Strada della Nonna or The way of the Granny. Sounds a bit like a kung fu movie when you (very roughly) translate it. Italian kung fu that is, which presumably involves loudly honking your horn at people whilst flicking an imaginary beard.
The Nonna in question is Andreina De Col-Grazi the grandmother of Gian Bohan. She looks like most Italian grannies I have ever met – proud, impeccably turned out and with big arms from years of pasta rolling. She sadly died in 2004 but this charming book, part memoir, part travelogue and part recipe selection is a legacy to her ways. It’s also a celebration of Nonna’s restaurant in Sheffield, which sounds a terrific place. On the book’s back cover can be found glowing tributes to the restaurant’s cooking from famous diners, all sportsmen. I think all Italian restaurants should have signed pictures on the wall showing the owner, Zelig-like, embracing sports stars, opera singers and fat gangsters. Well perhaps not the latter, but Dean Martin at least. A tattered picture of Mt Vesuvius is optional. Never a restaurant critic though, who cares what they think? Very few understand Italian cooking anyway.
This is a book about a boy growing up under the culinary influence of a granny with ‘a six foot long’ pasta rolling pin who would arrive in Sheffield from Modena, driven by her husband and with a car boot full of food treasures. The grandchildren would go to Italy for holidays and be overwhelmed by what was available and so the seeds of cooking were set early. Add to that an introduction to (watered down) wine as a child, as is right and proper, and it now seems inevitable that one day that a restaurant proprietor would be the result.
Today Gian goes back to Italy regularly, seeking out new producers of the very best in food and wine and visiting old favourites. There are chapters here on ham, cheese, chocolate, and coffee, balsamic vinegars and of course olive oil. He isn’t shy of sharing these finds and there are exact contact details for all and each chapter has recipes designed to make the best of each ingredient.
It’s a book that makes you rather long to be Italian, and to feel slightly ashamed of the way we Brits treat our old folk – whisking them into retirement homes as soon as we can instead of setting them useful tasks like shelling peas or babysitting. More than a recipe book and a lot more than a memoir, this is an unaffected tribute to people, places and produce. Nonna would have been proud.
The book is available to buy from Nonnas or Harvey Nichols