Notable Edible: Nonna Elena’s
All four of Lu Matrascia’s grandparents hailed from Italy, so it’s not surprising that she has spent many years traveling there. Savoring each trip, she always brought an extra bag to fill with Italian food and ceramics to take home. Standing amid the similar items lining the shelves of her new store, Nonna Elena’s, she states, “The stuff here is authentic!”
Matrascia and her wife Joanne Benyo recently moved Nonna Elena’s from Main Street in Yarmouth to Route 6A in East Sandwich. The new location is welcoming, with fireside seating and plenty of space for browsing the carefully curated import items.
Matrascia and Benyo live charmed lives between Italy and Cape Cod. Matrascia said they have stopped many times on their travels at the Hotel Piedmont, where their friend Carlo Zarri runs a restaurant. When Zarri visited the Cape a few years ago, the three of them decided to start an import company. They named it Nonna Elena, after Zarri’s grandmother, who was a famous chef in Piedmont.
Matrascia and Benyo are specific in their choices for Nonna Elena. “We have one brand of each thing. If we don’t like it, it doesn’t come here. We go there, we taste it, and we choose it. Carlo knows the best of the best over there,” Matrascia said.
A perusal of Nonna Elena’s shelves can only lead to inspiration. There is Pollo Nicola extra virgin olive oil from Liguria, the beautiful stretch along Italy’s northwestern Mediterranean coast. Matrascia described Pollo as sweet, fruity, and really olive-y. There is also Casa Margherita, a peppery olive oil from Umbria. Seeking to represent the range of flavors across Italy, Matrascia is working on importing a third oil from Sicily.
The shelf near the olive oil is home to a few carefully selected sauces from a small specialty foods business in Piedmont called Alfieri Sauce. The jars may look small to the American eye, accustomed as it is to culinary supersizing, but they will dress an entire pound of pasta perfectly. There is spicy red arabiatta sauce, a tomato sauce with porcini mushrooms, tomato and basil, and Genovese pesto.
Sauce must dress something, and Nonna Elena’s offers dried pastas in several shapes and cuts. Matrascia advises putting one pound of cooked pasta into a bowl with one jar of sauce and adding bit of starchy water from the pasta boiling pot. Mix it up and add grated Parmesan cheese, and, she said, “You have a dish for a queen.”
To round it all out, there is Italian bread delivered daily from a consortium of Italian bakers in Boston, and a tempting case of beautiful cheeses from Italy and dried sausages sourced domestically. The cheeses arrive in large wheels that Matrascia cuts and wraps herself. She has a sweet green Gorgonzola, Fontina for melting, and creamy Taleggio from Lombardia.
The store also offers a selection of honeys from Caudamiele including sunflower, lime, chestnut, ground hazelnut, and clover. The darkest honey, Acacia Forest, is reminiscent of caramel. There are truffles and two kinds of Arborio rice, spices, and soup mixes. There is Pellegrino soda to quench the thirst, Perugia chocolate to satisfy the sweet tooth, and it is easy to imagine setting your own table with the beautiful Italian ceramics.
Matrascia considers Italian food the healthiest in the world, and in addition to importing it, she highlights it even further through a series of monthly tastings. Upcoming tastings are May 22 (cheese and salami) and June 26 (antipasti).
Matrascia says her product choice is driven by popular demand, and she has certainly grown since the early days when she sold imports at the farmers’ markets, and customers asked, “When are you going to open a shop?”
598 Route 6A, East Sandwich
508-774-7062 / nonnaelenaimports.com
Wednesday-Saturday, 11 am-5 pm