NO ROOM IN VELIA ANDERSON’S CHILDHOOD KITCHEN
ITALY: PIZZETTE FRITTE
When Velia Anderson was growing up in Rome, she spent little time in the family kitchen. “There was my mother, my grandmother and the cleaning lady. They would chase me out, telling me, ‘Go study! There’s no room here!’” recalled Anderson, who is now 79 and has lived in Montreal since 1976.
Anderson heeded the women’s advice – she studied, later graduating from the Universityof Rome, where she specialized in ancient languages. But it was not until Anderson and her husband, John, an engineer, moved from Rome with their first three children to Kenya (their fourth child was born there), that Anderson realized she needed to learn a thing or two about cooking.
“In Kenya, we had a busy social life. I didn’t know how to cook anything – not even an omelette. I was in big trouble!” Anderson recalled.
And so, at night, when her children were asleep, Anderson started reading some of the cookbooks the couple had received as wedding presents. Anderson laughs when she recalls those days. “I don’t know how many times I tried to make a crème caramel. I didn’t know what a bain marie was – that I had to keep the ingredients over hot water,” she said.
In the end, the Andersons hired a Kenyan cook named Peter, who had worked for an Italian family. Peter turned out to be far more helpful than Anderson’s cookbooks. He also became a close friend. “He was so good with the children. He is my youngest son’s godfather,” said Anderson.
Even if Anderson was chased out of her childhood kitchen, she was influenced by her family’s attitude towards food.
“Food,” she says, “was a sort of religion in my family. There were always three courses. First pasta, then either meat and vegetables, or fish and vegetables. And there was always fruit for dessert.”
On the day we spoke, Anderson had prepared a strata – a layered dish made with potatoes, onion and tomatoes. When she went into the kitchen at suppertime, she discovered there was none left.
“John ate it all. He even washed the dishes. The kitchen was completely clean. I was so happy and surprised!”
Anderson shared her recipe for Pizzette Fritte – fried mini pizzas. It’s a snack her mother used to make, and which Anderson has made many times for her grandchildren. “When we’re in Italy during summer, the grandchildren come up from the beach and eat it all up,” Anderson said. Anderson stays in regular contact with her seven grandchildren, who are scattered all over the world. During the pandemic, she has been giving FaceTime Italian lessons to two of them. Lately, she’s been FaceTiming five evenings a week with her grandson Patrick, who lives in Toronto. “The poor kids are so serious,” she said.
Luckily, they have a nonna – the Italian word for grandmother – who keeps them laughing and makes them Pizzette Fritte.
Edera’s Pizzette Fritte
Use store bought pizza dough, or make your own
Homemade Pizza Dough
- 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 ½ cups lukewarm water
- 3 ⅓ cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus additional oil for frying
- chopped basil
- mozzarella, cut into small cubes
- anchovy paste
In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar in the lukewarm water, and let sit for 10 minutes. Add the oil and stir.
Put flour in the bowl of a stand mixer, sprinkle in the salt, pour in the yeast mixture, mix to combine, then knead for 8 minutes on medium with a dough hook.
Form the dough into a ball, place in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and then allow to rise until doubled in bulk in a warm draft-free place, about 1 ½ hours.
Punch the dough down, knead a few times, then pinch off pieces slightly larger than a golf ball (50 grams), roll into balls, and set them on a cookie sheet. When all the balls are done, cover with a tea towel.
For deep frying, use a heavy-bottomed pot and be sure the oil is at least two inches deep in the bottom of the pot. Heat the oil until it sputters, and then fry until golden brown, turning constantly, about 1-2 minutes.
Remove the pizette’s from the oil and set on paper towels to remove excess oil. Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.
Note: If the pizzette’s puff up too much when frying, push down the centre of the balls with your thumb before cooking.
For something a little fancier, add chopped basil, mozzarella cubes and a dab of anchovy paste to the pizza dough when you shape them into balls. Deep fry as usual.
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The Secret is in the Sauce! is sponsored by Canadian Heritage’s Official Languages Program.