Grandmothers – or Nonnas in Italian – are often the glue in a family. They feed us, treat us and look after us. Sandhurst Fine Foods know all about this and are celebrating our beloved family matriarchs with a Festival of Nonna at 107 Projects in Redfern. It’s a series of Italian lunches, dinners and cooking workshops where you can learn techniques that have been perfected over multiple generations and enjoy great food and the company of some leading Italian-Australian chefs and their “nonnas.” It’s a fun and heart-warming occasion that is just like being embraced in a big, king hug by your grandma.
The chefs heading up this festival are Andrew Cibej (Vini, Berta & 121BC) fame as well as his mother Valerie (who is also the mother of Bluejuice bass player, Jamie Cibej.) The other chefs include: Luca Ciano of the two-Michelin stared restaurant Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia in Milan, Massimo Mele (who has recently partnered with the First Dates restaurant, Verandah in Sydney) and former MasterChef contestant, Sara Oteri. The workshops enable you to learn how to make Italian dishes like meatballs as well as making pastas and gnocchi from scratch.
Ciano has some wonderful tips for making the perfect gnocchi. Good high-starch potatoes that are similar sizes are the most important ingredient. The recipe itself is quite basic and includes flour, potato, eggs, parmesan cheese and seasoning like: salt, pepper and nutmeg. The potatoes are cooked with their skins on and then are subsequently removed. If they are overcooked they tend to absorb more water so this means that the quantities of the ingredients may need to change.
The potatoes are cooked until they are still a little firm. They are then pressed or mashed (but don’t use a stick blender to do this.) The other ingredients are then combined to form a dough. You roll out the dough and then cut the pasta into small squares. You then press each of these squares with a fork taking care not to apply too much pressure because you are still trying to make gnocchi that will retain its fluffiness after boiling. When you make these shapes in the pasta this ensures that the gnocchi lap up more of the sauce when you are eating it. It’s also a good idea to test-drive one of the gnocchi before you start cooking all of them because you may need to go back and add more flour to the dough if the gnocchi falls apart in the boiling water.
Andrew Cibej’s five course dinner was a showcase of beautiful Italian foods (including the Sandhurst product range) that were simple and well-seasoned. The ingredients also had excellent techniques applied to them and these helped create the perfect Italian spread that was fit for an emperor. Cibej’s family are originally from North-Eastern Italy, not far from the Veneto region and the menu reflected this. The antipasti included grissini (bread sticks) and some moreish San Daniele prosciutto. The smoked, wild river trout was delicious and the grilled asparagus and pecorino cheese was a great display of seasonal produce and the asparagus had a delightful char. The artichokes also had a nice chargrilled flavour and were topped with a divine salsa verde.
There were also some mixed-marinated olives with chilli. The darker olives are the ones that were the most ripe at the time of harvest.
The pieces of bread were also fluffy and salty and included some rosemary on top.
The primi or first courses (which in Italian food is traditionally a pasta dish) were a gnocchi with a pork ragù. This saw some sweet pork neck braised for over two hours and formed part of a rich and unctuous sauce that included peas and various herbs.
The rotolo (roll) of wild greens with crisp pancetta is a northern-Italian dish that is very similar to a roll of vegetable lasagne. It was a solid dish, really tasty and cheesy and could make a good vegetarian option if you leave out the pancetta topping.
A main/secondo or carne (meat) is an understated, melt-in-your-mouth roast veal that has been twice-cooked in chicken stock and white wine. This was served with contorni or sides of roasted kipfler potatoes, green beans and olive salsa and a salad of radicchio and egg and kipflers. The salad was pretty to look at and had a nice, savoury tartness.
For dessert or dolce there was a stracciatella (vanilla and chocolate) semifreddo with frutti del bosco (fruits of the forest.) This was like a luxurious Vienetta ice-cream topped with tart summer berries: strawberry, blueberry, cherry and raspberry.
Sandhurst Foods’ Festival of Nonna is a celebration of all things family. Their food business was founded in 1988 by Vince and Geraldine Lubrano and their hard work continues with the couple’s sons, Mimmo and Ray. This pop-up at the rooftop garden at 107 Projects in Redfern is a relaxed and superb way to celebrate and count your blessings in life, whether it be good food, great cooking or a family that plays and stays together while embracing all of the best things from the old country.
The Festival of Nonna, which is on until 27th November, has sold-out all of its current sessions. For more information and stay up to date click HERE.