Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken by Laura Schenone


With Thanksgiving next week, the holiday wish-list may be starting. If you are a lover of food, a lover of old recipes, a lover of the connections food makes with family and friends, The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken: a Search for Food and Family by Laura Schenone is a treasure waiting for you. Laura Schenone embarks on a journey to discover the authentic recipe of her great-grandmother's ravioli recipe. For generations, the family has added cream cheese. Cream cheese? Is it possible? Is that Italian? What was it in the old country?


Schenone writes,
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"A little square of ravioli is like a secret. You look at the outside and see the neatly crimped dough, puffed up in the center with a lovely pillow of something mysterious inside. It is an envelope with a message. Before you bite into it, all is unknown. And much still is possible."
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That lyrical sentence of longing is akin to opening the pages of The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken. The beauty of the book is that long after the the ravioli is consumed and the book is read, the feast stays with you. And as you will doubtless have another meal of ravioli, you will also reread this book.
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Schenone's journey to discover the truth of her family's recipe brings her to family members who have been distanced from her. She travels to Italy more than once and learns about making ravioli in the way Italians have made it for hundreds of year. (Only to be disconcerted when she finds that many Italians admire and prefer using a pasta machine rather than rolling out the dough on a board with a rolling pin!) In Italy, she is warmly welcomed into the homes and restaurants of the guardians of old Italian tradition. Strangers who generously pass their knowledge to her.
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The twists and turns of Schenone's quest for her family's definitive recipe is a search for self as well as a search for new understanding of her family. She is sometimes Don Quixote tilting at windmills - looking for her inner being - trying to figure out the contentious nature of her own family as she nourishes the family she created. Schenone quietly muses why she is possessed to find the source of a ravioli recipe when the life she has made for herself is its own source of joy.
`
Schenone's pilgrimage takes her to mountains of chestnut trees that provided nourishment for hundreds of years, through meals of gnocchi and pesto. And as she tasted and learned, she questioned. Was this what her great grandparents ate? Was this the vista they saw? In her mind, she time-travelled to her grandparents time. Searching for the connections to her. To her core. To her sensibilities. But of course, sensibilities have greatly changed since her great-grandparents left Italy. A point she brings up often in the book. There is the nitty-gritty realism of life today speckled with the lure of tradition, of the fairy dust from the past.
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Schenone's meeting with Giovanni Rebora who is well known for his knowledge and work in Italian food history brings insight and passion.
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"We modern people make so much time to do so many stupid things," booms Rebora. "People don't have time to read a book. They don't have time to cook. I don't understand how they don't have thirty minutes a day to care about what they eat." And Rebora later surprises with,
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"We don't worry so much about saving traditions. Traditions change all the time. We want to save the culture of food here."


You will read the book actively. With smiles, with nods, a few shakes of the head and in my case with some touches of envy. Why did I not embark on such a journey? And the answer is - of course, I have. With my blog, with my research, with my mother, with my cooking. Listening to the stories of my mother sitting in my grandmother's lap as Grandma Gresio shaped the dough.
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"Can you feel when it is right - do you feel that?" asked Grandma Gresio.
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Sadly my mother told me, "I never could."
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It was a skill that I would not learn from my family. I took for granted the meals served by my aunts and grandmother. I thought they would always be there. You can understand why I sometimes relentless pester my mother. Whose clarity of recollection is always a pleasure.



My parents married at 19. For the first few months they lived in the basement of my grandmother's home. My father worked full time and was in college - a feat that had never been done in his own family. He came home tired one day with a can of Chef-boy-ar-dee ravioli. My grandmother walked into the kitchen, grew wide-eyed, grew taller and threw out the makeshift food.
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"I will show you real ravioli," exclaimed this tiny but quite formidable woman.
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She gathered flour and eggs, went down to her board and quickly made some cheese ravioli (of course the ingredients were always at hand), boiled it up and served it with a little butter and cheese.
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My father never ate ravioli from a can again.


The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken ends with almost 30 pages of ravioli recipes which do not disappoint.
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For a sneak peak of what this book has to offer, watch Ms. Schenone make ravioli here. Do seek out the book. It nourishes both body and soul. It's a trip many of us are taking in our kitchens every day.

38 comments:

Chow and Chatter said...

lovely post as ever love the story of your grandma :0

Proud Italian Cook said...

Did you say cream cheese? I have to get that book after your great review, I did brouse through it one day at a bookstore.
We will be making our annual ravioli's this saturday, typically a meat version and and a cheese version, ricotta cheese.

Fresh Local and Best said...

This does sound like fulfilling book. I always enjoy stories where the next generation is reminded of the importance of taking the time to cook a proper meal. It's one of the great aspects of food, it connects people.

Angie's Recipes said...

Claudia, I love your writing...sincere, humble, warm and loving. Just like Italian cuisine, free from the hocus-pocus...and just delicious!

Sophie said...

What a lovely read this book must have been, dear Claudia!! The home made ravioli sounds so good & tasty too!

You are so lucky with mothers, grand mothers & aunts who where such amazing & well skilled cooks!

Don't forget that I tagged you on my blog 10 culinary questions! Come over & check them out, my friend!

Sophie said...

You know that we also have a Hoboken here in Belgium. It is near Antwerp.

Mister Meatball said...

Ha! Read this book a couple years ago. It had a different cover, though.

Maybe I'll get working on "The Lost Trippa of Moonachie." Whaddayathink?

janet said...

Reading this post was a great way to start my day, I love your writing Claudia! And I so enjoy the old photos of your family as well.

A SPICY PERSPECTIVE said...

Claudia~ It sounds like a wonderful book. I'll slip a hint to my hubby!

Jeannie said...

