food. family. life.
My earliest memories are scattered images of life in a city in upstate New York called Schenectady. This is where I lived, played and shared a variety of food and drink that took a significant role in my life. My Mama Loreta and Papa Pierino made the daily routine of creating meals in la cucina (the kitchen) very seriously. I learned to deeply appreciate every ingredient; how it grew, where it came from and its health benefits. I was taught to prepare meals with simple techniques by harvesting local and seasonal fresh ingredients for authentic flavor in every dish.
My family (la famiglia mia) is from Italia, in a region called Lazio which is located in la Provincia di Frosinone. Sora is a small farm village where my parents grew up, located near the ancient metropolis and capital city of Roma. This was home until they chose to immigrate to the U.S. in 1958, looking for the American dream filled with hope and new opportunities. My famiglia’s European influence through language, religion, family values and, especially the food that was the crux of it all, gave me a life I loved and continue to cherish today.
Their struggles to become American never overshadowed who they were at their core. Their beautiful home language and traditions were fiercely upheld and shared with immense pride while working hard to take on the aspects of being Italian-American. Mama Loreta, Mammina as I call her, worked many hours preparing meals in her kitchen (la cucina di mammina.)
I began helping her prepare food at an early age after the style she was taught by her mother (Nonna Assunta.) She skillfully taught me what she had learned as a child. We were always gathering the family together at the table (la tavola) with a splendid, food-laden feast planned and ready weeks ahead of time. The quality and taste (sapore) of the ingredients affectionately prepared were all I ever knew and eventually learned to appreciate.
I was raised learning how to cultivate vegetables in our garden, how to help make homemade wine in the fall and to can fresh plum tomatoes from our summer harvest. We would eat the canned stored items during the fall and winter, all kept safely in our home’s wine cellar (la cantina) alongside the homemade dry sweet and hot sausages in olive oil, cured meats like salami, wine cured soppressata and, the elegant and delicious prosciutto we made every year.
I was coaxed and inspired by many food mentors in my family to become who I am today… gloriously happy in life and love with the soul of an insatiable foodie. For us, food was never an afterthought but more like an invited guest in our home. Whether we created a simple breakfast (colazione), or a snack (la merende), or even an eight-course holiday feast. Each meal was prepared to create the peak of taste and appearance on the plate. I learned to love and appreciate eating unique foods like baby lamb, baby goat and rabbit in the spring and summer months; and then fall would bring forth dishes made with heartier meats like beef, veal and pork to enjoy during the cooler, and eventually very cold, winter months.
Every ingredient was selected based on seasonal availability and brought to the table with vigor where it was admired by all, from the fussy infants to the laughing and expressive faces of the grandparents. We would eat and drink homemade wine and laugh together until the meal would finally end. Then out would come trays of fruits, cheeses, nuts and espresso to savor with biscotti and cordials. All the while, the men of the family would be engaged in a robust game of morra or a lively card game of scopa or briscola until the late hours of the evening.
My husband and best friend, Daniel and I are teaching these cultural values and family traditions to our two lovely daughters, Carina and Isabella, who have learned to appreciate who we are and what our family’s origins mean to us. The Cucina di Mammina blog is my inspired project in honor and regard for my wonderful Mammina Loreta and the famiglia who taught me about food, life, love and the important place we all hold at the table no matter how far we wander.
I wish to send la famiglia mia much respect and gratitude. They have inspired me to share what I love and have learned about food, family and our traditions. My heart’s desire is to keep learning about Italian fare and about many of our world’s food offerings. I find great pleasure in seeking out different foods, researching the unique family cultures and values that each ingredient or dish has to offer. These experiences have allowed me to gain much insight on the diverse societies and people who inhabit our world, always leaving me hungry for more.
I hope you enjoy my blog, a dream project I am thrilled to share with all of you. My postings will celebrate my family and food memories, food adventures, travel logs, and captured images of my passion for the art of life. I hope that you will find your own inspiring path as you begin to follow mine.
Annette L. Venditti