Food-Family-Love: Silvia Colloca
It’s hard to imagine that Silvia Colloca is bad at anything. Born in Milan, the now Australian citizen is a trained opera singer, has her own TV shows – “Made in Italy with Silvia Colloca” and “Silvia’s Italian Table,” which she produced, created and wrote – and has appeared in movies including 2004’s “Van Helsing” and 2013’s “Nerve.” She maintains a hugely popular blog filled with traditional home-style recipes (silviascucina.net), and is the author of four cookbooks – a fifth is on the way. Yet despite all her achievements, she’s incredibly humble and down to earth. And despite the obvious pressures on her time, she’s incredibly generous with it. She’s particularly animated when she talks about her greatest loves: food and family, although not necessarily in that order.
“One of my earliest memories is the excitement I felt when walking into my nonna’s kitchen, smelling her sugo [traditional pasta sauce] as it filled the house. I’ve tried to recreate it, but mine just doesn’t have the same flavour. No amount of garlic can replicate the love my nonna put into that sugo,” Colloca says. “On special occasions, she’d make slow-cooked polenta with pork and sausage. I’m salivating just thinking about it. My nonna was quite tiny, but she’d lift that polenta cauldron and pour it onto a wooden board on the table, then she’d plonk the stew on top. We’d eat without plates, just with cutlery around the cooking board. Everyone had their piece to carve.
“There’s no extravagance in the memories that lead me back to my family table in Italy… There’s just a connection between food and the emotions it inspired; laughter, talk, love. That’s what the family table is all about.”
Married to Australian actor Richard Roxburgh and with three children – Raphael, 12, Miro, 8, and Luna, 2 – Colloca says that just about everything important in her life today harks back to these memories. “I think what has motivated my food writing career the most is the need to be catapulted back to that kitchen in Italy, because I was missing it so very, very much. It all started out of nostalgia and longing, then it enabled me to connect with others who had the same feeling.”
TODAY’S FAMILY TABLE
While Colloca and Roxburgh are often away from home filming, their ‘normal life’ in Sydney revolves around sitting down to dinner as a family.
“It doesn’t matter where you grew up, there’s a value that is very important when you get older, and that’s having a meal together,” Colloca says. “It can be quite simple – in a way the food is not that important. Really, it’s just an excuse to get together and have a connection. It just feels safe and uncomplicated. You’ve come home from work with the people who mean everything to you.”
As she was introduced to cooking at a young age by her mother and grandmother, Colloca is determined her children will have the same early opportunities to fall in love with food.
“I like the boys to get involved,” she says, “even if it’s just hanging out in the kitchen. I know how important it is for them to absorb it – it’s like a process of osmosis; they don’t even know that they’re learning. Cooking is such a life skill. If you can cook, you’re going to be popular. If you can cook Italian, you’re going to be more popular.”
Aside from attempting to re-create her nonna’s sugo, Colloca’s greatest culinary joy is baking. In fact, her passion inspired her latest cookbook, Love, Laugh, Bake! (Pan Macmillan). “There are 120 recipes, including an extensive section just on bread,” she says. “It’s something I make at home daily – my children are good eaters! I love making bread, but it’s also a necessity.”
THE NEXT CHAPTER
An Australian citizen of six years, Colloca says that while she misses Italy, she can’t imagine living anywhere else. “Sydney is my home now – it’s no longer, ‘I still live in Europe and sometimes visit Australia.’”
This change in mindset has influenced her cooking as well. “I’ve inherited this old box of recipes from Richard’s mum, and I make ANZAC cookies and lamingtons and other Australian dishes that have become my traditions. My parents are so interested when they try these creations: they see them as our family recipes now, as they’re made from the heart. Whatever food makes you happy, that becomes your language.”
Whether a lamington recipe makes it into the cookbook or onto the TV show Colloca is currently working on is still undecided, although she does experiment with other Aussie desserts, like Pavlova, on her blog.
“I’m so glad I’ve been able to create a space where we can talk about the importance of heritage and tradition and the legacy of food,” she says. “It brings me a lot of joy to connect with like-minded people and share my passion