16 May 2015

Review: One suitcase: four stories

One suitcase: four stories
Barking Spider
14 May 2015
Northcote Town Hall
to 17 May

Linda Catalano. Photo by Sarah Walker

Linda Catalano's family live in and around Northcote and share family meals that are still based on the recipes many of them brought in their hearts from Italy. They brought them at a time when only way to come to the other side of the world was on a three-month sea journey and at time when Australia encouraged and welcomed the arrival of boats of people who wanted to start a new life.

In One suitcase: four stories, Linda welcomes everyone at the back door of the Northcote Town Hall in her red apron and tells stories of her beloved Nonno and Nonna, who were were only apart when her grandfather came to Australia to earn enough money to bring his wife and baby (Linda's mother) to Melbourne, and the stories of her aunts, her zias, who at different times arrived at Port Melbourne with a small suitcase and the hope of love.

Their stories are grand and romantic, full of hand-written letters, disappointment, unexpected happiness and the secret of a perfect sugo, or sauce. Linda's still working on perfecting her own sugo and romantic story.

Linda's audience are now family and friends who sit around shared tables, where the antipasto is waiting and the stories begin.

As part of the Darebin Homemade Food and Wine Festival, our first lesson is that passata is not the sauce, it's just the tomatoes that are locally grown, minced by hand and boiled in bottles in backyards.

Barking Spider let us find the stories and the love in the mundane and familiar, and the family kitchen is like home, even if you didn't grow up in an Italian family in Melbourne's north. It's full of black and white framed wedding photos and treasures and standards that have been in Linda's families' kitchens from the the 1950s to now. And her family are such a part of her kitchen that they become the likes of a block of mozarella, a wilting cucumber, a pastry crimper and an espresso maker.

Naturally, each table helps to make fresh pasta – by hand; no pasta makers or Thermomixes – like Nonna used in every lasagne she made, with no bechamel sauce, the pasta layered so there are no gaps and an egg drizzled in a zig-zag pattern.

And, naturally, it could never be as good as the real thing, so trays of lasagne have already been made for us. There was even made a vegetarian version that I'm going to try myself; just don't tell the zias that I used passata from the shop and dried lasagne sheets.

As the night finishes with ricotta cannoli – they are from the south of Italy where the northern custard variation is never seen – we celebrate a suburb, a city and a country that still welcomes and shares custard, ricotta and every filling, and remember that the stories that really matter are the ones that are so close to us that we sometimes forget that they made us who we are.

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