Oh God, if anyone found out about it I'd die. There we sat, last Saturday, in my grandmother's backyard, cutting the bad bits off over-ripe tomatoes and squeezing them.
After doing ten crates of those, we boiled them, squashed them, then boiled them again. That in turn made spaghetti sauce. We bottled it in beer bottles and stored it in Nonna's cellar.
Like all tomato days we had spaghetti that night. Made by our own hands. A tradition that we'll never let go. A tradition that I will probably never let go of either, simply because like religion, culture is nailed into you so deep you can't escape it. No matter how far you run.
Looking for Alibrandi, Melina Marchetta
I thought I was Italian until I was twelve. I don't quite know how to explain this to you, except to say that, as a young impressionable girl, I saw some films, then looked around at my dark-haired, dark-eyed, tan-skinned, wine-and-food-loving family and made a cognitive leap. It wasn't until I had to complete a family tree for school that I discovered, amongst the convicts and Irish immigrants, a distinct lack of Italian surnames.
Not too long after this disappointing realisation, my family won a trip to Europe. In addition to time spent in London, the Cotswolds and Paris, we spent a week in a villa in Tuscany, with views across the vineyards, proximity to countless gelatarias and a kitchen with an enormous long wooden table. I felt strangely at home, in this new country where I didn't speak the language. I was hooked.
My love of all things Italian came to a head during secondary school, when I first read Looking for Alibrandi. I wanted desperately to be Josephine Alibrandi, and was so thrilled by the little things we had in common: Catholic girls' schools, a love of debating, a local gossip ring that never allowed us to get away with anything. The book itself is wonderful - I assume that most Australians my age have read it (or have at least seen the film), but if you've never heard of it, do seek it out. I'd quite like to hand copies of it out to all the teenagers I've worked with over the years; it brilliantly explores that unique pain/joy of stepping into adulthood and discovering who it is that you want to be.
The excerpt above is the opening and closing of a chapter set during Tomato Day. It's an incredibly memorable scene, and there's nothing else I could I imagine cooking in remembrance of this book.
I just wish my mum and granny had been here to help me make it.
Spaghetti al Pomodoro
1.5kg very ripe tomatoes - these need to be full of flavour and smell of summer
400g Tip 00 flour
4 large free range eggs - go for the best you can afford (I love Burford Browns)
Salt and pepper
Optional (to add to sauce): garlic, basil, shallots, parmesan, a pinch of sugar - use your own taste here; there's no wrong answer
Heavy bottomed pan
Pasta machine (optional)
1. Pull the tomatoes off their vines, cut out the core and make a cross with your knife in the top of each. Blanch in boiling water for one minute, then remove and place straight into iced water. The skins will now slip off easily.
2. Squash the tomatoes with your hands (take time over this bit - enjoy it) and place over a low-medium heat to bubble away for about an hour. Push the sauce through a sieve to remove the seeds and boil again for another 20 mins. You should have a thick, rich sauce. Pour into hot, sterilised bottles for storage.
3. To make the spaghetti, pour the flour into a mound on your bench. Make a well in the middle, crack the eggs in, and incorporate the flour into the eggs, swirling it around with a fork to mix it in. Once incorporated, knead the pasta dough for ten minutes or so, until very smooth and silky. Wrap in cling film and store in the fridge for at least half an hour.
4. If you have a pasta machine, this next step will be relatively easy. Cut your dough into four even pieces and, working with one at a time, dust in flour, roll out with a rolling pin and then run through the pasta machine settings until very thin (start with the widest and run through this a couple of times to get started). If you have a spaghetti attachment, slice it using that and hang to dry while you shape the rest. If you don't have a pasta machine, you'll need to roll it out by hand. Work with small pieces and keep rolling until the pasta is just slightly thicker than a playing card. Dust with lots of flour, roll up to make cutting easier, and slice into strips by hand.
5. Put on a big pot of generously salted water to boil. Put the tomato sauce in a pan (you'll need to use one big enough to hold your cooked pasta) over a medium heat. Once the water is boiling, drop the pasta in and cook until al dente (still with a bit of bite). With fresh pasta this will take minutes only, so keep an eye on it.
6. Drain the pasta and tip into the warmed pasta sauce. Add some salt and pepper. Stir through and serve with fresh basil and a dribble of very good olive oil.