Italian on the Table

Dina Swanson creates her family’s recipe in Maple Grove.
Dina Swanson's mom Nonna is the inspiration for her antipasto-making business.

Across borders and through generations, Nonna’s Best Antipasto has been passed from Dina Swanson’s grandmother and mother in their hometown in northern Italy, to Canada where they immigrated, and now to Maple Grove as Swanson jars the family recipe to sell at the local farmers market.

Growing up, Swanson’s home was filled with antipasto along with other classic Italian dishes, filling the air with smells that would make anyone hungry.

“As I was growing up, I would know she was canning,” says Swanson of her mother.

The overnight process of making this pickled delicacy was as much of a family effort then as it is now; Swanson says her father was a master gardener and her mother “a state-of-the-art cook.”

Between Swanson’s parents, they grew most of the seven vegetables in their antipasto recipe, which her mother had been making since she was 16 years old. Now Swanson, with the help of her husband, is canning the antipasto. Twenty years ago, her now-husband Tom tried the family recipe for the first time and shared his opinion: “Someday we need to can this and we need to sell it and we need to be proactive, get the recipe now!”

Finally, two-and-a-half years ago, Swanson began thinking of life in the long-term.

“What do we love to do? We love to cook, and we love to eat,” says Swanson of her husband and herself, as well as their two sons, Joey and Johnny.

And the adventure began. Swanson and her husband traveled to Canada and watched her mother make the antipasto. The recipe was never written down (although it has been since), so watching the ingredients come together was the only way to learn how it was made. Her mother’s hometown in Italy is located about an hour north of Venice where women would traditionally come to the house of an older woman to watch how food was made in order to bring the skill into their own household.

“You have to watch it being made, that’s how a lot of Italian recipes are. You should actually sit there and be a part of the production,” Swanson says.

The dish originally included fish and anchovies, but Swanson decided to make a vegan option, although fish can be added on top. At $8 a jar, it's a dish loaded with vegetables from an original Italian recipe (with no MSG).
The Nonna’s Best Antipasto logo includes a photo of Swanson’s mother at age 19.  Nonna means grandmother in Italian, which is what Swanson’s children call her mother.

With the new logo, Swanson is hoping to expand her business. She’s working with a co-op to potentially see her family’s antipasto on the shelves by the end of this year. So, the ingredients will make it to tables beyond Maple Grove, which Swanson loves.

“This is a whole new passion of ours and I have been so rewarded by people,” Swanson says. “It’s such a good feeling to share that product with them because food is kind of how you get to know people.”

As for eating the dish, the antipasto can go on top of crackers or rice as an appetizer before a larger meal.  Swanson says she remembers eating spoonfuls of the delicacy straight out of the jar when she was young.

“You enjoy it slowly, you dine and you enjoy the experience,” she says.