Flavourful veggies from my mamma’s kitchen

Flora Marchetti, 92, loves to cook up a storm in her home in Italy.

Marisa’s mother’s dish, Piselli stufati con pancetta

Photos: Marisa Romano

By Marisa Romano


An unstoppable “force of nature”, my mamma, Flora Marchetti, now pushing 92, still lives independently in Italy, walks to the local market for groceries and cooks up a storm. Around her table are places for her closest friend, her children (three of us, including me when I visit) and her grandchildren who announce their visits with a call, knowing that they will be treated with a sought after made-from-scratch special meal.

Born and raised in a small seaside resort in her beloved Tuscany, my mamma often recalls the scarcity of war times, the hours spent gleaning wheat or foraging wild greens, and her grandmother’s simple meals around the outsized dining table, large enough to accommodate the extended family.

That was before her parents acquired a small restaurant that they operated with the help of some family members and developed it into an establishment where patrons waited in line for a table, and loyal truck drivers made a special stop for their mid-day break. My mamma was then the young vivacious waiter who hung up the apron at the end of the day and joined night-long gatherings with her friends.

Her life changed when she married one of the restaurant’s patrons, the professional serious man who came from another city to work at the local factory and lived in one of the rooms built above the restaurant after renovation of the original building.  He was the first client to sign the hotel registry.

The kitchen has not always been my mamma’s heaven. Cooking is something that she discovered once married and mastered after a few culinary failures, remediated with a bicycle ride to her parent’s restaurant where she picked up ready meals for her husband who initially thought that was her cooking. After that, food preparation became her passion and a daily obsession.

Nowadays she lives for cooking. On her table are dishes with ingredients typical of the Mediterranean diet: a lot of vegetables and little meat, fish, pasta (of course!) often made by hand and beans (Tuscans are known as Italy’s bean eaters). Olive oil is at the base of her cooking and the condiment for excellence.

When I asked my mamma for a recipe for the Glebe Report, she recalled her first visits to Canada in the late 1980s and her dismay in discovering that vegetables here were mainly served boiled in water or steamed – the norm, back then. That is what she always serves to people who are unwell or have digestion problems!

So here, for all vegetable lovers and the ones who can be converted, are a couple of her favourite recipes.


Piselli stufati con pancetta



A drizzle of olive oil

½ small, sweet onion, finely sliced

2 slices of pancetta or bacon, cut in small pieces

2 cups of peas fresh or frozen

Salt and pepper to taste



In a casserole, warm up the olive oil, add the sweet onion and pancetta or bacon. Cook for a few minutes until onion is translucent. Add the peas (if using frozen ones, do not defrost first), salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low heat until the peas are soft, mixing occasionally and adding a splash of water if needed. The cooking time depends on the type of peas. Best are the ones with a soft skin. Unfortunately, most peas on the market are large and with a thick skin, ideal for steaming and for soup. This recipe works with those ones as well, with a little longer cooking time.


Cavolfiore in umido



1 small cauliflower

3-4 Tbsp of olive oil

1 clove of garlic

1/3-½ cup tomato passata

2-4 Tbsp water

Salt and pepper to taste



Divide the cauliflower into small florets and slice the large ones lengthwise. Cook them in boiling salty water for 5 minutes, drain and set aside. Peel the garlic clove, cut it in half and remove the inner germ. In a skillet, warm up olive oil, add the garlic and let cook in the gently bubbling oil until golden. Discard the garlic and add the cauliflower. Mix gently and let cook a few minutes until golden; add tomato passata, water and season with salt and pepper. Mix gently, then cover and let cook on low heat for about 15 minutes. Add more water if needed. Uncover and continue cooking to thicken the sauce if needed.


Marisa Romano is a foodie and a scientist with a sense of adventure, who appreciates interesting people and good food, especially when cooked by her mother.

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