No one knows more about how to live la dolce vita than the people of Italy.
Paola Scatozza, a native of the Abruzzo region of Italy who also lived in Belgium before coming to Canada with her husband Fernando, has been bringing a taste of Italy – and “the sweet life” – to her Smiths Falls neighbours for the last five years by teaching them to cook some old country favourites.
Scatozza began learning how to make pasta and traditional Italian recipes from her mother, and other family members, at an early age. “Like any big Italian family, we used to help in the kitchen,” she recalls. “Friday was pasta day.”
According to Scatozza, becoming a good cook means putting “your heart and soul” into the process. “First of all, you have to have the love of cooking,” she says. “You have to experiment with different ingredients.”
Authentic Italian recipes rely on just a few good quality ingredients. Scatozza’s marinara sauce is made using just tomatoes, onions, garlic, and possibly some fresh basil. “In Italy, less is more,” she explained. Another key to success is using whatever fresh ingredients are in season at the moment.
According to Scatozza, Italian food is similar throughout the country, but in each region people adapt the basic cuisine by using whatever fresh ingredients are grown locally. In the north, for example, people eat polenta, a dish made with corn flour.
“They all think they have the best recipes,” says Scatozza. “They’re all proud of their roots, the region where they came from.”
Scatozza’s home town of Castelmauro is about an hour south of the Adriatic port of Pescara, in the Abruzzi e Molise region, located on the opposite side of the Apennine Mountain range from Rome.
“My recipes are always very easy, very rustic and family-style,” explains Scatozza. “I’m staying with authentic rustic Italian cooking, because that’s what I know.”
Scatozza and her husband explained that this style of cooking is thought of as “la cuccina povera” – “cooking for the poor.” In practice this means making use of a few fresh and simple ingredients.
The Scatozzas’ kitchen is equipped with a pasta maker, used to produce home-made fettuccini, ravioli, tortellini, and gnocchi. Other favourite recipes include osso bucco and chicken cacciatore.
An employee at Smiths Falls’ Zellers store until it closed about five years ago, Scatozza found herself with more time for cooking and experimenting after the closure.
When the duo first came to Smiths Falls in 1980, Scatozza recalled that it was difficult to find such basic Italian staples as mozzarella cheese. Today selections in the local stores are more varied, and it’s possible to buy more exotic items such as fennel, rapini, and Belgian endive.
“We always entertain people, and people like our food,” said Scatozza. She first began teaching guests to cook when a friend asked to be shown how to make fresh pasta.
Today Scatozza hosts groups of six to eight people on Friday or Saturday evenings. The guests can enjoy a four course meal, learn how the food is prepared, and go home with a copy of the recipes.
“What I like to show people is a nice Italian atmosphere,” said Scatozza, adding that in Italy people take the time to relax and enjoy their meals.
Scatozza will be hosting a special class in late November focussing on the Italian Christmas Eve tradition of serving a meal of fish and seafood, including items such as fried calamari, scallops, shrimp and baccola (codfish). Guests can look forward to tiramisu and biscotti for dessert. Biscotti, meaning “cooked twice” is a type of cookie baked in a loaf, sliced, then cooked again.
To take a class, contact Scatozza at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was first published in the November issue of Hometown News. For more articles from our November issue, pick up a print copy at a local retailer or read our digital version.