Historic Family Recipes: Italy via Glasgow

The following is a re-post from the former site, which was a very popular recipe and a favoured story among my readers. You spoke loud and clear, so here’s the story and recipes again. Thanks for your suggestions!

Shipyards of the Clyde c. 1950 (Photo Credit: British Archives)

Shipyards of the Clyde c. 1950 (Photo Credit: British Archives)

When Margaret speaks of her Italian grandfather, Sergio, a smile comes to her face and tears to her eyes even though he has been gone nearly 40 years now. He was a compassionate, quiet and soft spoken man who had a 30 year career as a master shipwright carpenter in the shipyards of Belfast, Ireland and Glasgow, Scotland. Yet, his true passion and great love was cooking for his family and passing down his long-time family recipes to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In this chapter of Historic Family Recipes, I’ll tell you about a 150 year old Italian pasta and sauce recipe that started in Rome, came to Glasgow and is now being used in Oakville, Ontario.

When many of us think of nineteen century Italian immigration we think of places like New York City or Toronto. Yet, what many people are less familiar with is the large Italian population in Scotland, particularly in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Thousands of Italians came to Scotland in the nineteenth and early twentieth century seeking jobs in industry and a new place to give stability to their families. The major industry for centuries in Glasgow was shipbuilding. Dozens of shipyards lined the banks of the Clyde River and employed thousands of workers on many projects from tall sailing ships and luxury liners to military cruisers. Such famous Clyde shipbuilders included Barclay Curle and Company, Harland and Wolff (whose sister yard in Belfast built the Titanic), William Denny and Brothers, The Upper Clyde Shipbuilders and Stevenson and Son Shipwrights just to name a few.

Margaret’s grandfather was born on August 19, 1880 in Rome, Italy. He was the fifth of ten children and all but two of his siblings would eventually leave Italy for northern Europe or North America. He married his childhood sweetheart, Carolina, in 1900 when both were 20 years old. In 1910, with their four children in tow, the family moved to Belfast, Northern Ireland where Sergio got a job with Harland and Wolff. One of the things he was proud of to his dying day was that he worked on the carpentry team that produced the elegant woodwork such as panels, deck railing and staircases aboard the sister ships, Olympic, Titanic, and Britannic.


Titanic and Olympic Being Constructed c. 1911 (Photo Credit: British Library)

Titanic and Olympic Being Constructed c. 1911 (Photo Credit: British Library)

In 1915, when Harland and Wolff expanded operations to Glasgow, Sergio was transferred to fill the position as master carpenter.

Margaret’s earliest memories of her grandparents are of sitting on “Nonna” Carolina’s lap in the kitchen while watching “Nonno” Sergio make handmade fresh fettuccine while they would sing children’s songs to her in Italian. When she was old enough to stand on a stool and reach the countertop, Margaret would help her grandfather mix the pasta dough together and chop tomatoes for the sauce. When Margaret was 18, she visited Canada for what was to be a four week summer vacation. She met her husband, Alain, a Quebec City born Canadian Forces aeronautic engineer, and after a three week courtship they were married and have lived happily together for the last 58 years raising three children: Joseph, Chantal, and Sergio, and moving around North America while Alain worked a number of contracts for NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratories in California, and the Canadian Space Agency.

In 1969, at the age of 89, Sergio was living alone in Scotland. Carolina had passed away in 1965 and all their children and grandchildren were living outside of Scotland. Margaret then brought her grandfather to Canada to have him live out the rest of his days surrounded by her family. With his sadness and loneliness now gone, Nonno Sergio was in his element again as he got to pass down his family recipes to yet another generation of his family. Sergio passed away at the age of 93 in 1973 and he left not only the memory of a gentle-hearted, hard working, soft spoken Italian who left his birthplace to find a better life for his family, but he also passed on those traditions that were so important to him: food and family history.

The following recipes are for handmade fettuccine and tomato sauce that were taught to Sergio as a seven year old boy by his grandmother, Anna, back in Rome in 1887.

Pasta Dough Well (Photo Credit: John Tolva)

Pasta Dough Well (Photo Credit: John Tolva)


Fresh Fettuccine

You will need:

3 eggs

3 cups of flour

1 ½ tablespoons of good quality extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Note: If you want to increase or decrease this recipe, remember that for every one cup of flour you add or subtract, do the same with one egg and ½ tablespoon of the olive oil.

Place all the flour into the middle of your work surface then make a well in the centre of the flour. Crack the eggs into a separate bowl and stir until mixed, not frothy. Place the eggs into the flour well, then add the olive oil and salt and pepper as the picture below suggests. With your fingers, gently stir the outside edge of the wet ingredients to pull the flour into the centre. Keep stirring until you incorporate all the flour. You should now have a fairly stiff dough ball. Add a little bit of extra flour to your hands and the work surface to keep the dough from sticking to both. Knead the dough thoroughly by pushing the dough away from you with the bottom part of both palms, then pull the edge furthest away from you back into the centre of the dough and push away again with both hands. Repeat this push and pull method of kneading for about 12-15 minutes or until you have a smooth, non sticky ball of dough. Again, place a light dusting of flour onto your work surface and roll the dough out to the thickness you desire (usually about a ¼ inch thick). With the help of your rolling pin, take the edge closest to you and bring it up over top. Remove the pin and start rolling up the pasta dough until you have something that resembles a long tube. With a floured, sharp knife, cut strips about ¼ to ½ inch wide. Unroll the pasta strip and now you have fettuccine strands. Place into boiling, salted water and cook for 5 minutes or until tender. Alternatively, you can roll the strands up into a ball and dry them and store in a cool dry, place for about a month. For a festive treat for kids, add a couple drops of red or green food colouring into the egg mixture in the well before mixing. To experiment with flavours, you can also add typical, rustic Italian flavours like chopped basil, parsley, spinach, a dash of garlic power or chilli oil.

Fresh made pasta (Photo Credit: Leite's Culinaria)

Fresh made pasta (Photo Credit: Leite’s Culinaria)

Traditional, Fresh Italian Tomato Sauce

You will need

1 kilo fresh diced tomatoes of any variety. The riper, the better.

1 red onion diced

1 large carrot grated

5 cloves of garlic chopped very fine

4 tablespoons of good quality extra virgin olive oil

1 glass of good quality red wine

2 tablespoons of brown sugar (to cut the acidity of the tomatoes)

1 tablespoon of dried oregano

¼ cup of chopped fresh basil

In a large sauce pan, heat olive oil. Add onion and cook until just soft and tender. Stir in garlic and cook for no more than one minute. Add the chopped tomatoes, grated carrot, brown sugar, oregano and red wine and simmer down until reduced by half (about 30-40 minutes). In the last 5 minutes of cooking, add another splash of red wine to kick up the flavour and add the chopped basil. Heat until warmed through and serve over your fresh, cooked fettuccini. Top with fresh chopped parsley and grated parmesano-reggiano or ramano cheese. Any extras freeze very well for later use.

Fettucinne and Tomato sauce

Fettucinne and Tomato sauce

Making your own pasta and sauce is not as difficult as you might think and is a very healthy way of cooking if you wish to avoid processed foods. Now you have a couple of very old, traditional Italian recipes you can serve to your family. My thanks to Margaret for both the recipes and a wonderful story about a wonderful man.

This post is dedicated to Margaret’s son, Sergio. God Speed, Serge!

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