Mazzarella's debut provides a blend of family lore and recipes in this cookbook and loving tribute to his mother.
Benigna Preziosi Mazzarella lived to be nearly 108 years old. Her son thinks he knows why: good genes, hard work and her own home cooking, which, like the long life she lived, was unsentimental and unpretentious. She made her own pasta by hand—served in tiny, primi-appropriate portions—but when she wanted a fat-free, sugar-free treat, she turned to modern convenience foods like pudding and Jell-O mixes. The recipes—about 50 in all, from the basic pasta and lentils to “Mama’s Elusive Vinegar Chicken”—reflect this mix of New and Old World sensibilities. Beyond portion size, Mazzarella says his mama stayed slim her whole life by heaping on the vegetables and eschewing nearly all fat. Mama also worked as a seamstress until she was 80 and put dinner on the table for her family every night. That means readers won’t find too many labor-intensive or long-simmering dishes in this collection. Nor are there many hard-to-find ingredients (Mama Mazzarella never drove and walked a mile each way to the grocery store, which would quell anyone’s appetite for expensive oils), with one exception: pullia, or pennyroyal in English. Mazzarella devotes an entire chapter to the lengths his family would go in search of this beloved plant, and he shares a pasta recipe featuring the herb. Although Mama never wrote down her recipes, Mazzarella has taken pains to record them professionally, thoroughly and clearly; his prose is straightforward and his tone is light. Immigrating to America as a young adult, Mama raised her family in New Jersey, where she lived a life essentially free from drama. Mazzarella’s account of her life, taking up about a third of the book, is fittingly understated: no scandals, no heartbreak, seemingly no connections at all to the politics and events of the 20th century, even though his mother lived through every year of it. Just good luck, good health and good food.
A warm, homey collection of recipes from the lighter side of Italian cuisine, clear enough for kitchen newcomers.