My mother was born into a poor but loving family in Northern Italy’s Emilia Romagna region, in a small hamlet not far from the enchanting medieval village of Castell’Arquato. Piacenza is the largest nearby city and these anolini are a Piacentine specialty. Called anvein in the local dialect, they’re typically served in a hot broth for Christmas dinner or other festive occasions. The filling varies from town to town – some places add meat, other places just parmesan cheese, eggs and bread crumbs. In Castell’Arquato, it’s always the latter.
My mother grew up in a humble-looking abode with three brothers, three sisters and her mother and father. I’m sure my grandmother made these for her children many times, but my mother never made them for us when we were growing up, since by then she had adapted the Southern Italian cooking traditions of her in-laws. Decades later, when I first visited my mother’s brothers and sisters, the little hovel was still standing, but abandoned. Across the alley, Uncle Antonio (my mother’s brother), and his wife Aunt Carla were living in the ground floor of a beautiful modern home built by Franco, the husband of my cousin Lucia.
Over the years, I had poked my head inside the door of the old home, but it was so piled with old furniture, household implements and other cast-offs, that you could barely get past the front door. Until last year that is. That’s when my cousin Lucia decided to organize all the detritus in the old family homestead, adding a few items she’d found at antique fairs and shows.
When I saw the house after she had reorganized it, it was like being in a folk art museum. We stepped into the vestibule and saw farm tools and implements lining the walls:
In the main room, Lucia had set up a table as though dinner were ready to be served:
Pots hung on the walls and clocks rested on the fireplace mantle while time stood still. Where some might have seen little more than an organized hovel, I saw a family’s history. My family’s history. Emotions overwhelmed me and tears began to flow as I visualized my mother and her siblings in this home, eating dinner, sitting around the fireplace and helping out with the chores.
I saw my grandfather coming home from working the fields, my grandmother repairing her children’s clothes and preparing dinner. I visualized my uncles adding wood to the fire, and my aunts dropping pieces of hot coals inside the old-fashioned iron before ironing the clothes. I imagined the warm reception my grandparents gave when they first met their new Italian-American son-in-law, an WWII soldier who had just married their daughter Maria.
Out of her own sense of family pride and love, my cousin Lucia had spent her spare time creating something that touched me deeply and brought my own personal history to life.
On top of the old sewing machine, Lucia had placed a few implements, including the round anolini cutter that you see on the left of the wooden cutting board. When my Aunt Carla (Lucia’s mother) was still alive, I always requested that she make anolini in brodo, a dish she made better than anyone. It was and still is, one of my favorite dishes from the region.
I left Italy last year with a lot more memories and also with that anolini cutter that my cousin gave me. I’m on my way back to Italy again to spend a few days with relatives, a week skiing in the Alps, and a little time roaming around Milan, Verona and Padua. But before leaving, I wanted to make these anolini using the cutter that once belonged to my grandmother. I never met her, but I already feel a certain kinship for her since we shared the same first name. My name Linda is a shortened version of her Ermelinda. Now I will share her anolini with you. I’m sure they’re not as good as hers, but as I cut out each of the little pasta pillows, I remind myself of that loving woman I never knew who raised seven children in this beautiful home.
Here’s what my anolini cutter looks like close-up. Can you just imagine the stories it could tell if it could talk, and the loving hands that worked with this tool over the years – heck, over the last century – creating those little marks and making what was probably thousands of anolini?
If you’re still with me, I’ve got a little giveaway for you and a contribution to make as well. I can’t give you a 100-year old anolini cutter like mine, but I can offer you a new one that I’ll buy when I’m in Italy. From the ones I’ve seen, they’re much easier to use. Also, as a way to honor the memory of my mother Maria and grandmother Ermelinda, I also want to make a contribution in the name of Ciao Chow Linda’s readers to help the people of Haiti suffering from the devastating earthquake. I already donated to the American Red Cross immediately after the earthquake, so this time, for every comment that’s left on my blog I’ll donate 50 cents to Partners in Health, an organization that’s been working on the ground in Haiti for 20 years, and that brings medical care to poor communities. Most of PIH’s staff are local nationals in the communities it serves. To make your own donation, click here for a list of reputable organizations.
I’ll choose the winner of the anolini cutter at random when I get back. Just leave a comment following the post, along with a with a way for me to contact you. You don’t have to have a blog to participate, but if you don’t, leave your comment and a way for me to reach you in the comment section of the post. If you do have a blog, I’m sorry I won’t be reading your posts while I’m gone, but in a few weeks after I get back I plan to catch up with all your recipes and give you a few more from my travels.
Here are some photos of making the anolini:
This is what the filling should look like:
Dab a little bit of the filling on the dough and moisten around the filling with a little water to help the dough stick together when you fold it over:
Fold the dough over on itself and press lightly on the area between the filling.
Press firmly with the anolini cutter:
And here they are:
Anolini di Castell’Aquato
The recipes are in grams, but I have also given amounts in cups. If you have a digital scale, it really works best to follow the recipes in grams, since one cup can be different depending on how you pack the ingredients into the cup. If you don’t have a digital scale however, do not pack ingredients such as bread crumbs or cheese tightly – just loosely. I made half the filling and used 300 grams of flour (about 2 cups) and 3 eggs for the dough. You may need to add more.
for the pasta:
300 gr. flour (about 2 cups)
I make pasta using the food processor. If you add too much flour right away, it’s hard to get it to the right consistency. Start with 300 grams of flour and add the three eggs. Whir it until it starts to form a ball and releases from the sides of the bowl. A lot of getting the right consistency depends on the size of the eggs and on the humidity of the day. I did not need to add any water and I didn’t add any further flour, just the 300 grams plus some extra sprinkled on the board. After you take the dough from the food processor, knead a little on the board, and keep it covered for about 1/2 hour, to rest the glutens.
for the filling:
This made enough to fill about 120 anolini. I had a little dough leftover, but rolled it out and made a couple of lasagna sheets to put in the freezer for the future. Top quality ingredients are crucial here. Do not use packaged bread crumbs or already grated cheese.
50 grams –about 1 cup of bread crumbs (I used part of a loaf of day-old dense Italian bread, crusts trimmed and whirred in food processor)
150 grams – about 1 1/2 cups of aged grana padano cheese (I used an aged parmigiano reggiano), grated
a few grindings of fresh nutmeg
about 1/4 cup chicken broth
Beat the eggs into a bowl and add the bread crumbs, cheese, and nutmeg and mix well.
Roll out the pasta dough, either by hand or using a pasta roller, fill with a small amount of filling. Moisten the dough and fold over part of the dough, covering the filling. Cut with the anolini cutter and place on a towel sprinkled with flour.
Serve with homemade broth, made either with chicken, beef or a combination.