Nonnas' Little Italian Tour

Nonnas. A Sheffield institution. And one that is often misunderstood. With their new street pizza bar heating up Sharrowvale Road, I scooted round for a bellyful of Italian cooking tips – and a slice of salami-laiden piccante…
It’s one of the biggest restaurant brands in Sheffield and one of the most misunderstood. Nonnas might be the only local restaurant I know of where bar tenders serve a traditional Venetian spritz without having to read the back of the Aperol bottle, but there’s still a perception of Sheffield’s ‘Little Italy’ as home to the kind of ten-bob millionaires so beloved of Ecclesall Road. Get past the glitzy façade and Nonnas’ gathering of mercato (markets), cookery classes (with Food Blog heroes Hartingtons) and brand new Street Pizza takeout reveal an authentic Italian experience with more in common with grandma’s kitchen than Sheffield’s golden mile…
The best way to find this paradiso is to have a chat with Gian Bohan; the man behind Nonnas and a hugely passionate advocator of simple, tasty Italian food. Sheffield-born and bred, but always close to his Italian background, conversation with the man is a mixture of mad anecdotes about being lost in Tuscanay, disappearances to grab bits of food and drink for us to try and awesome foodie tips and recipes…

Gian Bohan
Gian comes from a family of deli owners so when he and co-owner Maurizio Mori decided to set Nonnas up, they wanted to ensure that they had the ingredients sussed. So, with a few producers in mind, they took off to Italy with a van and five grand and started knocking on factory doors, introducing themselves with a breezy – “We’re from Sheffield. Can we buy some of your food?” And from this one trip, Nonnas (which means grandmothers in English) was born!

For a really simple pasta dish try frying off some garlic and chilli in olive oil. Then stir through some freshly cooked pasta. Top off with a sprinkling of grated Parmesan if you fancy (Nb Gian says to never throw away your Parmesan rind – they give real richness to any soup, casserole or sauce you cook. Just bag it up and stick it in the freezer until you need to use it. It’ll defrost in the cooking).

Given the luxurious Italian restaurants we have in Britain, it’s hard for some to believe that Italian cooking isn’t all glamorous. In fact a lot of Italy’s regional food is based on cucina povera (the kitchen of the poor). It’s about necessity; about getting a good healthy meal on the table whilst making the most of the ingredients to hand. And this is when Italian food really sings for me; off-cuts of meat, offal, beans, left over vegetables and stale bread. Whereas lots of us would turn our noses up at these ingredients, a good Italian kitchen will know how to make the most out of them. And of course, Gian was full of useful tips – including a couple of recipes which I’ve scattered elsewhere!
I was at Nonnas to taste rather than cook though. Nonnas’ Pizza takeout and cycling den is just round the corner (on Hickmott Road) from the restaurant and it’s a smaller, more boho space than the main restaurant as well as a great fit for the more eclectic Sharrow Vale Road area. We’re not about to moan about the Margherita – Gian was very careful to confirm the simplest of Italian pizza classics as his favourite – but Nonnas’ rotating menu of toppings contains a neat mix of the well-known and the more adventurous. My favourite is Fiorentina – which is a tomato free pizza with spinach, ricotta and baked eggs but Piccante also took my fancy with toppings of Spianata Calabrese (salami), Nduja (a kind of spicy pork spread that was new to me), mozzarella and tomato, while Exposed’s web editor liked the walnut pesto and speck ham combo. Here’s his unboxing video!

So what’s going on with all the bike stuff? I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of the sport myself but Gian has managed to pair his passion for food with that of cycling. After all, the more he cycles, the more he can eat! It actually seems that good food is a big part of the Italian cycling life thanks to the number of pit stops the cyclists have to take in areas littered with Michelin starred restaurants. And as Gian told me of a trip he took in Tuscany I began to think that I need to reconsider this cycling lark!

Try making ribollita with your left over vegetables. Just put them all in a pan with some water and literally re-boil everything before adding some chunks of stale bread. You could add some tinned beans such as cannellini and maybe some tomatoes or a stock cube too.

Looking for somewhere for a bite to eat while in the ‘cradle of the Renaissance’, Gian and his group pulled into a small village where nothing seemed to be open. Eventually they found a small family restaurant and on being refused a caprese salad, on the basis that mozzarella isn’t made in the area, they were treated to a full Italian meal with a wine list to die for. Gian talked of the courses with such joy, but this soon waned as he recalled the 4 hour cycle home after all that wine!

Gian introduced me to student chef Damiano who hails straight from an Italian catering school owned by an old contact. Damiano was lucky enough to secure a chance to work in the pizza kitchens at Nonnas and has been here for about a month. With this being his first visit to good ol' Blighty his English wasn't up to much (although it was infinitely better than my Italian) but Gian was on hand to translate. But there was some great insight into Damiano’s (and by extension, Nonnas’) passion for authentic, simple food with great ingredients at its heart. Exposed Magazine’s Online Editor Rob recorded a bit our chat with him with Gian translating as we spoke about coming over to the UK, how to make mushroom stock and the secret of a great risotto. Gian also takes us through how to make Pappa al Pomodoro which sounds posh but is a great example of simple, delicious peasant food – a five minute soup with chilli and tomatoes…

So, if you haven’t tried Nonnas yet and you’re interested in tasting some authentic Italian food I really do encourage you to give it a go. They’re open for breakfast, lunch and dinner so you can dine with them at any time of day, or just pop by for a handy slice!
Nonnas' Pizza is open Tuesdays to Fridays from 4-10pm, Saturdays noon to 10pm and Sundays 4-9pm. Click here for a menu. 

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