Converting, cooking and culture with The Vegan Italian Kitchen

When someone says “Italian cooking”, it’s rare that veganism is the first thing that comes to mind. What does though, is a cuisine rich in tradition, heartfelt cooking, families coming together; essentially the culinary version of a warm embrace. Now, there’s no reason that veganism can’t fit the bill for all of the above, it just takes a little creativity.

Turning her cultural background into a vegan movement wasn’t the premise of Nadia Fragnito’s journey to The Vegan Italian Kitchen. Though she had played with vegetarianism for many years, it wasn’t until 2001 that the concept of a fully vegan lifestyle fell onto her plate.

Image: SBS The Chef's Line

As there were far fewer resources and products available to support a vegan lifestyle at the time, her venture into vegan cooking was born from a level of necessity. Nadia’s passion lied in connecting people through food. This meant that she had to get inventive around her cooking, which she told us was challenging... but in a good way.

“Not having the range of products available that are out on the market now, you know, ready-made items, meant that I had to play a little more with my cooking.”

As a creative character, this challenge drove her to experimentation and invention. And as a teacher by trade, her urge to share this knowledge grew. Her blog and social media channels are packed with this knowledge and became a wonderful platform for others to share. The connection social media can provide also came together naturally with her passion for connecting people through food. It was a win-win.

With a father born in Molinara, Benevento in Italy and an Australian mother Nadia was always learning traditional cooking methods and recipes from both sides of her family. However, when asked how her family reacted to the news that she had chosen to become vegan she said “I actually don’t think they thought I’d stick to it. They thought it was a fad... which is probably fair.”

It took some time but over the years they changed their ideas around cooking and what putting tradition on the table meant to them. It started with nut roasts at Christmas time and developed into Nonna placing her homemade sauce into margarine containers marked ‘NM’- no meat. This was a big step. There were a few accidental slip-ups along the way (the ‘NM’ labelling wasn’t always strictly accurate) but everyone tried to be as supportive as possible.

After releasing her incredibly popular cookbook aptly titled, ‘Discovering Vegan Italian’, the tables turned and Nadia’s mum then began making her recipes. “The greatest testament is if Dad likes a recipe, then I know it’s a good one” she laughed.

Nadias Delicious Walnut Ragu

Jesting aside, this is vitally important to her cooking. Food is an integral part of a person’s culture and it’s possible to honour that whilst choosing to be vegan. “Know that by being vegan you aren’t going to miss out on your food traditions. If you are a cook you can adapt ALL your recipes with vegan options. Food traditions are so important to people from childhood upbringing, to celebrations and family. You really don’t have to miss out.”

Wine is obviously an ingredient used frequently in and alongside traditional Italian cooking. Fortunately, Nadia stumbled across the knowledge that most wines weren’t actually vegan within the first few years of her exploration into the lifestyle but still says it’s a tricky topic to navigate.

Food products are usually labelled with this but alcohol typically isn’t. Particularly when eating out you may find that the staff don’t have this base knowledge. Her hot tip was to download apps like Barnivore, which can be a little pocket guide to help you figure it out.

“Learn to tackle as you go with everything. Once you start educating yourself, be gentle on yourself if you want to go vegan. Take steps but it’s all a journey that you have to work out on the way.”

To learn more or even ask questions of Nadia’s expertise you can connect with her on Facebook, Youtube or Instagram. You’ll also be able to keep up to date with her cooking retreats, which she hopes to be able to reinvigorate soon.

Print copies of Discovering Vegan Italian are available to purchase via Plus stay tuned, she’s working on a brand new cookbook with even more mouthwatering vegan delights to be published soon.