A Quick Bite With Giovanna Alonzi

A Quick Bite With Giovanna Alonzi

No place does an early bird dinner with kids quite like Toronto’s Terroni does. Little voices blend in with the clinking of plates, music and chatter and everyone’s belly gets stuffed with delicious Southern Italian food. Minus the carpaccio, funghi and smelly cheeses, my duo will devour anything on the menu, as long as they can wash it down with peach nectar and gelato.

It’s Giovanna Alonzi we have to thank for what’s on our plate. Since 2000, the self taught cook, has worked her way up the Mammoloti food chain to her current position as executive chef. Her recipes are followed by all six Terroni locations. Originally from Lazio, Italy, Giovanna and her family immigrated to Toronto where she lives with her partner Fabio and son, Mattia. Her little one eats with gusto, (when he was one he devoured a fish stew, broth and all) but with Fabio and Giovanna as his personal chefs, how could he not?
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SPC:What is your earliest food memory?

GA: My earliest food memory is drinking warm milk in the morning with my grandfather in Italy. We’d sit in our kitchen with our backs to the fireplace and eat crusty bread with jam. It’s such a vivid memory. I am transported back there even just writing it. My nonno and I were very close and this was definitely a special shared moment between us; I believe I knew it then too.

SPC: When you have a family meal together who does the cooking?

GA: We usually cook together. My partner Fabio is a chef too and we alternate working nights, so when we’re all home together, maybe once or twice a week, we try to make the most of it. One of us usually starts cooking while the other plays with our son Mattia, who’s two and a half. Usually at some point my son interrupts the cook and requests his or her presence and we switch roles and try to figure out what the other person was making. We involve Mattia a lot. We let him wash vegetables or play with dough, and we love making handmade pasta together. We roll out a huge batch with a rolling pin until it looks like an animal hide and then we all have fun cutting pasta out. Fabio and Mattia also love making meatballs together. Fabio actually lets Mattia put raw meat in the meat grinder!!!

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SPC: What do family mealtimes look like in your household?

GA: When we all get to eat together, there’s lots of conversation. we don’t get to do it often, so we’ll put on music, crack our favourite bottle of wine and we’ll catch up on our week. Mattia will chime in and crack jokes and we have lots of fun. When it’s just Fabio and Mattia home alone, they like to play games together while they eat, but I just like listening to Mattia telling me stories or talking about his day. Once or twice a week I invite friends over and we sit together for an impromptu meal, which Mattia is always a part of. It gets too quiet for me with just the two of us so I love having friends over, they are family to me. Mattia likes eating out a lot and often times when we ask him to choose from a couple of things for dinner, he’ll say “nah, no cooking tonight mamma! call your friends, let’s go to a restaurant!”

SPC: Is there a meal that you grew up eating and prepare for your family now?

GA: When I was a child my mom’s meals would often consist of several courses and we only rarely sit down for that type of ordeal. My mom was learning to cook when I was young, so all her meals were never the same. Fabio and I realized the other day that my go-to pasta for Mattia and I is spaghetti in a cherry tomato sauce, with olive oil, garlic and basil and Fabio and Mattia’s favourite dish to have together is handmade pasta with butter and parmigiano. We laughed because this tells a lot about the regions we’re from in Italy. Fabio is from Bologna and I’m from the southern part of Lazio. They are only 6 hours apart but these regional dishes tell a lot about the marked differences between Northern and Southern Italy, where we hardly ever had butter! Mattia pleases us both and enjoys both dishes equally. Or at least that’s what he tells us. Fabio and I both had milk with “plasmon’ cookies before bed and chamomile and we send mattia off to bed armed with both of those.

SPC: How do you respond if your children baulk at the sight of broccoli or refuse runner beans?

GA: I am lucky because my son likes to eat pretty much everything. I think it’s because we’ve always fed him what we’re eating and never make a special meal for him. He’s been eating regular food as early as we could feed it to him. Funnily enough his favourite things are broccoli and beans, along with a grilled fish, (usually sea bass). When he was just one, we ordered a fish stew for him in a restaurant in Puglia, and he ate the whole thing, drinking up the broth with a spoon and creating quite a stir in the restaurant. He does have a discerning palate and there are things he’s not as partial too of course. He doesnt like anything too acidic; like raw tomatoes or lemon juice. I blame this on his Bolognese side.

SPC: Are you strict about ice cream and cupcakes and other sticky treats?

GA: Nope. We love sweets and usually have really good ones around. It is hard to restrict Mattia when Fabio and I eat them on a regular basis. Fabio and I both grew up with dessert after meals and we both have such fond memories of it. My favourite is of going to the bakery on Sunday morning and helping my dad pick out the after lunch pastries. These were always sweetly delicious, especially when followed by a great big afternoon nap.  Mattia loves sweets but hardly over indulges. Actually I should say he always  over indulges only in Italy with gelato. It’s his weakness!  We can’t pass a gelateria without having one. On the other hand Fabio has the biggest sweet tooth of anyone I have ever met. The top drawer of his night table doubles as a candy drawer! He is tall and super slim but he usually wakes up to a growling stomach in the middle of the night  (i’ve heard it) and it takes a lot to settle it.  Sometimes I wake up to the smell of chocolate wafting from the drawer and I have to have a bite of it too- I can’t imagine not doing so. So, I know what it must feel like for little Mattia. If we’re eating it, he wants it too!

SPC: We are big fans of the food a Terroni. Do you have a favourite dish from the menu?

GA: Yes, I have many. It depends on when I’m eating it. Lately after working the line at the Osteria, especially on Friday or Saturday nights, I’m super hungry and at around 11 p.m. I have a “Sveltina” a white pizza with mozzarella, arugula, stracciatella and cherry tomatoes from La Bettola. It is fresh, delicious and filling – the best fuel after a busy shift and right before bed! I also love our “bucatini amatriciana,” but my absolute favourite thing right now is the pizza from our bakery “sud forgo.” It is light, crispy, soft and so tasty! It reminds me of the pizza from Lazio, my area of Italy. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

SPC: Who or what inspires the way you feed your family?

GA: I love picking things up that I’m craving that day and making them.  I really enjoy those meals. I also love the way a ragu, braised or roasted meat make the house smell. If I feel a little melancholic, I love making things like that. Finally,  I love cooking for special occasions anything from friend’s birthdays to making treats for Italian carnival or making my mom’s traditional easter bread.

SPC: What meal is a winner with everyone in your family

GA: We are really easy going and are really happy just when we get the chance to all be together. In those moments anything works and if we are able to whip it up quickly and without going through a lot of trouble all the better. Things like grilled meats and vegetables, or tagliatelle al ragu’ from our freezer are generally the best thing. We really appreciate the time together. Mattia hugs us and says, “siamo insieme!”, “we’re together!”

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