I was born and raised in Verbicaro, a small wine-producing hill town in Calabria, at the southern tip of the Italian peninsula.
My parents shaped my connection to food and the land. My father was a master cheesemaker and winemaker, tending our family’s olive groves, vineyards and farm where we also kept goats and sheep. Almost all our food came from our property or the nearby Mediterranean. My mother and grandmothers knew how to live from the land, how to grow vegetables and preserve them for the winter months, and how to make bread and friselle from scratch. They knew how to make pasta with only flour and water and shape it every possible way, even rolling it around a knitting needle to make the famous Calabrian fusilli.
As a child, I learned from them. I took wheat to the mill, returning home coated from head to toe in white flour. I watched them press olives into oil, and inserted strips of tomatoes into the glass bottles we used to preserve them.
My parents and I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area when I was 14 years old. We quickly settled into the faster pace of life here but always kept our cooking traditions. We still grow our own produce, make our own ricotta and cure our own salsiccia calabrese. Cooking remained a large part of my life in high school, during my college years at the University of California, Berkeley, and throughout my successful career as a chemical engineer.
After 20 years of working in Silicon Valley, I retired and became a stay-at-home mom, honing the kitchen skills that I learned from my mother and grandmothers. Then, in 2004 an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Calabria from Scratch”, was written by celebrated food writer Janet Fletcher. It was about my family and how we kept all the traditions of Calabria in a small corner of Oakland, California. Working on this article with Janet inspired me to share the cooking of my native land. I offered two cooking classes at a kitchen I rented, not expecting much demand. Because of the article, 250 people called that first week. I ended up teaching a class every week for eight weeks, until we ran out of vegetables from our garden. I still can’t believe how many fusilli we made in those weeks.
My students demanded more classes, so I added classes on holiday delicacies, making ricotta, and preserving summer's bounty, plus classes from other regions in Southern Italy: Sicily, Basilicata, Puglia, and Campania.
At the urging of my students, who believe that interest in Calabrian home-cooking would interest people far beyond my classes, I teamed up with Janet to write a book about the region’s foods and specialties, as well as everything that Calabria has to offer. The book “My Calabria” was published November 2010 by W.W. Norton, and was nominated for an IACP cookbook award.
I am currently working on my second book focusing on the desserts of Southern Italy. “Southern Italian Desserts” will be published by Ten Speed Press on October 8, 2013.