupe but I remember St. Bernadette’s well on 82nd Street and 13th Avenue. The bakery across the street is still there, next to the post office. I picked up some goodies from there just the other week. You must also remember Sirico’s and Romano’s.
I was too young to remember them. Did you church have flowers galore during the week before Easter. I can remember being taken to one church after another. I don’t remember what day it was though… couldn’t have been Good Friday…. maybe Holy Thursday? I remember being in awe of the complete artistic beauty of how the adorned the altars. Wish I was older before we moved.
You can get Summer and Winter Wheat at any local health food store that carries fresh grains and nuts…..
peter, there as many recipes for “pizza rustica” as there are snowflakes in a blizzard! mosr that i’ve seen & the one i use are not like nonna annunziata’s. the one i make contains strata of vegetables, cheeses & meats. it is a wonderful treat to serve to guests. when cut into wedges, all of the layers are exposed & look luscious! served w/ a big italian salad, & perhaps some saute’ed bell peppers, it’s a meal fit for royalty! mjw
Peter I am from Staten Island and my Mom and DAd (Though passed for a while) left us with wonderful recipes of their town Tricarico) my sister and I still keep the tradition of Pizza Rustica and Pizza di gran from my mother in law from Abbruzzi our Rustica is a bit different we use salami smoked mozzarella pepperoni sopresata and la scauratta plus hard boiled eggs and the ricotta filling with the eggs and fresh parsley and black pepper which are layered very carefully its s a chore but oh how everyone can’t wait for the Pizza to be done it is baked and Jimmies are put on the crust we make a beautiful braid and a rosette in the middle my Mom was a champ but we do it almost as good nothing beats Mamas but we are so fortunate we made it with her. We do this on Easter Saturday My job was the slicing of all the dry meats and rolling the dough. Also our dough has white wine in the mixture wish I could make it this year but I cannot get what I need in Pompano Beach Florida but I will make it with my sister when I go home to the Island it’s not Easter without La Pizza Rustica and Pizza di Gran. It was wonderful reading all your Brooklyn friends I am a native Islander but my brother married a girl from Bensonhurst in St Bernadettas church I was 11 years old but I use to go to Brookklyn often taking the ferry and the trolley to 13th Street and we went to St Finnabars and Regina Pacis those were the good old days I miss them since most everyone in the family has passed our kids will never understand the “good old days” Nice finding this site and thank You Jeni Acciavatt nee Battaglia