Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Easy Italian seafood dishes for the family

Sadly a few days ago our Nonna passed away. She was the quintessential Italian Nonna, she always wore an apron, had a strong Italian accent and was often emotional. Our memories of her are surrounded by food. Thankfully she passed on her recipes to our dad who bought us up on lots of Italian inspired meals. This blog post is dedicated to our Nonna Maria...

Vanessa's dish: Classic and easy tomato sauce 
What you need 
Olive oil
Salt 2 teaspoons but if you are like me, you will want to add more.
2 400g tins of chopped tomatoes 
1 punnet or tube of tomato paste (you can use a tin of tomato puree instead)
2 onions
4 cloves of garlic
Secret ingredient - a teaspoon sugar (optional but it does sweeten the tomatoes)

Add enough oil to a pot to cover the bottom and saute the chopped onions, when soft add the garlic and soften. (be careful not to burn the garlic)
Add the tins of chopped tomatoes, tomato paste or puree and then add 1 tin of water. 
Add salt and sugar to taste 

All you need to do now is simmer the sauce uncovered until it starts to reduce. its a bit of a balancing act where you will need to add more water if it becomes too thick and more puree/paste if its not thick enough. The paste/puree adds extra depth to the tomato taste and help thicken along with the simmering. 
I usually simmer it for at least 30 minutes however 20-30 minutes still results in a good sauce. Often its even nicer the following day.

Steamed mussels
Add clean and de-bearded mussels to a pot with a lid with a couple of tablespoons of water or wine. Turn up the heat to high and wait a few minutes. Don't be tempted to open the lid to often as it lets the steam out and reduces the temperature. You need it to be HOT to open the shells. When I check the mussels I take the open ones out straight away and quickly put the lid back on and steam the rest. 
If after about 10 minutes some shells haven't opened - throw them away. 
I find the quicker you get the mussels out once they have opened, the better - they don't need to cook any longer. Set them aside until you are ready to plate up. 

Grilled tomatoes and lemons
Cut both the tomatoes and lemons on half. Place in an oven proof dish and drizzle with olive oil. (don't bother using oil on the lemons)
Grill until the tomatoes are soft and starting to caramelize.  
Set them aside until you are ready to plate up.

How to assemble 
1. Cook your spaghetti in lots of salted rapidly boiling water. It is said the water needs to be salty like the sea and  use a large pot. 
2. When al-dente (to the bite) - meaning taste it and it should be firm, not soft like tinned spaghetti!!! 
3. Drain and add the tomato sauce and mix through. 
Some people like to mix the sauce through it first, others like to add the sauce to individual bowls of spaghetti - your choice. 
4. Arrange the mussels, tomatoes and lemons in bowls and top with black pepper. 
Vanessa X 

Nonna Maria with her grandchildren Vanessa and Ingrid picking and eating oranges in Keri keri and Nonna with her first born son Rino (our dad) 

Ingrid's dish: Crispy fried calamari
Whenever I think of Nonna, she's either sitting in her rocking chair, a big mug of coffee in her hands, watching daytime soaps on TV or she is cooking in the kitchen. Nothing was ever too much trouble, if you wanted gnocchi made at ten o'clock at night, the potatoes were boiled up and mashed and a simple tomato sauce was created. The tablecloth came out and we sat up to buttery soft italian dumplings. As a kid, I remember feeling very cherished by my Nonna. 

I also remember fried calamari being thrown together at a moments notice, a few visitors popping over, the playing cards coming out and a raucous night filled with loud laughter and hands slamming down on the table when the last card was played.

When I decided to do fried calamari for this blog post, I could imagine Nonna trotting off down to the local fishmonger, whereas I went to the local asian supermarket - how things have changed! I picked my squid, and regrettably told the fishmonger not to prep it, as I'll do it myself! (um...crazy idea...)

An economical dish, this whole squid cost $4.50 and served four people accompanied with a wintery salad.

So I brought it home and googled - "How to prepare squid, which I have to say, totally grossed me out. I couldn't do it without gloves on, I was a total wimp! When I accidentally pressed the eye a little too hard and it squirted 'eye juice' all over my kitchen window, I could hear my Nonna laughing out loud in the background thinking what a ridiculous situation I had got myself in. So please, what ever you do, get it prepped at the asian supermarket, fish monger, or risk being turned off calamari for life!

However, it was all worth it in the end. It's a great dish to share, its rustic, economical and it really does transport you to al fresco dining on a cobblestone street on the Mediterranean seafront.

Make a simple tartare dip, by mixing 3 tablespoons of store - bought mayonnaise, a handful of capers, a squeeze of lemon juice and chopped gherkins.

Crispy fried calamari
Serves 4
What you need 
1 fresh squid (cut into strips)
1/2 to 1 cup of standard flour
vegetable oil, fill frypan up to 1cm
salt and pepper to taste
lemon wedges

How to prepare
First, get the fish monger to prep the squid! (i.e.: remove all the yukky bits!!!) Once home, pull the tentacles out and cut the tentacles away from its body. Slice open the body, lie it flat and lightly score the surface to tenderize it. Cut into even strips same width as tentacles. Pat dry with a paper towel.
In a plastic bag, mix flour and salt and pepper. Add squid strips to the bag and give it a shake until squid is evenly coated.
Heat oil in a frypan on high heat. When sizzling, add calamari in batches until crispy and golden. They should only take about 2 mins. Drain on a paper towel. Serve piled high with lemon wedges. 

ALSO TRY: Sprinkled with fresh Italian parsley or parmesan.
HAVE WITH: Thinly sliced boiled potatoes garnished with olive oil, salt and cracked pepper.

Ingrid X 


  1. mmmmm eye juice !! delicious, a lovely post about a lovely nonna x

  2. Thanks Paula - it was a nice way to remember her...

  3. nice work girls and great photos xxxxx It's all about food but don't get tooo fat or toooo thin!!! Marg
    Michaela will be waiting for the gnocchi!

  4. that is a classic story about the eye juice! Both dishes look gorgeous and this is a lovely post, I'm sure your Nonna is very proud. x

  5. Thanks for the comments guys, we do have lovely memories and yes food features in most of them.
    I cant stop laughing about Ingrid and the squid - I can just picture it! Isn't it funny how what you see isn't always the reality!!!

  6. I'm sure Nonna is in a much happier place...and she is smiling because the kitchen still smells wonderful. This is such a wonderful dish. I'd love to try very soon.

  7. YUM! Food looks scrummy and the pics are amazing - especially love the calamari one x

  8. Thanks for the comments Myfudo and Michelle, we loved doing this post (other than the squid juice in the eye LOL) and of course eating the food afterwards.
    Vanessa and Ingrid

  9. Sorry to hear about your is lovely that you can keep passing all those cooking skills on through generations, something very special about all those recipes handed down :)