Scrolling through the Pasta et Al Instagram page, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Alec Morris was posting photos of dishes from a fine dining establishment. But Alec is no chef, and there’s no restaurant. It’s just a Dad and his son in their home kitchen, passing on a passion for pasta inspired by his Nonna.
During Alec’s childhood, he was often sent to spend the day at his Nonna’s house, where she would put him to work. From a young age, he learned to mix dough, crank the handle on the pasta machine and fill ravioli. Alec and Nonna made enough pasta to feed all the aunts, uncles and cousins of his extended Italian family living in Perth.
While a childhood surrounded by Nonna’s cooking may sound idyllic, Alec says he didn’t fully appreciate it at the time: “We just took it for granted. Having these little food traditions, it was just part of life,” he tells Region Media.
“I think it’s taken me a good 20 years to kind of realise that that was something a bit special.”
As an adult, Alec moved away and started a family in Canberra, but it wasn’t until the birth of his first son – whom readers of the blog will know as ‘little Al’ – that he really considered how important those childhood memories were.
“When we had our first son, it kind of occurred to me that this thing I’d been doing my whole life was tied to my identity more than I realised. And that came out in passing it onto the little guy.”
Alec and little Al have reinstated the family tradition of making pasta every Sunday, and they’ve started to put their own creative spin on the classics. Bright blue spirulina sacchettoni with a prawn filling, and 90s inspired triangoli are just two of the colourful creations that have impressed his followers, although they do get a few irate messages from pasta purists!
Alec told me that shopping with Al at Canberra’s markets has influenced his cooking,
“Al will point something out that he wants to cook with, and I really like the idea of getting him involved in choosing the vegetables and ingredients and then buying it, bringing it home, turning it into food and sitting down to eat it.
“I kinda like that idea of going as far back from the plate as you can and involving him in it.”
And the 90s triangoli?
“I was going through a phase of listening to 90s songs, so I decided to try and turn that into pasta,” he laughs.
The Pasta et Al blog started as a fun way to share their passion for pasta with the world, and Alec is delighted that readers have attempted all of their dishes, even the wackiest combinations! But many of their most popular recipes are some of the simpler dishes, made with ingredients you might find at the back of the fridge.
“A lot of what we do, especially the simpler stuff, is just what we have in the pantry. So sometimes I feel a bit embarrassed when a recipe we put up gets really popular. We had one a while back, a crushed olive pappardelle. It was genuinely just that I had nothing else left in the cupboard to cook with!
“It was a real cucina povera: just cooking with whatever you have.”
The blog and Instagram account are currently labours of love, but Alec is hopeful that when life calms down after the birth of his second child, he’ll be able to take it further. He’s hoping to turn his ‘digital community’ into real-life partnerships with other local food bloggers, grocers, photographers, and cooks.
But for now, he’s content that the blog is inspiring others to create family traditions of their own,
“I really like that idea that it’s helping people get themselves and their kids into the kitchen and bring a bit of mindfulness to what they’re doing,” he says.
“Some of the best feedback we’ve had is when people get in touch and say their Nonna likes the blog or they’ve cooked something for the family. That’s a big stamp of approval!”
If you’re looking to start a family food tradition of your own, Alec recommends putting pasta on the menu.