What a wonderful post! I enjoyed reading it.

Claudia said...

Marie - I am on my 4th read of the book. I always find something new.

Mister Meatball - just imagine the journey you will take in search of tripe. Quite a different one than searching for ravioli.

Sophie - thanks for the tag - I will answer when I next post a recipe!

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

I love the photographs of your parents and grandmother, Claudia!

I read this book and reviewed it when it was first published, and delighted in every word of it!

I sometimes feel like Laura did, as I am constantly seeking out authentic traditional Calabrian recipes that my mother-in-law made. Sadly, she passed away early in my marriage and since she could not read or write, she left no recipes behind. It seems that every little town in Reggio Calabria has it's own distinct ways of making things and trying to find the exact ways my husband's favorite childhood food were made has been difficult, but I've managed to replicate some.

It's similar in situation to the mascarapone cheese that Laura's family used in Liguria that translated into cream cheese here -- sometimes you just have to "make do"! :)

Anna's Table said...

Claudia,I really identified with your post. It is with age that I've learned the importance of documenting my family's authentic Italian recipes. My blog has given me the opportunity to collaborate with my mom in preserving recipes handed down to her, and sharing family stories as she was growing up in Italy.

Mary said...

You have convinced me to get my hands on the book. If ever I write a book I want you to be my reviewer. You did a wonderful job. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

Bridgett said...

I love books such as this and you did a wonderful review convincing me to check it out.

Magic of Spice said...

Beautiful post and review...the book sounds quite wonderful :)

Wanda..... said...

Wonderfu review Claudia. I have my mother-in-law's old recipe books and handwritten ones, but I or her daughters can't recreate her walnut applesauce cake, which was dark, dense, moist and...perfect!

Beth said...

What a lovely post. I love the way you write about your parents. Your grandmother must have been horrified at the Chef Boy-Ar-Dee!

Reeni said...

The book sounds like a wonderful read! But even more so because of the way you write of it. Within a few lines or so I immediately thought of your own search to know your Grandma better. The Chef Boyardee story is so cute!

UrMomCooks said...

Amen. (Now we must all get back to cooking and blogging LIKE WE MEAN IT!) Poignant words. Thanx for sharing.

5 Star Foodie said...

There's nothing better than making ravioli from scratch! How fascinating is this book to explore such precious family recipes!

Kim said...

I say this all the time, but I always love coming here Claudia! This sounds like a wonderful book, the kind you could get lost in, and it will be on my wishlist this season. A wonderful story plus 30 ravioli recipes- does it get better than that?

Thanks for sharing your pictures and stories. I'm glad to hear that your grandmother banned chef boyardee.

tasteofbeirut said...

I believe I read that book; although now after your review I feel like revisiting it!
I am 100% in agreement here: only homemade raviolis or nothing!

Monet said...

So now I have a book I want to read...and a serious craving for homemade ravioli! Thank you so much for introducing me to this book and to the concept of rediscovering family recipes and traditions. Again, thank you for sharing, dear. I hope you have a wonderful Friday!

girlichef said...

What a wonderful post...and the book does sound like one I'd like! I love the line about saving the culture of food. Great review :D

Dimah said...

What a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing!

Kristen said...

I am definitely going to have to look for that book. I have the Frankies Spuntino sitting on my table to be read....trying to channel my inner Italian! I love the story of the chef boyardee.

Mari said...

I so much agree with "We modern people make so much time to do so many stupid things," ....They don't have time to cook. .....
"We don't worry so much about saving traditions. Traditions change all the time. We want to save the culture of food here."

I believe saving our tradition is very important, food is part of every culture and every culture has it unique flavors, today's generation is not conserving that, many do not even know how to prepare national dishes. Thanks for such wonderful post.

Velva said...

I love books like this one-discovering yourself through a family food journey.

Claudia, Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

Erica said...

Love your story and pictures!!!Happy Thanksgiving!

Laurie said...

Claudia, what a beautiful post and review.. I look forward to getting lost in the pages of her quest. Thanks got sharing!

zerrin said...

This book definitely took my attention. I love to save traditions and I can't understand how modern people eat those all plastic like frozen food or fast food. Nothing is better than homemade foods. Never had ravioli before, but sounds similar to our manti(same shape filled with minced beef). I must check if I can find this book here. Thanks for this review!

Pegasuslegend said...

As always the similarity of life and family is in your heart like mine, this is touching as the pictures of mom and dad at 19 brings a tear of missing mine to my eyes as well. What a beautiful post of love and amazing job they did with you, as your soul is strong and blessed by the two that created you, wonderful as always thanks for sharing this wonderful love of family...

Barbara GF said...

This sounds like a great book, Claudia. What a wonderful image of the ravioli being like an envelope that holds a dreamy, mysterious center. And, like you, I took those big meals and family gatherings for granted when I was younger. (Hey, doesn't everybody eat like this?) Truly, the memories today taste sweeter than ever and it is a joy to relive them on your blog. Happy Thanksgiving, Claudia, to you and yours!

SashaInTheKitchen said...

Nice post and sounds like a terrific book

Foodessa said...

Claudia...what a connection I felt with the review of this book. Even if you had not put one image...every moment was so poetically described by you that this other ravioli seeking traditionalist came alive to me as if she'd be a really good friend.
You did an incredible post on this book.
I'm glad I make sure to never miss what's brewing from your interest bag ;o)

Have a great day,
Claudia

Dinetonite said...

That looks deelishuss! Will definitely be serving this at my next dinner party.

Ciao Chow Linda said...

I do so love that book and the author is really nice in person too. It was so strange when i read the cream cheese part, but I have an Italian-American friend whose family is from Liguria and guess what - they use cream cheese in their ravioli too. Loved your family photos.