Emily Richards’ latest cookbook, Per La Famiglia, Memories and Recipes of Southern Italian Home Cooking, evokes memories of family gatherings in the kitchen. This is no accident. The former Canadian Living Test Kitchen staffer and celebrity TV cook found that some of those family recipes were becoming lost as people moved further apart.
She passes on the tips and tricks that she learned as a child hanging out in the kitchen of her Southern Italian family. The texture of bread or pasta is as important to the recipe as the words on a page. Sharing these details with us is her effort to keep her own family’s traditions alive so we can share them with our families.
I remember Emily Richards from the early days of Food TV but I didn’t know she had a local connection. She received her Bachelor of Science, Home Economics specializing in Food and Nutrition from Western University. Her education, combined with more than fifteen years in the food industry, has made her an icon of Canadian cooking.
Richards’ choice of recipes reflects her family’s origins, but while she embraces tradition, she isn’t bound by it. Some recipes are straight up classics while others have a unique twist, like couscous in place of spaghetti.
I know that there is more to Italian food than pizza, cheese and pasta with red sauce but those are the dishes I personally love and this book is full of them. Hearty, tasty food that makes me want to serve big Sunday dinners for weeks to come.
Per La Famiglia is organized into the usual chapters for mains and sides but also has sections for kitchen staples, celebration menus and two chapters for sweets. You’ve got to love any culture that loves cookies that much.
I usually try to find two very different recipes to highlight for you but I think that homemade pasta elevates a dish so much that it’s worth the extra effort once in a while. I’ll admit that mine never looks as good as the Pasta Dough recipe in this picture but the taste and texture is amazing. If you don’t have the time or inclination to make the pasta or the sauce yourself, don’t let that stop you from trying the Spinach Ricotta Cannelloni. Buy good quality ingredients and in just a few minutes you can put together this dish that will make you look like a star in the kitchen.
I picked up Per La Famiglia with the intention of giving it a quick read and writing my review. After two hours dreaming about what I would cook first, I knew this wasn’t going to happen. I sometimes complain that there are not enough photos in cookbooks. In this case it may have been a blessing in disguise — it’s going to take me a while to work through all the fantastic recipes in this book. But I think it going to be time very well spent.
Per La Famiglia: Memories and Recipes of Southern Italian Home Cooking;
Emily Richards, PHEc © 2015 is published by Whitecap. All rights reserved.
Pasta Dough / Impasto per la Pasta
If you have a pasta machine you can make all different shapes and sizes of pasta. I remember helping my Nonna and mom when pasta was being made. We would hang sheets of pasta off of broom handles balanced on the backs of chairs to dry. It was so much fun that I would dance around the pasta sheets as if I was cheering the pasta to dry. Nothing beats a plate of homemade “pastashutta,” which is slang for pasta but also an endearing term that my dad has always used when talking to little kids, including my own children! This dough makes perfect all-purpose pasta for any occasion.
Makes pasta for 4 to 6 servings
1½ cups (375 mL) all-purpose flour (approx.)
1½ tsp (7 mL) salt
1 tsp (5 mL) extra virgin olive oil
Mound flour on counter or in a large bowl. Make a well in centre of the flour. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, salt and oil. Pour into well and begin mixing with fork, incorporating small amounts of flour at a time until a soft dough forms. Turn out onto a floured surface.
Knead dough for about 5 minutes, adding more flour if necessary, until a firm, smooth dough forms. Cover with a tea towel and let rest for about 15 minutes.
Cut dough into 4 equal pieces. Using a pasta machine, roll 1 piece at a time through the thickest, or first, setting two times. Continue through settings until a smooth, thin pasta piece is formed. Lay flat on a floured surface and let dry for about 15–30 minutes. Continue with remaining dough.
For long pasta: Place dough at top of pasta cutter and roll through. Wrap into little nests and let dry completely for long storage or cook immediately.
Spinach Ricotta Cannelloni / Cannelloni di Ricotta e Spinaci
My mom showed me how to make this and we decided that it would be easy to substitute store-bought fresh lasagne sheets in a pinch. These cannelloni are a family favourite for any night of the week. They freeze well and make an easy Sunday dinner. Make sure there’s bread on the table to sop up any leftover sauce!
Makes 8 servings.
1 batch Homemade Pasta Dough (above)
½ cup (125 mL) grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup (60 mL) chopped Italian parsley
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tub (11 oz / 330 g) baby spinach cooked, drained and chopped*
1 tub (475 g) ricotta cheese**
1 cup (250 mL) shredded mozzarella cheese
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
4 cups (1 L) Homemade Tomato Sauce (below) or bottled pasta sauce
* You can use 16 cups (4 L) of lightly packed spinach for the tub.
** You will need 1½ cups (375 mL) of ricotta cheese.
Cut dough into 4 equal pieces. Using pasta machine, roll 1 piece at a time through first setting twice. Continue through settings until smooth, thin pasta piece is formed. Lay flat on floured surface; let dry for about 15–30 minutes.
Continue with remaining dough. Cut each strip of dough into 6-inch (15 cm) rectangles to make a total of 16 cannelloni. In large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta sheets in batches, for about 2 minutes. Lift out of the water and lay flat on a damp tea towel.
Meanwhile, reserve 2 Tbsp (30 mL) each of the Parmesan and parsley and set aside.
In large bowl, stir together eggs, spinach, ricotta, mozzarella, remaining Parmesan and parsley, salt and pepper. Place about 3 Tbsp (45 mL) in centre of each pasta piece. Roll up to form a cylinder.
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
Pour 1 cup (250 mL) of the pasta sauce in the bottom of a 13 × 9-inch (3 L) baking dish to cover bottom. Place cannelloni snugly in the pan. Pour remaining sauce over top. Sprinkle with reserved Parmesan cheese and parsley. Cover and bake for about 45 minutes or until bubbly and hot.
Homemade Tomato Sauce / Sugo Fatto in Casa
This is as close to my mom’s and Nonna’s sauce as I could get. Using home-made canned tomatoes makes a difference but many people don’t get a chance to can their own tomatoes. I wanted to be able to offer you a recipe for a tomato sauce using store-bought canned tomatoes that was easy to make and still tasted great. This sauce is perfect for pasta or any other dish that uses tomato sauce, like pizza. It’s simple and tasty and also freezes beautifully.
Makes 5 cups (1.25L) sauce.
2 cans (28 oz / 796 mL) plum tomatoes*
6 sprigs fresh Italian parsley
2 sprigs fresh basil
1 small onion, halved
2 cloves garlic, halved
3 Tbsp (45 mL) extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp (15 mL) dried oregano leaves
2 tsp (10 mL) salt
¼ tsp (1 mL) hot pepper flakes
* You can use 6 cups (1.5 L) of homemade tomatoes if you can your own. You can also use 2 jars (700 mL) of tomato passata if you don’t want to puree them yourself.
In a food mill or blender, puree tomatoes until smooth and pour into large saucepan.
Add parsley, basil, onion, garlic, oil, oregano, salt and hot pepper flakes. Bring to a boil.
Cover and reduce heat to medium-low; cook for about 2 hours or until reduced slightly and thickened.
Note: You can serve up the very soft onion, garlic and herbs on crusty bread. I have family members that enjoy them this way.