Culinary secrets from a Roman grandma

A few weeks ago I had the honor of meeting Chinese-American chef and writer, Jen Lin-Liu, who was in Rome doing research for her upcoming book. In a nutshell, Jen was following the Silk Road to places like Iran, Turkey and Italy and learning about the local cuisine in each place. Her book will come out in 2012, so keep your eyes peeled!

Of course, one of the best ways to learn about the local food is get right into a local family’s kitchen – which is exactly what she did. One evening, I accompanied Jen to help translate while she watched a Roman grandmother prepare a typical meal for her family.

Watching a woman single-handedly throw together a delicious meal is nothing new to me, but it never ceases to amaze me either. With a two-year-old grandson underfoot, she bustled around the kitchen, popping out to the garden for fresh herbs and multi-tasking with admirable ease. While Jen and I stole tastes of her ingredients and raved about every flavor that crossed our taste buds, the nonna would smiled politely and continue to prepare the feast that she claimed was no major task. Of course, this is coming from a woman who has cooked two meals a day, seven days a week, for the past 40 years.

The menu for the evening consisted of pasta carbonara, saltimbocca and a stuffed, savory pastry. It was the latter dish that got my mouth watering, and I took mental notes while she made it so I could repeat it at home:


-Pre-packaged*, puff pastry sheet (round) – known in Italian as “pasta sfoglia”

Veggies...cooked and ready

-A small head of escarole (a green endive) cleaned, dried and chopped

-Pitted olives, whatever kind you like

-Scamorza cheese (NOT the smoked kind)

-Pine nuts

-One egg yolk

-Olive oil




All ingredients...ready to fold


Preheat oven at 200°C (about 390°F). Start by sautéing the escarole with the oil, peperoncino, garlic and a pinch of salt. Throw these ingredients in a pan for about 10 minutes, covered, on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally (see my veggie post for more details). Once that’s been cooked, put aside. Lay out the pastry on cookie sheet with parchment paper. Leaving about an inch or so of space around the edges, spread on the cooked escarole and top with slices of the scamorza, a small handful of olives, and sprinkle on the pine nuts. To close, fold over two sides (like how you’d fold a letter) and pinch/fold the ends closed. Brush the top with egg yolk, then put in the oven for 20 minutes, or until beginning to brown and pastry has puffed. To serve, slice in individual pieces and enjoy!

*Although many Italians pride themselves in making everything from scratch, this women bashfully admitted that when it comes to puff pastry sheets, they are just plain easier to buy than make.

Let cool and enjoy!

Folded and oven-ready

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3 Responses to Culinary secrets from a Roman grandma

  1. Beverly Brennan says:

    Looks delicious!

  2. Lidia Pretty says:

    Mia cara Kelsea,
    My name is Lidia and my husband Albey works with Angel at the salon in Newton, MA. I also have a recipe page/blog on facebook. I am so jealous that you are able to experience these wonderful moments in Italy. My family hails from Benevento, a small town in Campania where the Liquore Strega is manufactured. I have visited Italia many times and am looking forward to going back and taking a cooking class in Toscana. Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful stories with us.
    A proposito, ho visto tanti fotografie del tuo matrimonio…che bella!!! Tanti sinceri auguri.
    Allora, keep those lovely blogs coming.
    you new friend,
    p.s. you can reach me at OR Lidia Pretty on FB. Would love to hear from you.

  3. Hi Mia Cara,

    I am very glad you share with us your Roman grandma’s culinary secret. I love Roman food, specially the genuine Roman cuisines like Caciofiallagiudia and Filetti di Baccala. Anyway, thank you so much for this recipe, I would love to include this in my cook book.


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