Bunbury woman Loretta Castrilli demonstrates an Italian favourite

Loretta Castrilli learnt how to make the best homemade pizza from her mother in-law. She now cooks it for her children and grandchildren.
Loretta Castrilli learnt how to make the best homemade pizza from her mother in-law. She now cooks it for her children and grandchildren.

When I decided to do an 'In my kitchen' segment for the Mail, I had no idea what I would be up for.

I want the segment to provide a window into a Bunbury resident's life who loves to cook and has a great story to tell.

After going to my first one, I realised that only will I hear great stories but I will be eating some great food.

I walked into Loretta Castrilli's home and she already had her apron on with ingredients on the table and dough proofing off to the side.

As we sat at her kitchen bench, with a cup of tea she told me she decided to make one of her mother-in law's specialty - home made pizza.

The recipe is traditional to where her husband's parents grew up, in the hills, to the east of Rome.

With her mother-in law Michelina being 91 and her husband Antonio being 92, Loretta has taken on the family chef role to ensure the recipes and traditions are passed on.

"I do it for them - otherwise it gets lost" she said.

Loretta couldn't help but get emotional when she reminisced about how Michelina and Anotonio would host their three children and their families every Thursday for a feast.

"It started with John's [Loretta's husband] sister and her husband, then their daughter, then John and I got married and we had our first daughter, then John's brother got married and had his first daughter and then she had another," she said.

"As years went on the kitchen table grew and grew and grew and on different nights there could be up to 15-20 people that she would cook for.

"As family all the cousins saw one another, sit and talk and it was great, it kept us all together."

The emotion was genuine on Loretta's face and it maybe a cliche but it was beautiful to see how food brings people together.

As Loretta began to talk me through the recipe, my mind was blown a secret ingredient in the pizza dough.

She has been a very good teacher, such a passion for food, her whole life in the garden and cooking.

Loretta Castrilli

She said the trick to keeping it light and soft was to use potatoes.

"You cook the potatoes, mash it up using the water it was cooked in, add the yeast and let it activate, then you add the flour," she said.

"I had never seen it done before, to me it was completely different.

"I have tried without potato and the dough is harder and not light and fluffy, potato makes it fresh and easy to eat."

Once the dough is proofed, Loretta adds 400 grams of cherry tomatoes that has been crushed up and garlic, parsley, salt and pepper added to it.

She then assembled the pizza adding bacon, olives, basil, cheese and olive oil for the topping.

"It is very plain pizza but that's how she has always made the pizza," Loretta said.

Loretta used home grown garlic, parsley and basil, but in Michelina's home, everything would be home made.

John was three when his parents brought him and sister to Australia.

"Back in early days a lot of the ingredients we couldn't find so you would grow it yourself," John said.

"People don't make things from scratch as often because now you can get anything you like."

Michelina would go into their back shed to make most of the food and she would use a wood oven.

"It was the best when it [pizza] would come out of the mettaz 2 wood oven," John said.

Loretta feels lucky that she has been able to spend the time she has with her mother in-law.

"She [Michelina] has been a very good teacher, such a passion for food, her whole life in the garden and cooking."

Loretta said Michelina would make one particular cake for everyone's birthday and it was her favourite Italian dessert.

"She would make this beautiful sponge, cut it in sections and make a custard, pour coffee and liquor and do another custard layer and cover it with cream," Loretta said.

"It is the traditional Italian torte and it was to die for."

Loretta is fortunate in that she has learnt traditional Italian food from two different provinces.

"My parents grew up in northern Italy, outside of Venice," she said.

"Main town was Treviso in the Venito region. She was a good cook but my mum never did what Michelina did."

Venetian cuisine would include a lot of polenta and seafood as it was closer to the coast, Loretta said.

"It's about what's available in that region," she said.

"I try and make other things for her [Michelina] and I make things for the kids, like my bread polpette, like a bread meatball without any meat.

"I have always enjoyed cooking..... I have done some form of waitressing from when I was 17 years old."

As Loretta is taking the pizza out of the oven, her and John told me how you could never go to his parents house and not be offered food or drink.

It didn't matter what time of day it was, if something was offered to you, you could not say no.

"She was would say 'what do you mean you don't want coffee?'" John said.

Michelina would always bring something out and say "mangia, mangia" which means "eat eat" Loretta said.

While Michelina and Antonio don't do what they used to for the family, they are still in their own home.

"They are looking after each other - we are blessed," Loretta said.

Do you know a great local home cook?

Let us know by contacting jemillah.dawson@austcommunitymedia.com.au