I’m so glad that the rest of my family is getting in on the cookbook action. Below is an essay from one of my dad’s cousins, Joey Catone out in California, who is Dava [Barbaresi] Catone’s son. He reminisces about the women in the family getting together to make pasta. Lots and lots of pasta. When he talks about his Nonnie, he’s referring to Lydia [Belbusti] Barbaresi. My Nonni, Dora [Barbaresi] Donroe, would have been his aunt. Here’s his story:
The Barbaresi sisters were all pretty good cooks. They were also good at having families. Most settled in or near Hamden, Connecticut. We enjoyed large family gatherings, and celebrated and mourned together.
We always ate well as kids. Whatever else was going on in our family, the food never took a back seat. Some of the preparations were done on a large scale and it was the Making of the Pasta that I remember most fondly. It didn’t matter what they made — ravioli, passatelli, cappelletti — the anticipation was huge and so was the amount of food.
I had the incredible good fortune (or misfortune, as the case may be) to live right around the corner from the Donroes. I’m Freddie’s favorite cousin and don’t let him tell you otherwise. The Aunts often got together at our house to cook. This would be my mom (Dava), Dora, Jean, Anne, and Nonnie (Lydia, my maternal grandmother). When the sisters got together, usually the cousins did, too, but that’s another story.
There was a large board used in the preparation (pine, I think). Maybe 48” x 36” or so. It was worn smooth by hands rubbing flour all over it. There was also a large rolling pin (also pine) about 4 feet long. No handles, just a long solid pole about 2 inches in diameter. Nonnie would carefully toss flour on it before they would make a large volcano-shaped mound of flour in the middle. The size of the batch would be determined by the amount of eggs. My mother would say, “Today, we’re making 24 eggs!” The significance of this was lost on me, but I’d always nod approvingly. We always nodded approvingly when cooking was involved.
Nonnie would do most of the kneading. I remember watching her old hands add flour, smooth, roll with the pin, repeat, all the while talking to her daughters in Italian. Usually, it was some old story that my mother would later say they’ve all heard a million times. If the conversation was in English and one of the kids walked in, they would immediately switch to Italian. We always knew they were talking about us. When all the Aunts got together with Nonnie, it was the only time I heard Italian spoken.
Once the pasta was made, they would sit around and finish the batch. They would fill the ravioli or cappellettis, or out would come the hand-cranked grinder to make the passatellis. I can recall how every surface in the house would be covered by the pasta of the day. Beds, tables, card tables. Pasta everywhere. Later, it would be divided up, taken home, and we’d all eat like kings. Nope, food never took a backseat in our family.
To this day, when I hear Italian being spoken, I think back to those Saturdays when Nonnie and her daughters would get together and make pasta.
Photos of cappellettis (top) and passatellis (bottom) by Trish Barker in 2004.
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