Italians speak with the heart and the hands. They are temperamental and proud when they talk about their culture and habits. They forever seek to pass on their passion. I realise now that growing up in Switzerland as a child in a south Italian immigrant family gave me the ideal cultural mix in life. From the Swiss side, there is humility and an honest attitude. Swiss people may not show their hearty character from the beginning, but they are the most open-minded and respectful people I have ever met. They care about their neighbours and love to create surrounds that are welcoming and comfortable. It is so akin to me when I reflect on the special combination of a reliable and humble Swiss attitude mingled with a temperamental, creative and enjoyable Italian Dolce Vita style. I am SwiTalian, as someone once described me!
Following the Unknown
Calabria is a beautiful region located at the toe point of the Italian boot surrounded by the splendid crystal blue Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas. It is a land of strong and intense emotions. Despite its beauty and picturesque lifestyle, many south Italian regions experienced economic stagnation for many years. Hence, my parents immigrated from Calabria to the Swiss canton Baselland in the 70’s to find luck, love and a better future for their children. They heard about Switzerland offering work and support for families and business alike. They decided to take a risk and follow an unknown path in search of a better future. My mother and father taught me so much about life and food, about never giving up and following my dreams. My father was a mason and my mother looked after the household. I admire the fact they left their home for the unknown with only a few coins in their pocket. They may have been penniless, but they held a rich history of heritage and tradition.
My Food and Travel Journey
I have always been thirsty to discover the world, to travel and discover different cultures. This passion keeps me enthusiastic about life every day. It flows in my blood. Thanks to my parents, growing up in Switzerland with a solid education allowed me to initially work in Marketing and Communications and to realise my dreams in food and travel. So, I was fortunate enough to travel abroad and explore the world.
Venturing through unknown places I was able to intimately experience and understand the food and culture on offer, and how these bind people together no matter where from. I may not know the local or native language in a country, but this is no barrier when you share food and live by your gut instinct. Today I communicate with the language of love and appreciation, usually through the currency of food, smiles, hospitality and hugs. These experiences led to my blog, Lovefoodish.
It makes me ultimately happy to have the chance to share my food and life stories with a curious community throughout the world. Blogging opens the door to local and international places. I encounter lovely people full of passion. They motivate me by sharing their knowledge, and listening to their personal stories fills me with joy.
Although I traverse the world in search of great food and culture, it is my family roots that I cherish the most. I often think back to the time where I would accompany my father to the local Swiss farmer to buy fresh vegetables, fruits or meat. My father's German was a bit sketchy so he would also gesture with his hands and feet to communicate, which was very entertaining! Having learnt German at a Swiss school it wasn’t long before I was very fluent in German and I helped my parents learn to adopt the language more comfortably.
My father transferred to me the view to always question the origin of food and how to select quality produce, and to really appreciate food from the land. A tomato isn’t just a tomato.
He loved to explain to me what makes Calabria special. I still feel pride for him when he reminisces. But he also taught me how to appreciate delicious Swiss ingredients, such as potatoes or seasonal juicy apples and cherries. Living in a small village in the countryside gave us close accessibility to the farmer. This made him feel more at home and serene, since in Calabria he also lived on a farm.
The extra-virgin olive oil, wines, bergamot liqueurs, liquorice, citron, herbs, honey and jams from Calabria are incomparable. They also offer a famous red onion called Cipolla rossa di Tropea which is mild and a bit sweeter than other varieties. There are special types of homemade pasta, one is called maccaruni, still made today using the traditional methods. Maccaruni are made using a thin long squared wire. The technique used goes back to my grandmother, and beyond. Another one is gnocchi. Calabrians celebrate food that is made as a family and there are some classic meats, cheeses and breads amongst the fresh produce.
Typically, immigrants here in Switzerland have rented gardens allotments where they spend much of their summer days and evenings planting and tending to vegetables. My father was no exception. He planted his edible garden to replicate the farm where he grew up in Italy. It gave him the "freedom" to be in nature and do something he loved.
What about Italians loving Swiss Food?
When my parents visit me in Zurich they crave a Zürcher Geschnetzletes. It’s a veal steak cut in little slices with potato Röschti and a champignon cream sauce. We love to go for lunch at the Restaurant Kronenhalle. The place is historic and famous for serving this dish since 1924. Artists like Picasso, Strauss and Coco Chanel used to come here for a drink and food. This history somehow makes it so much more enjoyable.
Zurich has a lot to offer besides traditional Suisse Cuisine. You can find good quality, creative and multicultural food in every corner of the city. These multicultural vibes give me the feeling of traveling whilst still in my hometown. I invite you to stroll through my blog and get a picture of the culinary offerings in Zurich.
The Humble Tomato – Making Passata
There is nothing like producing tomato sauce from scratch, particularly when it is shared as a family tradition. Handmade and flavoursome, one of the tastiest things you will ever try. It is the highlight of our summers, when the family comes together spending hours sorting, peeling, and boiling tomatoes while chatting. Once you understand that good food is about simple, basic quality ingredients you won’t hesitate one minute to invest time in preparing it yourself.
