a terra cotta table spread with five pasta dishes and salumiRecipes and text by Jess Maiorano; produced by Stephanie Han Kim; photography by Christie Vuong; food styling by Ashley Denton; prop styling by Madeline Johari.

5 Recipes For An Italian Winter Feast

A second helping of busiate, another slice of ricotta cake: Linger over Sunday lunch a little longer with this warming family-style menu by Pasta Forever's Jess Maiorano.

I grew up with my nonna lifting her wooden pasta board onto our kitchen table, kneading dough by hand and rolling fresh cavatelli and gnocchi a few times a week. We’d jar sauce—tomatoes and basil, sometimes a few garlic cloves—in our zia’s garage every summer for access to summer tomatoes year-round. We grew peppers, made our own peperoncini and hung handmade salumi from the ceiling in our cold cellar.

Despite a childhood of learning to prepare food like this, I didn’t learn to cook until the years I spent working in restaurant kitchens in London, then Toronto and Montreal. I worked mostly in non-Italian restaurants and taught myself pasta-making on my days off. I felt a strong desire to make pasta as good as my nonna’s.

a woman at a wooden table rolling pasta sheetsJess rolling out fresh pasta sheets for ravioli from her home kitchen in Toronto. Photo by Daniel Neuhaus.
a black and white photo of a woman at a chairNonna Teresa Maiorano, in a photo taken shortly after she emigrated from Italy to Canada.

When the pandemic hit, I lost my job and started delivering fresh pasta, focaccia and Italian snacks across the city. That was when my business, Pasta Forever, was born. I opened a shop in Toronto, where these days I sell my food, cook private meals with handmade pasta and teach others how to do the same.

We focus on Italian simplicity, Ontario seasonal ingredients and pasta shapes with special fillings, or varieties no one else in the city makes. I think it’s important to expand beyond rigatoni, spaghetti, penne—shapes that became popular in North America. From lorighittas and capunti to busiate, there’s a world of pasta that’s fun and easy to make.

I hope you enjoy all these recipes. Keep them with you, change them with the seasons and make them your own. Recipes are only a guideline; don’t be afraid to have fun with them!

Braised Leeks and Stracciatella

Hailing from Puglia, in the south of Italy, stracciatella is what makes up the creamy insides of a ball of burrata cheese. It also happens to be my favourite cheese, and it makes a perfect side when paired with seasonal ingredients. Get this braised leeks and straciatella recipe, and the charred onion stock recipe to accompany it.

a bowl of braised leeks

Marinated Olives with Citrus and Fennel Seeds

Bathing olives in oil and spices is an easy way to dress them up and make them ahead of time. Use your favourite olive variety or a mix of Italian olives, such as Castelvetrano, Gaeta or black and green Bella di Cerignola. Get this marinated olives recipe.

a bowl of marinated olives

Busiate with Onion and ’Nduja Ragu

This recipe was created during our last lockdown in Toronto, when a snowstorm hit and all the local veg stores were closed. All I had on hand were onions, ’nduja, tomato paste and flour. I immediately fell in love with the simplicity and the depth of flavour of the ragu, made with a homemade charred onion stock. Busiate is a hand-rolled, twisted noodle (picture a ’90s telephone cord) that scoops up the sauce perfectly, but any twisty noodle will do. Get this busiate recipe, and the 'nduja ragu recipe to accompany it.

a bowl of busiate pasta

Winter Green Salad

One of my favourite parts of Sunday dinners with my nonna was the insalata course, always served after the pasta. It was just seasonal greens, dressed simply with red wine vinegar and olive oil, and was always delicious. This vinaigrette has a few more ingredients to pair with the bitter winter greens (notably, the honey). You might want to double or triple the vinaigrette—it’s a great staple to keep in the fridge all week. Get this winter green salad recipe.

a bowl of salad dressed with vinegar and olive oil

Migliacco di Semola (Semolina and Ricotta Cake)

Think of migliaccio as an Italian cheesecake, but lighter than most North American varieties. Originally from the Campania region of Italy, it was traditionally made with millet. The recipe changed over time to be made with semolina. While the cake can be made with semola, the finer variety of semolina, I prefer to use the coarse variety here. Don’t skimp on the orange, as it provides a ton of flavour. Get this semolina and ricotta cake recipe.

a cake on a cake stand with four slices cut into it