Sharon’s Inner Italian
Italy transformed my life and I know I’m not alone. Sharing stories and recipes about Italy is my way to connect with others who’ve also embraced their Inner Italian.
As a young woman, I lived and worked for several years in Florence, Italy. It was there that I met and fell crazy in love with the adorable Walter Sanders from Chicago. After I convinced him that I was the best thing he’d ever found, we married in the historic Basilica of Santa Croce. We now live in eastern Pennsylvania-or “far western Italy” from my perspective-close to New York and Philadelphia. I travel in Italy as often as possible and, in my imagination, I’m there almost all the time.
As a kid growing up in rural central Pennsylvania, I rarely traveled anywhere, least of all abroad. Good food was a joy of my family’s life, an existence that was often rough. My father was frustrated at not being able to realize his dream of becoming a chef but I like to think he passed his passion for food and cooking on to me. He cultivated a garden and raised-with the help of an often less-than-enthusiastic work force of me and my four siblings-hogs, sheep, and chickens for the table. My mother was a from-scratch cook and a talented baker always willing to let me stir, knead or lick a bowl as necessity warranted. We even bought our milk from a local farmer. It came in gallon jars with a lake of heavy cream floating on top. So, I knew what fresh whole foods, lovingly prepared, taste like.
Why then, did eating in Italy exert such a profound spell on me? The freshness of the foodstuffs was dazzling, the flavors of the dishes divine, the variety of choices dazzling. (When I tasted the Tuscan seafood stew cacciucco for the first time, I thought I had been transported to another universe.) Yet, the seduction was due to intangibles, as well. Never before had I spent time in a culture where everyone, the plumber and the professor alike, understood and appreciated good food. People sat down to dine on sequential courses instead of plopping all the food on one plate. This prolonged the pleasure, not only of eating but, of the fellowship of the table. Even casual nourishment like mid-morning snack was rarely eaten alone. Friends would meet up at the cafe to sweeten their caffé with conversation.
Just window shopping at the food stores was satiating. The salumeria heaped with sausages and other cured meats, the fornaio counters stacked with hot-from-the oven loaves, the air in the latteria heavy with the tang of rich cheeses, the pasticceria crammed with edible jewels fashioned from flour, sugar, fruits, nuts,
and chocolate. And, if you purchased even a single sweet, the clerk wrapped it exquisitely and passed it back to you as if it were Christmas morning.
After a time living back in the U.S., I felt this magical sense of wonder re-ignite on a 20th anniversary trip to Italy with Walter and our daughters Emma and Tess, at that time 12 and 9. As they swooned for gnocchi in sage butter, peaches dripping with honeyed juices, and panna cotta, the idea for my latest book took shape.
With Cooking Up an Italian Life: Simple Pleasures of Italy in Recipes and Stories, I wanted to capture the magical spell that Italy weaves on those who are lucky enough to be susceptible to it. The book was selected by BookSpan’s The Good Cook and named to the “Top 10 Italian Cooking and Wine Books” by Italian food authority Kyle Phillips.
In my career as a food writer, editor and author, I’ve written, edited, or developed recipes for more than two dozen books. I am a Certified Culinary Professional through the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). I’ve contributed articles and recipes to Women’s Health, Cooking Light, Relish, Pleasures of Cooking, Southwest Airlines Spirit, Food & Wine, Washington Post and many other publications. I was a longtime staff food reporter/deputy features editor for the Chicago Sun-Times and cookbook editor for Rodale Books.
My greatest achievements are, and always will be, our daughters Emma and Tess. Emma’s on her own now and Tess is at college but I still prepare meals every day, just as I did when they lived at home, and before they came into my life. For me cooking is an act of daily grace, the most important gift I can give myself and those I love. I cook simple dishes with big flavors, prepared from local ingredients. In summer, I shop weekly at a local farmers’ market. In my garden, I grow basil, rosemary, lavender and other herbs for Mediterranean flavors and fragrances.
When I’m not at the stove or the PC, you can find me sipping Rosso di Montalcino under my wisteria crowned pergola, dreaming of you-know-where. I also like to spread the Italian lifestyle gospel on TV and radio programs, cooking classes, culinary events, wellness programs, and libraries throughout the country.
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