When in the vineyard picking grapes, you tend to talk. A lot. The chatter keeps the day moving along. The chatter can be about anything and nothing but it always meanders to food at some point. Favourite foods came up. What do you love to eat? My answer would be somewhat generic and would probably reference some region of the world. Italian? Indian? Nachos? You ask Italians that and they’re not going to answer with Indian or Nachos. It’s going to be Italian. But they’re not going to say Italian. That doesn’t exist to them as we know it. Their food is more hyper-geographic. Italian food is broken down to regions and from there, it’s broken down to how mom used to make it. Food prepared from where they are is how it is done. Don’t argue about it. Their favourite food isn’t going to be something from outside the home they grew up in. The Italian contingent all chimed in on what they loved to eat: cappelletti. The North American contingent asks (including me), What are cappelletti? It’s a very special stuffed pasta. Can we try them? It’s only made during the holidays. We turn to Maria, the elderly Nonna who we rightfully assume has been taught to make all sorts of regional specialties since she was little: Do you make cappelletti? Yes. Can you make them for us? No. We keep asking and she keeps saying No. But she says No with a smile.
The next day, Nonno Enzo shows up to the grape harvest without Maria. Where’s Maria? She’s at home making cappelletti. Our pushy pleas worked! The next morning at breakfast, Anna mentions that Maria dropped off two big bags of cappelletti. There are so many cappelletti, says Anna. We weren’t sure if Maria made all of them herself. It would be kind of impossible. She probably (or at least should have) enlisted help. When I saw them, I couldn’t believe how small and intricate and perfectly formed they all were. These were the work of an expert…with extremely tiny hands. I made a mental note to take a look at Maria’s hands the next day.
What’s in them? There’s no recipe, just a list of typically used ingredients as guideposts. And every family has their own specific way of making them. Anna game me a quick rundown of the stuffing – veal, pork, mortadella, prosciutto, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and nutmeg. I think an egg is used to bind everything together. Cappelletti are everything that is good about Emilia Romagna – all wrapped up like a present in homemade fresh pasta.
You can serve them two ways – with cream (con panna) and in chicken broth (in brodo). As if we weren’t being spoiled enough with the made-only-during-the-holidays cappelletti, there’s the story of the chicken broth. Chicken broth does not come out of a can or a box or for god’s sake, it’s not going to be reconstituted from a powder. Not when you’re eating something as special as perfectly formed, expertly made by crazy nimble, tiny hands, as these cappelletti. To make a proper, rich chicken broth you need a proper old bird. Anna didn’t have one. She called her mom (she lives on the property in another house) to see if maybe she had one in the freezer? Her mom said no. But that wasn’t the end of it. Now I kill the rooster, Anna’s mom continues. I have two roosters and they always fight. This is a good reason to kill one. The rooster was killed, cleaned up and brought over to Anna’s and made into a delicious, rich chicken broth. Some of the cappelletti were cooked in the chicken broth and some of the cappelletti were cooked in boiling water and then tossed in a pan with heavy cream and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Which one was my favourite? I mean, it was really close. But if I had to choose, I’d have to say ‘in brodo.’ Those little morsels in soup – it was so homey, savoury and satisfying. The North Americans were so excited to be able to try homemade cappelletti even though it wasn’t Christmas. The Italians loved having them, too, of course. But it was a bit weird for some of them since you only eat these at the holidays. That’s just the way it’s done.
HUGE thanks out to Maria for the special, special treat.