South Australians have the late Lucia Rosella to thank for introducing southern Italian cuisine to their capital city. Lucia learned to cook from her mother in the farming village of Pago Veiano in Benevento in southern Italy. During World War II, Lucia’s husband Pasquale was sent to Victoria as a prisoner of war, and it was there that he fell in love with Australia and vowed to return. The couple finally emigrated to Adelaide in 1956 with their two daughters Nicci and Maria. It was a neighbour enthralled by Lucia’s cooking who eventually prompted her to open Lucia’s Pizza & Spaghetti Bar at Adelaide Central Markets a year later. Fifty-six years on and Lucia’s is the establishment for pizza margherita and home-style bowls of spaghetti bolognese, made to traditional recipes.
“The recipe for Mum’s bolognese hasn’t changed for more than 55 years,” explains Maria, who now continues Lucia’s legacy with sister Nicci Bugeja. Tomatoes grown locally are harvested in the summer and combined with fresh basil, garlic and olive oil. “The secret of her passasta lies in the freshness of the ingredients,” she reveals.
Family forms the heart of Lucia’s heritage, and Nicci’s husband and their three children are deeply cemented in market life with Stall 69 (also at Adelaide Central Market), as well as Lucia’s Fine Foods, which opened in 2002, the year Lucia passed away. “The store’s location next door to the cafe is perfect and, while we only stocked Lucia’s brand products to start, over the years we’ve introduced other local and intercontinental ingredients,” explains Nicci’s daughter, Emma, who’s the store manager. “There’s a great cultural mix here, with foodies in touch with dining trends taking their notes from celebrity chefs.” South Americans flock to the shelves for hard-tofind ingredients such as Pan Polar flour, a popular brand of white cornflour used for arepas (corncakes stuffed with a filling) and alfajores (shortbread-like sandwiched biscuits), while Persians select pomegranate molasses and pashmak, a fine cotton candy.
The freezers are packed with Lucia’s popular baked gnocchi and ravioli. “Not only do we have loyal weekend customers, we also have daily regulars, who like to nosh at the cafe for lunch, then grab a take-home minestrone soup for dinner,” says Emma.
Also for sale are bottles of olive oil, lemon vino cotto and Lucia’s aged white balsamic. The latter, which flies off the shelves, is pressed from the Trebbiano grape. I’m told it’s best drizzled over green salads. As for the coffee, seven unique beans make up Lucia’s aromatic blend, which sits proudly in white bags, while the front counter is devoted to artisan breads. Sourdough rules, along with the hand-crafted pizza bases and olive Toscana loaves.
On my way out, Emma hands me a jar of Lucia’s Classic Napoletana Sauce; it’s not hard to guess what the bestseller is.
Cauliflower & cavolo nero rice pie
Encasing a creamy risotto filling with nutty cauliflower and Tuscan black kale, this flaky filo pie is delicious both warm or at room temperature.
Pear & chocolate chestnut frangipane tart
Chestnuts were once a staple of the Italian diet - ground into flour to make bread - and festivals still commemorate their role in sustanining country folk during lean times. Here, they lend a nutty flavour to pear tarts.