Being the one responsible for putting food on my family’s table gives
me a sense of pride, and it is how I express my love for those who
gather at my table. Because it is a matter of love and affection when I
prepare meals, I tend to add ingredients on whim and whimsy rather than
according to instruction. That is to say, I do not typically follow
formulas, but rather instinct and experience. I do not record my recipes
(actually, I have never in my life written one down until now), nor do I
ever really look at other recipes for inspiration. I suspect many home
cooks operate the same way: add a little bit of this or that and adjust
according to taste.
So, why am I now gathering a collection of recipes that have been in my
family for generations? In part, it is because of the name of the
coauthor on this book, my son Frank. I have happily spent a lifetime
preparing food and caring for my family, and so when he approached me
with the idea of recording my recipes, I saw it as an opportunity to
spend time with my son while enjoying a lifelong passion. It would be a
blessing if anything, that what I have learned over the years could be
useful to someone else.
There is perhaps a notion of legacy in these pages, as well. The recipes
I present here have gathered in my memory for decades; each one has at
one time or another been prepared for my family or loved ones. I am
humbled to remember those moments of satisfaction my children or my
husband (or whomever I was cooking for) felt when they ate my food. And
so, I associate memories with the meals I have prepared, and this
collection is a way to honor those memories.
The other aspect of legacy is that now that I have this collection, I
have something tangible to pass forward to my children and to others who
may be interested in reading about the art of Italian cooking. I was not
fortunate enough to have such a guide when I learned to cook, and so if
these recipes are at all a help to the at-home cook, I am more than
happy to share a few of my secrets.
Where do all these recipes come from? From a lifetime spent in the
kitchen, taking simple ingredients and transforming them into something
greater. In a way, each of the recipes is a story. To me, each meal is
an amalgamation of what may seem like ordinary ingredients—tomatoes,
basil, meats and cheeses—but when they are put together in just the
right way, and when done so with love and affection, they blend to
create something much greater.
And isn’t this an interesting analogy for life? If one takes care to
nurture the essential things—family, friends and loved ones—they
become the sustenance of life, capable of nourishing your soul and
feeding your every pleasure.
I recall fondly the memories of my early years in Poggio Valle, a simple
community of 25 or so families. It is where I learned the importance of
family and it is where I would one day meet my beloved husband,
Francesco. I was stricken the moment he rode into town on a motorcycle
looking for work as a bricklayer. Having already been promised to
another, I tried to ignore him, but Francesco wooed me through a series
of conversations late at night through a neighbor’s kitchen window. We
were young and in love. Perhaps we did not know much better, but fate
brought us to the same place; and so, when we married, I felt like we
were simply soul mates following our destiny.
There was, however, one source of disagreement between us. Francesco
desperately wanted to live in America, a land I had little desire to
even visit. Although I was born in Italy, I had the ability to apply for
US citizenship because my mother had gained citizenship and lived in the
United States prior to my birth. I had little interest in doing this,
but alas, I finally gave in and decided to at least try living in
In April 1961, our family began the voyage from Italy to a new homeland.
As a 23-years-old, I boarded the SS Independence for an arduous 9-day
journey. Because Nadia’s paperwork got held up in bureaucracy,
Francesco and my daughter would have to come later. This was actually
quite a frightening thing to me: I would be a foreigner traveling to a
new land without my family nearby to comfort me. I had never traveled
outside of Abruzzo, let alone another country. It was the longest 9 days
of my life. But Francesco surprised me; he had secured the proper
paperwork and had flown to America ahead of my arrival, and we were
quickly reunited. I do recall having Francesco promise me that he would
not fly with our daughter on a plane all the way to America. But the joy
of seeing him when I arrived in Philadelphia tempered my frustration
with him. Besides, the years have passed, and these small details tend
to fade away in the face of happier memories.
I will admit that life was strange in America where I learned English
watching episodes of I Love Lucy. I often got lonely because, while
Francesco, my brother, his wife and cousins who had come before us, all
had jobs to go to, I was alone in the apartment with Nadia. We were
fortunate to settle in Philadelphia among a community of like-minded
Italian immigrant families. My hopes for a return to Italy were dashed
after my second child, Agnes, was born with a medical disability. She
received excellent care in America, and I felt she had to stay close to
her doctors and nurses. And so, I had to resign myself to a new reality
- I would never return to live in Italy full time.
Despite never having much money, we were a happy family, and I took
great pride in being able to prepare meals for my family and care for
their basic needs. We would be blessed with another child, a son, Frank,
and we would continue to make many great friends. I would also find
salvation after the death of my daughter when fate and chance brought me
to the doors of the Don Guanella School run by the Archdiocese of
Philadelphia, where I found a career caring for children with special
needs as a housekeeper and cook. Over 35 years later, I still work with
these lovely children, and it gives me a sense of purpose and belonging
to be in their company. They were my salvation after I lost my daughter,
and again now that Francesco has also been taken from me. They need me,
and I need them.
I have seen a great many things in my life from unbelievable joy and
happiness to moments of sadness and hardship; through it all, I have
found meaning and purpose in my family and my ability to care for them
in the best way I know how. I was blessed with a talent for cooking, and
so I am honored and humbled to share these skills now in this collection
of recipes. I would like to dedicate this collection to my beloved
Francesco. I was fortunate to spend over 55 years with him, building a
family and living an extraordinary life together.
When I say that preparing food is a responsibility, it means so much
more than that. It means caring for family, the kinship of friends, and
the sharing of good times despite life’s struggles. It means giving a
little of yourself each time you put food on a plate to share with
whomever has gathered at your table. It means taking the time and care
needed to lovingly take a collection of ingredients and shape them into
something more. Food is a way to tell a story, to share yourself, to
create, to care for, to nurture. Food … is love.
Excerpted from "Italian Moms - Spreading their Art to every Table: Classic Homestyle Italian Recipes" by Elisa Costantini. Copyright © 2015 by Elisa Costantini. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.