More than 15 family members, various friends, neighbors, two dogs and a camera crew were crammed into the cozy living room and kitchen of a Hastings, Minn., home to watch an 87-year-old chef slice into Mo Rocca.
“I don’t want any lumps!” snapped Aslaug Warmboe, as the former “Daily Show” contributor vigorously stirred a cream sauce for a potato dish. “Oh, shucks. You need more butter!”
During the afternoon shoot for the Cooking Channel’s “My Grandmother’s Ravioli,” a series in which the elder generation shares family recipes, Warmboe was sarcastic, stubborn and blunt, bragging about how easily she smuggles Icelandic lamb through airport security and coming up with the perfect rejoinder to Rocca’s quip that the shoot was actually her intervention.
“I call it an invasion,” she replied.
This is just the way Rocca likes it.
“We had a Polish grandmother in Season 1, and at the end of the shoot I asked her, ‘Did you have fun?’ ” said Rocca, sitting on damp patio furniture in the Warmboe family’s backyard. “She said, ‘It’s been real fun, kiddo. Now get out of my house.’ ”
Rocca, who created and hosts the series that’s now in its third season, believes older grandparents make better guests because they don’t care about the results. They aren’t looking for a reality show. They don’t wig out if their hair is a little out of place. In Warmboe’s case, if they think it’s time to take a break from the hot lights and do something important – like walk slowly to her armchair to crochet a dishcloth – well, that’s what’s going to happen.
“These people have had a really full life, and being on TV is so far down on their list of priorities,” said Rocca. “They can take it or leave it, which is what we want.”
While growing up in the Washington, D.C., area, his grandmother made homemade ravioli every Sunday night. She passed away before Rocca got around to asking her for the recipe. The series is a way to preserve signature dishes as well as personal stories from immigrants who struggled to fulfill the American dream.
In the first episode in 2012, Ruth Teig, a former math teacher in Scarsdale, prepared a Sabbath dinner while sharing how she became a Holocaust survivor. South Carolina’s Millie Martin taught Rocca how to make hot cabbage as she talked about a childhood of picking cotton.
And then there’s Warmboe, who took a break from her needling (both the dishcloth and Rocca) to reflect on enduring polio as a child in small-town Iceland and how her mother defied doctor’s orders by collecting ocean water every morning and then heating it up. She would then soak her daughter’s feet in the bowl and rub them. Eventually, Warmboe was able to walk.
The frequent result of these emotional memories: tears that aren’t from chopping onions.
It’s Rocca’s job to lighten the mood with gentle, affectionate jokes that would make him a stand-up star on the nursing home circuit, and he relishes it.
“I once thought it was hokey when people said it was better to have fun with somebody rather than making fun at their expense, because, I would think, every joke has to have a butt,” he said. “Theoretically, that’s true. But this show doesn’t. I loved ‘The Daily Show’ and those were worthy targets, but I love the simplicity of this. This show means more to me than any other project I’ve done.”
Even Warmboe was eventually charmed. After chastising Rocca for throwing cans into a regular trash can rather than a recycling bin and halfway threatening to bop him over the head with a mini Thor hammer from her utensils drawer, she finally mustered up enough compassion to pay him her ultimate compliment:
Louie and Pete’s Peach Crisp
From Louie Larson and Pete O’Connell for “My Grandmother’s Ravioli,” on the Cooking Channel.
Vegetable oil spray
3 pounds ripe peaches, peeled and cut into small chunks
2 tablespoons peach schnapps
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into large chunks
Vanilla ice cream, for serving
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch pan with vegetable oil.
Toss the peach chunks with the schnapps and lemon juice. Add the peaches to the pan and spread out evenly.
In a medium bowl, mix the oats, sugar, flour and salt. Add the butter and, using your fingers, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until mixture resembled small walnut-size crumbles. Sprinkle the crumbles evenly over the top of the peaches.
Place in the oven and bake 45 minutes. Serve warm, with vanilla ice cream.
Cucumber Tomato Yogurt Raita
Makes about 2 cups.
From Mona Vasudev for “My Grandmother’s Ravioli.”
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup grated carrot
1 cucumber, peeled and finely chopped
1 small tomato, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons lightly salted peanuts, crushed, optional
2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
1 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
In a large bowl, mix together the yogurt and sour cream.
Add the carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes to the yogurt and sour cream mixture. Add in the cumin and salt and pepper to taste.
Add in the peanuts and pomegranate seeds and mix everything together. Adjust the seasoning if needed, and garnish with cilantro.
Louie and Pete’s Lamb Spiedies
From Louie Larson and Pete O’Connell for “My Grandmother’s Ravioli.”
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon salt
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut into 1-inch chunks
Wooden skewers, 6 inches long,
1 loaf Italian bread, cut into 1-inch slices
In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, basil, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, salt and garlic. Pour the mixture over the lamb chunks and marinate for 24 hours.
When ready to cook: Soak wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes. Light a grill or heat a grill pan over medium-high heat.
Skewer the lamb chunks, 4 to 5 pieces per skewer. Arrange the skewers on the hot grill, turning every 2 to 3 minutes. Cook until browned, about 6 minutes.
Pull off the grill and let rest 10 minutes before serving. Serve with the Italian bread.
Maple Honey Vinaigrette
Makes about 5 tablespoons.
From Mary Napolitano for “My Grandmother’s Ravioli.”
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons maple honey
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
1 and 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, grated
Whisk together the oil, maple honey, vinegar, mustard and garlic in a small bowl.