Tina Cozzarini, 92, learned to make lasagna from an Italian woman who lived in Creighton Mine. She shares her knowledge with Claudia Cirelli.
By Laura Gregorini
It’s a bustling morning in the Caruso Club kitchen filled with laughter and chatter as a group of women gather around a stainless steel countertop, their fingertips dancing atop a freshly floured surface.
The women form an impressive production line, kneading and then passing dough through a pasta maker.
Layering wide flat sheets between sauce and cheese, they move through each stage of construction, effortlessly and with grace. This is lasagna making at its finest.
Among them is a tiny-framed woman named Tina Cozzarini. At 92 years, she eagerly works three times a week and is keen on sharing her knowledge with the younger crew.
“She’s a fantastic worker and works harder than anyone I know,” said Claudia Cirelli, who has spent the last eight years learning to perfect authentic Italian cuisine from the matriarchal figure.
Traditional cooking skills such as pasta making may be a dying art as families, pressed for time, turn to ready-made pasta, but it’s alive and well in the Caruso Club kitchen.
Cozzarini is willing to teach and Cirelli is willing to learn – ensuring culinary tradition is passed down from generation to generation.
“I learned how to master the art of making the perfect lasagna from Tina,” said Cirelli.
“I learned from my mother, she always made lasagna, but there are some tricks that Tina taught me. The way she makes her dough and the way she rolls it, she’s very precise.”
There are no cookbooks or recipes scribbled onto scraps of paper in this kitchen. This is hands-on learning. There are no measuring cups or spoons either.
“You don’t count,” Cirelli said about the quantity of flour or eggs used in a recipe. “You learn to go by eye. It’s a matter of practice and ensuring it’s consistent.”
Consistency is key when it comes to food prepared at the Caruso Club. This is the same pasta recipe used 30 years ago when Cozzarini joined the kitchen.
When asked where Cozzarini learned how to make pasta, the answer is surprising.
“In Creighton Mine,” she said matter-of-factly.
Cozzarini first settled in the mining town after leaving the quaint village of San Giovanni di Carsarsa in northern Italy in 1952.
Lasagna isn’t typical northern Italy cuisine and so Cozzarini was fortunate to learn from another at-home-cook in Creighton Mine, where she lived and raised her family until 1987.
She likes working and socializing, especially because she lives alone.
When asked if she’s ever thought about retiring, Cozzarini just laughs. “Not yet,” she says and then bursts into Italian. “Mi piace lavorare, andare fuori con la gente, perche sono solo.”
With her husband deceased and children living out of town, Cozzarini says working keeps her healthy and happy. That, and tending to her beautiful backyard vegetable garden.
Where does she find the energy?
“I don’t even drink espresso.”
(Recipe courtesy of Caruso Club)
Place approximately 400 grams (14 ounces) of all-purpose flour on a board or in a large bowl.
Add a good pinch of salt and mix.
Form a well and crack four large eggs in the middle.
Mix eggs with your fingers and slowly incorporate flour, a little at a time, until all is mixed together, then knead the dough until smooth and well mixed.
You can add a little water if the dough seems hard or add flour is the dough is too soft. The dough must be smooth and silky and not sticking to your hands. This process takes time and a lot of muscle. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least half an hour.