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Nonna’s Recipe for Love

Nonna’s Recipe for Love

posted by Karen Quinn, The Testing Mom - May 5th, 2020

Today in Camp Corona, Joanne is teaching her kids and giving some love from her family’s Italian heritage–by sharing Nonna’s special Ragu and homemade noodles! Mmm! Also if you missed last night’s 2Moms@Home with Joanne and Karen, you will want to tune in, as they spoke with Dr. Nicole Saphier about family wellness in these challenging days of Coronavirus–so educational and helpful to us moms and dads. If you’d like to sign up for next Monday night’s gathering, go here: 2Moms@Home.

Enjoy the Taste of Love

I love to eat. I married into an Italian family where food is considered a language of love. I have enjoyed expanding my love vocabulary by tasting as many of the wonderful dishes my mother-in-law has prepared as possible. She doesn’t follow recipes as much as she listens to the ingredients. Working as much by taste and feel, her creations translate her love into each and every delicious bite. The handmade pasta and sauces are always devoured with delight by everyone who has had the honor to sit at her dining table. But she wins, hands down, any “last meal” debate with her green lasagne. Oh how she works on that lasagne. Making the soft-as-butter noodles, the rich and creamy bechamel, and the slow cooked ragu takes hours of work, but she does it to remind her family of her love.


We haven’t been able to sit at her table since the first week of March, when she and my father-in-law decided to self quarantine ahead of what they saw coming our way. As retired physicians, they were acutely aware that their age put them at a greater risk for Covid-19 complications, so they made the very difficult decision to distance themselves from their beloved band of grandkids. It didn’t however hold back their love from us! Through FaceTime and speakerphone, texts and emails, they have been very connected to each of us almost daily. In fact, I think my kids have gotten to know their grandparents even better during these last few weeks, as they relayed stories from their own childhoods and shared tales about their sons to entertain the kids!


One of the greatest things that has come from this time apart/together has been watching my husband, through the magic of technology, learn how to execute some of my mother-in-law’s best recipes while she coaches him. He has already mastered her pizza making, but now is dabbling with piadina, risottos and the beloved ragu. As the green lasagne is a true labor of love, it was a little too daunting for him to consider on a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon, but pasta and ragu? He could manage that! When I heard that he wanted to try to make pasta with the kids, I volunteered to document the endeavor! I make a decent sous chef, but a much more entertaining chorus member. 

NOTE: We recommend that you make the ragu first to allow it time to simmer and deepen its flavors. 

We encourage safe knife skills in this house. Practice makes perfect. We are particularly fond of the Kuhn Rikon Kinderkitchen knives for young hands! 

Checking in with the Master! My mother-in-law looks over the quantity and quality of the dicing going on while giving the head chef a few tips.

Older kids often love to be included with the more “dangerous” aspects of cooking. From using the grown up knives to the gas stove top, our son is following his Nonna’s instructions very carefully.

Like love, we want to experience all of the flavors deeply and completely. Be sure to check the seasonings as you go! 

Let that lovely sauce simmer away while you work on your pasta. Be sure to stir occasionally!

This was our favorite part! I didn’t get a photo of the eggs in the “hole” or the “well”. It turns out you may need to act fast here: our third egg started sliding out of the hole and down the mountainside as soon as our son dumped it in. We also didn’t add quite a half cup of warm water. So trust your instincts on this part, but make the hole a little wider than we did. 

The dough starts to come together in a shaggy, sticky mess at first. You’ll want to add a little flour to your work surface as you begin to knead the dough.

Words like elastic, satiny and alive are used by some people to describe the dough at this stage. I always like the words pliable and tender. If the dough feels sticky, add a little more flour as you continue kneading. Set a timer! 10 minutes is a long time and a great work out!

Rest. You deserve it. 

Working on one quarter at a time, we rolled out the dough so that you can see print through it. My husband thought this was a little too thin when we ate dinner, and he’s the Italian here, so if I had this to do again, I wouldn’t go QUITE as thin next time. Thin is lovely, delicate, and always delicious. 

Our son decided to cut the pasta using our “fluted” cutter. You can use a sharp knife or even your pizza cutter would be perfect. If you’re really fancy you might even own one of those pasta cutters that allow you to cut perfectly spaced pasta. We’re not that fancy, and it turns out that oddly cut pasta tastes incredible. 

Pet owners beware! 

The hanging pasta on the towel-covered-broom-handle-between-two-chairs looks like fun to play with. Fortunately for me, I saw the glee in our cat’s eyes before she had time to put her plan into action. Needless to say, we watched her carefully over the next 45 minutes as our pasta dried out. 

Pro-Tip from my mother-in-law: GENEROUSLY salt your boiling water. 

Enjoy the taste of love. Even as some states begin to relax their quarantine rules, the satisfaction of making a delicious meal alongside your family will remain. 


A Variation of Rosetta’s Ragu:


1 clove garlic crushed

¼ cup celery – diced

⅓  cup carrots – diced

1 medium onion – diced

1 tablespoon tomato paste


1 lb ground beef. (you can do ½ lb beef, ½ ground pork if you want! We didn’t have any pork at home)

1 bay leaf

Salt and pepper to taste



Saute onions, garlic, celery and carrots on medium-low until they are soft. This can take 15-20 minutes.

Add meat and cook through. Add tomato paste. Mix in. Puree 2 cans of whole tomatoes either with a food mill or a food processor. Combine with meat and veggies. Salt/pepper to taste.

Simmer on low until reduced to desired consistency. This is usually around 3 hours in our home! Stir occasionally.


For Pasta:

Hand written for you by my son!

If you find yourself trying out this recipe, please don’t forget to share with us by tagging us on social media or emailing us at! Sharing love makes the world a better place and it might remind me to take my leftovers out of the freezer for another meal. Oh, who are we kidding. What leftovers?

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3 Responses

Emilia Salerno

Thank you for sharing the love of Italian cooking and culture. This reminds me of cooking with my nonna. She taught me everything I know. I continue to make her sauces and fresh pasta to this day. Its so important to keep the Italian traditions going, and it warms my heart to see you teach your children as I have done so as well❤️ Buona Appetito!!


i am so making this
soo cool
my parent are going to be so proud of me

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