My mother talks to friends and parents to find the best tomato supplier at a decent price. We use around 100-150 KG of tomatoes which produces sauce for up to a year and is shared amongst my brother, parents and myself. Despite the volume, home is where our tomato sauce is produced. Once the tomatoes are ordered, we drive at least 2-3 times to get all of the boxed tomatoes back home. Today mostly it's my brother, his wife and some aunts and uncles that all produce the sauce together.
The tomatoes are carefully washed. My parents are perfectly equipped with all the material and instruments needed including big pans and manual sifters. After we wash the tomatoes they are cut into half pieces. Spotted or blotted pieces are removed. Then we add water in the pan. Let them cook ca. 45 minutes (covered) in a huge container over gas on a low flame and mix from time to time using a big wooden spoon until they are mushy and the skin starts to crack. Once they are cooked, we leave them to cool a bit. We use a sifter to eliminate the tomato skin and the seeds. You can pass the collected skin for a second time, you will get more "tomato sauce" out of it. After the beautiful red liquid is filled into the washed and pre-prepared bottles. Make sure you use clean jars with working lids. Leave ca. 1 cm of edge free of sauce. After the filling is complete, the tomato glass jars are sterilised for a few hours on the fire in a huge aluminium pan. Cover the bottom of the pan with old rags or kitchen towels in order that the glass does not come in contact with the bottom of the pan (bottles could break) and place the jars carefully one close to each other. Fill water in the pan until the edge of the jar lids. Cover with some more kitchen towels. Now let them cook covered at a temperature of ca. 100 degrees for 1.30 -2 hours. Check from time to time to ensure the jars don't touch each other and crack. For 8 KG of tomatoes you should get ca. 24 jars of 250 ml each.
Of course before everybody leaves, the highlight of the whole event is to eat fresh pasta and sauce all together.
Traditional Italian Tomato Sauce (makes 4 serves)
500 ml of tomato passata (prepared and cooked as per above)
1 red onion chopped
1-2 spoons of olive oil
Handful basil leaves
Roast the onions with the oil
Add the tomato passata
Bring to boiling
Add some salt and the basil
Let boil on a low temperature for 30 min
Adjust with salt/pepper to taste
The Marvel of Life’s Pantry Staples
Alongside taking care of the administrative tasks, my mother is an excellent pasta maker. On occasion she loves to spoil us with homemade maccaruni, tagliatelle or gnocchi. It's a skill passed down from my grandmother.
On a classic Sunday in my family’s home the family comes together to enjoy food and energetic discussion. It’s not a cliché, we really do speak very loudly to each other. It’s how we express our emotions and feelings.
For this occasion, we often make pasta from scratch. It is a way of playing with ingredients, getting the feeling on how texture and shapes are created. While writing this post I shared this tradition with my niece and nephew. There is no other experience like eating homemade gnocchi with home-produced tomato sauce. It is no doubt the cherry on the cake, except it’s tomato sauce and pasta.
Recipe for gnocchi (makes 4 serves)
General rule of thumb:
1 medium-sized potato per serving or person. For every potato, use approximately 1/2 cup of flour.
1 Kg of potatoes
300 g of flour
Salt to taste
Grated parmesan cheese and basil leaves
Making the Gnocchi:
Add enough water to cover the potatoes, boil them (skin on) in a large pot for 20 minutes until fork tender. The skin helps ensure the potatoes don't absorb access water. Over-boiling will cause potatoes to become mushy and overly wet.
Drain the potatoes well and allow them to cool.
Once cool peel the potatoes. Rice the potatoes using a potato ricer or simply a fork.
Mound riced potato in the middle of a clean, dry countertop. Create a volcano shape/well-shape in the potato and top with the flour. Add a generous pinch of salt.
Add the egg, by breaking into the centre of the well. Blend the egg into the potato mixture with a fork.
Start to pull in the flour and the potato. Use your hands to combine all the ingredients. The mixture will begin to take on a dough texture.
Knead the dough until it has a smooth surface. Be careful not to over-knead. Be aware of adding flour at this point: too much flour will give you hard gnocchi.
Shape the dough into a long wide rectangle. Cut the dough into several smaller pieces (size can be rough - just so it is manageable to roll).
Roll each dough piece into an even thickness rope. Cut little cubes out of the rope and start forming the gnocchi either with a fork or a wood gnocchi roller or even by using the tip of your trigger and middle finger.
To prevent the gnocchi sticking keep in a cool area and coat them with flour shaking away any superfluous flour.
To cook the gnocchi:
Place the finished gnocchi in a large pot of salted boiling water. Cook the gnocchi until they float to the top. Usually 2-4 minutes.
Gently remove them with a slotted spoon. Drain them well.
Toss the gnocchi through the tomato sauce (recipe above) in a large pan and cook together for about 2 minutes.
Put your grated parmesan cheese and basil leaves on top. Enjoy!
Marina is a food and travel blogger who seeks out stories of cultures associated with the palate. She has a soft spot for her hometown of Zurich and loves to showcase the eclectic cuisine from the streets and alleyways throughout Switzerland.
Disclaimer: This is a non-sponsored guest post. No royalties were exchanged for this post.