Guest Post: Christina Markham’s Strega Nona Meets Strega Mama

Strega_Nona_(Tomie_dePaola_book)_cover_artPasta and Magic.  Next to clean air and indoor plumbing, they are two of the most important things in our home.  The only thing better is when pasta and magic meet together in a book.  Then it’s like the holy trinity.  One of our favourite books is Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola.  In it, Strega Nona (Grandma witch) of Calabria is full of potions that heal, and beautify, and help others.  One of her hidden secrets is a clay pasta pot that is very special to her.

When Strega Nona chants to her clay pasta pot, it makes her fresh hot delicious pasta.  When she is full, she chants something different and blows three kisses for it to stop.  She is full and happy, until someone tries to work her pot, with some success……

There is no sauce in the story, but that is where my magic comes in.  I call my magic Strega Mama (Mama witch)….

My kids are good eaters, they will eat most of the meals I make without too much grumbling.  When it happens to be pasta, there is no grumbling.  As they eat, I wonder if there is even breathing.

strega pot

When we make our pasta, we chant to the pot, but we throw some serious magic words into the sauce pot.  All the vegetables disappear, and what follows would make Strega Nona proud.

The recipe for Strega Mama sauce is very flexible.  The trick is making the good stuff disappear!   My kids love to chant above the pot while I blend away that yucky stuff (vegetables).    I blow three kisses following the sauce’s completion (one for each of my kids).

You will need a medium-sized pot, and a hand blender for this recipe.

Ingredients:  You may want to substitute for your favourite vegetables, or add your favourite ones!

It may look like a mish mash, but it all goes well together.  

Onion (1 medium chopped)

Garlic (4-5 cloves chopped)*

Celery, chopped

Carrots chopped

Zucchini (1 medium chopped)

Red and green peppers ( ½ each chopped)


eggplant (medium, cubed)

one can of crushed tomatoes/bottle of passatta (strained tomatoes)

half a can of water

* we use a lot of garlic in our home, less is fine too.


Salt to taste

fresh ground pepper


cinnamon sticks (2)

In a medium pot, heat 2-3 tablespoons of Olive oil (good quality, first cold pressed always makes everything taste amazing!!!)  Add the vegetables in stages.  Make sure the previous ones are tender before adding the next ones!  My steps can be changed according to your desired tenderness.  Cook over medium heat.

add the chopped onions and cook until tender (2-3 minutes)

(cook the following vegetables for 3-5 minutes or until desired tenderness)

add mushrooms

add the celery, carrots and peppers

add zucchini and eggplant

add salt, pepper and oregano

let the vegetables cook together for a few minutes

add the garlic and stir into the vegetables

add the can of crushed tomatoes or passatta with half a can/bottle of water (passatta comes in glass bottles)

add cinnamon sticks

stir until well mixed and leave over medium heat until it comes to a boil.  Reduce heat and cover.  Let it cook for about 20 min (depending on your stove)

This is where the magic begins:


You will be blending directly into the pot.  Have your children make up some magic words, take them from the book, or take the lead and be as silly as you can.  As everyone chants, blend.  Blend away any trace of eggplant, or peppers.  Any trace of vegetables!  When it becomes saucy (no chunks) cover and let it cook for another 10 min (not more)

When it is complete, add a bit of olive oil (2 second pour) and turn stove off.

Serve it over some spaghetti (any pasta and even rice works nicely)  and sprinkle with good quality parmigiano cheese.

Enjoy what Strega Nona brought into our home and make your own magic!


Christina Markham is a mother of three by day and a gymnastics coach in the evening.


3 thoughts on “Guest Post: Christina Markham’s Strega Nona Meets Strega Mama

  1. Christina – I can’t wait to read this book with my boys as they are lovers of most foods but like yours, when pasta is in involved, I can barely keep up with the requests for seconds and thirds and fourths . . .

  2. Your recipe sounds awesome! I do a lot of canning but have never thought to use cinnamon sticks in my recipes… I have to try it!

  3. Cinnamon sticks make the difference in the meal. It’s my dads trick and I never make a sauce without them!! Enjoy!

    Beth-Anne, your boys will love this story and whatever magical pasta you can make!

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