Women’s ownership, leadership and inspiration – In honor of Women’s History Month, The Incline met Jen Saffron and her team at Sprezzatura, a community café in Millvale that serves sustainable and accessible Italian dishes, to take a look at the featured heirloom recipes.
Throughout the month, Sprezzatura serves weekly “Grandma Month” specialties such as Pasta al Forno by Grandma Angelica Silvaroli, Al Tonno Pasta by Grandma Mary Biordi and, this Saturday, Grandma Rose Saffron’s rabbit stew with gnocchi.
“These recipes bring us comfort. We don’t cook anything we don’t want to eat. We do everything we enjoy, ”said Jen. “Food memories are real … there are certain tastes that I can conjure up right now that make me feel like it’s a holiday or a celebration.”
And that goes down well with Sprezzatura’s customers.
“We got a call from a 98-year-old woman who said the al-tonno noodles tasted just like her mother’s,” said Jen.
This recipe comes from Jen’s grandmother Mary Biordi, whose family came from L’Aquila, the capital of Abruzzo. It contains hearty genoa tuna cooked in a spicy red sauce and served over linguine with fresh herbs and a hint of lemon.
“She was 4 feet, 11 inches and a total powerhouse,” said Jen.
The Biordi family had four girls, one of whom was Jen’s mother Merceda, and had strong roots in their community. Jen’s grandfather was a citizen, the President of the Sons of Italy, and owned a cinema. When her grandmother died, Jen said they were up for four nights, “and the line was out the door every night.”
As she pondered a lesson she had learned from her grandmother, she remembered her time in fourth grade and had to earn her Cooking Badge from the Boy Scouts. She called her grandmother for advice.
“Clean up while you go,” said Grandma Biordi. Years and a lot of experience later, Jen agreed. “That is that truth!”
The Pasta al Forno comes from Lorraine Vullos grandmother Angelica Silvaroli, whose family is Sicilian. These square baked noodles are filled with mustaccioli, ground beef, onions, cauliflower, cheese, red sauce and – you guessed it – more Romano cheese topped with it.
“It’s made in layers … the key is to pour beaten eggs over it before you bake it,” Lorraine said. “The eggs go through and hold it together.”
Lorraine recalls her grandma Angelica making this dish for her and all of her cousins after long days of picking vegetables during the harvest season.
“When my grandpa retired, he bought a small farm,” she said. “My grandmother made this dish at home in an enamel frying pan and wrapped it in newspapers and blankets to keep it really hot on her drive to the farm.”
It was a hearty meal that filled the bellies and hearts of Lorraine’s great family.
“My grandmother always said, ‘Add love. ‘No matter what we work on or what we do, that’s how we grew up. It was that simple. “
This Saturday, Grandma Rose Saffron’s Italian rabbit stew will be on display in the Sprezzatura.
“It takes a long time to make,” said Jen. After the rabbit has been beaten in lots of garlic, herbs and other spices, it is braised, minced and served in a stew with gnocchi.
Sprezzatura works hard to source smaller meats like sausages, chickens and rabbits from sustainable sources. This is one of the many ways they advocate environmentally friendly practices. (They also have a variety of vegan and vegetarian options.) Sprezzatura has been a gold-honored sustainable Pittsburgh restaurant since day one.
“We want to support the farmers in Pennsylvania and support our land,” said Jen.
Grandma Rose, who was the head chef at an Indiana country club, had a notable influence on Jen’s career. She remembers her grandmother and aunt, who were dressed in white chef’s clothes at the country club and who later cooked large spreads for workers in the coal country.
Other Honorable Mentions from Sprezzatura’s Grandma Monthly Specials: Grandma Mary Josephine’s Sicilian Involtini (Chicken stuffed with pancetta and cheese), Grandma’s Odettes Canales de Bourdeaux (French custard cake) and Grandma Giovanna’s Ciambelle al Vino (wine biscuits).
“We like to cook what is most authentic to our individual Italian-American story,” said Jen. “A lot of people think Italian-American food is overly cheesy, cheeky, and meaty, but I grew up on tons of fish, chickpea stew, lentils … we make things that are healthy, affordable, and fresh.”
Most of all, Jen said, “When people eat our food, we want them to feel loved and cared for.”
Just like Grandma would.