This article originally appeared in the June/July 2019 issue of Dream of Italy.
I was raised in Manduria near Taranto in Puglia in a masseria built by my great-grandparents in 1881. My great-grandfather Tommaso was rich although not aristocratic, but nonetheless he asked to marry the daughter of a count, Rosina.
Rosina brought as a wedding gift to Tommaso some grape plants of the Primitivo di Gioia variety, and her father’s cook, Nunzia. Today, Primitivo wine is one of the most important Italian wines and the Primitivo of Manduria is one of the most loved.
When Nunzia came to the family, she brought recipes that characterize our family’s cuisine to this day. She made delicately thin orecchiette and pizzarieddi pasta that seem to twirl by themselves around her frizzulu, a tool she used to shape the pasta, handled like a conductor’s baton.
She made lasagne noodles in broth, maccheroni con la coppola (a favorite baked pasta dish), zucchini soup with egg and Parmigiano, and, last but not least, ‘gnummarieddi. This is what my family called this delicious dish of wrapped lamb meat and interiors. The term is actually from the town of Altamura, because in Puglia they call them marretti or turcinieddi.
I enjoyed eating lamb as a child but I also loved playing with the numerous baby lambs that were born in the spring. Every once in a while, I’d arrive at the farm and see that one of the lambs was missing. I’d ask the shepherd and he’d tell me “He went to Milan,” in such a serious tone that I understood the trip was permanent and the lamb was not coming back. Back then in the 1950s, many Southern Italians made the trip to Milan and did not return for a long, long time, if ever, back to their Southern roots.
I believed this charade until one day when I came back to the farm and I saw a big lamb, freshly killed, its blood staining the white- washed walls of the farmhouse. They tried to tell me he was a lamb bought at the butcher and he was definitely not one of my lamb friends. Nonetheless, the gig was up and the magic of my Milano-bound lambs was broken.
For a while I refused to eat lamb, but my dad and my grandfather encouraged me to look at the lamb as meat which gave nutrients to many families and kept them from starving. Many years later, I learned to make gli gnummarieddi for myself. — Anna Schiavoni-Benzi
Recipe: Gli ‘Gnummarieddi
Interior meat of lamb such as kidney, heart, lungs and the fat netting which is like an internal lining that lines the internal organs
Potatoes, the same quantity as the above meats
Herbs such as rosemary, sage, and if available, wild fennel and myrtle
1. Chop up the interior meat into strip and prepare little logs with each log containing a piece of kidney, heart and lungs. Wrap the log in the netting so that each log resembles a sausage wrapped in casing.
2. Once the logs are wrapped, add to a baking sheet and add potatoes cut to the same size and dimensions.
3. Add the aromatic herbs, salt and at the end the olive oil. Don’t add too much oil or it can get too greasy.
4. Put in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes until the potatoes are ready.
5. Enjoy with Primitivo wine, of course!