HAVING MIGRATED TO AUSTRALIA in the 1950s, Gemma Corrent, 88, doesn’t have a large extended family to cater for at Christmas celebrations — not that you can tell from the amount of food she prepares.
“In that way she is a typical Italian mamma, always so generous,” says her daughter, Shirley Agostinho. “There is always something on standby in her freezer, too... a lasagne, some sauce, some ravioli.”
Among the frozen feast will often be a dish of Gemma’s much-loved tiramisu, which makes an appearance on every Christmas table and at most family gatherings. Granddaughter Kara recently travelled to Italy and claims local versions don’t come close to her nonna’s light and airy interpretation of this classic layered dessert.
Shirley says the dish represents the initiative that has shaped her mother’s life. “It’s a concoction of various recipes she has tried. Mamma is always experimenting, now she is even making kombucha!”
Born in 1930 in the Italian Riviera town of Lerici, Gemma was the youngest of five children and learnt to be resourceful when World War II landed on their doorstep. “Food shortages meant they would pick fruit or eat whatever they could find,” Shirley says. “My mother laughs that dishes like polenta are so popular now, as this was considered poor people’s food.”
After Gemma married Bruno Corrent in 1954, the adventurous couple rode to Switzerland on a Guzzi Airone Sport 250 motorbike (pictured above). In Schaffhausen, Bruno manufactured machines to make chocolates and Gemma worked in a cotton mill. Then an advertisement to migrate to Australia caught their eye.
“They docked in Melbourne in 1957 and were sent to the Bonegilla migrant camp [near the Victorian border],” Shirley says. “My father had been a prisoner of war and refused to line up for food again, so Mum had to support him. She is a very strong, positive woman.”
The couple then moved to Wollongong, NSW, where Bruno joined the steel works, and Shirley and her brother Marco were born. “There were just the four of us so we are a close family. My mother made all our clothes and cooked all our meals, but she was very independent. She worked as a cleaner, but she also went to TAFE to learn dressmaking and improve her English, and she learnt to drive.”
Now nonna to three granddaughters, Gemma is as inventive as ever, often dishing up recipes she’s found on YouTube or her iPad. But at Christmas, her cooking showcases both her heritage and her new homeland.
“We always have tortellini in brodo [ring-shaped pasta in broth], which she learnt from her mother Cesira, and she makes all her pasta by hand. She also makes biscotti [thin Italian biscuits] and bigné [Italian profiteroles] that she has given her own twist. And there will never just be tiramisu — there will always be several desserts. She also makes an awesome Aussie pavlova!”
4 large egg yolks
½ cup caster sugar
400g good-quality mascarpone
3 large eggwhites, at room temperature pinch of salt
1½ cups good-quality strong black coffee, cooled*
1 tablespoon Marsala
1 tablespoon Kahlua
320g savoiardi biscuits
1 tablespoon cocoa, sifted
100g dark chocolate, grated
Using an electric mixer, beat egg yolks and caster sugar for about 6 minutes or until pale and creamy. Add mascarpone and beat until just combined. Set aside. Wash beaters and dry thoroughly.
Beat eggwhites and salt in a clean, dry bowl until firm peaks form. Using a large metal spoon, gently fold half of eggwhite into mascarpone mixture. Fold in remaining eggwhite. Set aside.
Combine coffee, Marsala and Kahlua in a shallow dish. One at a time, quickly dip half of biscuits into coffee mixture and turn to coat. Place biscuits, in a single layer, in base of a 6cm-deep 30cm x 24cm dish. Spread half of mascarpone mixture over biscuits to cover. Repeat with remaining biscuits and coffee mixture, and remaining mascarpone mixture. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Dust with cocoa and top with grated chocolate. Cut into squares to serve.
* Gemma uses Lavazza coffee made in a moka pot (stovetop coffee maker).
Do you have a recipe that has been passed down through generations? Send us your recipe, the story behind it and a photograph (preferably a copy or scan) of the relative who passed it on. Remember to include a daytime telephone number. Email Sarah Neil at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a letter to Heirloom Recipe, Country Style, PO Box 4088, Sydney NSW 1028.
PHOTOGRAPHY AND STYLING CHINA SQUIRREL FOOD PREPARATION AND RECIPE TESTING CHINA SQUIRREL ■