Pizza and pasta have become staples of our American food culture. Yet those original Italian recipes originated a long time ago in places nowhere near your local strip mall in Jersey. Have you ever felt that something that’s your favorite (be that your favorite band, movie or local pizza shop) jumped the shark, so to speak? Meet Stir & Sip‘s Stacia. Raised an Italian foodie, Stacia is extremely frustrated by generic, processed, commercialized Italian food. So much so that her brand new blog is going to feature online video classes, sharing old-fashioned Italian recipes. We recently caught up with Stacia in her cute kitchen in Philadelphia, over some homemade Italian delights, to chat about her love for traditional Italian food and her thoughts on the modern American-Italian food world. And, yes, Stacia’s lovely smile in her photos and upcoming cooking videos is 100% genuine, especially when she’s talking about her love for Italian food. 🙂
What are your memories of food growing up?
My passion for cooking definitely stems back to my childhood. I grew up in a household with an Italian-American mother who loved preparing traditional Italian dishes. Needless to say, we were a well-fed family. I remember being my mom’s “helper” in the kitchen. It was my job to determine when the pasta was al dente.
So, then where did your mother learn all about food?
My mom learned her cooking secrets from her father, who was from Santo Stefano di Camastra, a municipality in the Province of Messina in the Italian region Sicily, about 100 kilometers east of Palermo. My nonno (grandfather) was an Italian-American farmer and an incredible cook. My mom grew up in a household where the food on the table was what was produced on the farm. My nonno brought his family’s traditions from Sicily to the dinner table in America.
Even after my grandparents sold their San Joaquin Valley farm, my nonno maintained an immaculate garden. All of his dishes were made from ingredients that he grew. To this day, the smell of fresh basil, tomatoes on the vine and freshly picked peaches remind me of my grandparents’ house.
Actually, my nonno and his own father made their own wine. My mother was so influenced by this that she ended up getting her college degree in enology (wine production) and was one of the first women in the field. She now teaches wine appreciation at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington, and has worked for various wineries over the past 30 years. Now she even has her own wine touring business in the Pacific Northwest. She also makes a mean bottle of Shiraz.
So when did you become the hands-on Italian foodie that you are now?
My family’s traditions shaped the person I became as an adult. In my early 20s, I was curious to further explore Italian culture. I bought a one-way ticket to Rome and spent two and a half years in Italy learning to live la dolce vita. I spent time with some amazing cooks who showed me the simplicity of Italian cooking. I quickly learned that American food is much like other aspects of American living: excessive.
Spending time in Italy taught me more than I could have ever expected. I learned how to live a moderate life style. I was reminded of the traditions that I grew up with. I discovered the intimacy that develops when cooking and dining with others. I realized the importance of slow food and slow dining and the value of fresh, simple ingredients.
What’s your cooking lifestyle like here in the States?
Though stateside these days, I find that cooking rewards me by taking me back to la dolce vita. Homemade pesto, polenta and gnocchi are the dishes that I loved as a child. I learned how to create these magnificent meals while living in Italy and now love preparing them for my friends. In fact, my passion for cooking has recently led me to create a cooking video blog. It’s a work in progress, but it is definitely enjoyable. I love sitting down to share a great meal with my friends and this has been a wonderful excuse to have company over for dinner on a regular basis.
In a nutshell, I was fortunate enough to be raised by a family who values slow food and meal time gatherings. My experiences have greatly influenced my love for cooking. There aren’t words to describe my passion for quality food, exceptional wine and good company. There is a saying in Italian that shapes my meal time experiences: a tavola non si invecchia mai; in English, at the table, one never grows old.
What do you think of the modern food world, particularly the modern American-Italian “fast food” chains?
American-Italian “fast food” is a sad play on Italian food. I’m disappointed when
I see people eating at places like Olive Garden, Sbarrro, Bucca di Beppo and so forth. Most so, because I want people to know what real Italian food is. With my upcoming video cooking blog, I want to show Americans how simple and amazing real Italian food is.
What family recipe do you want to share with us?
My family always made their own sauces, and pesto was typically a weekend treat at my house growing up. To this day, the smell of fresh basil brings back memories of home. My nonno had basil plants in his garden, and he and I would venture to the garden and pick basil leaves for his pesto. Enjoy my nonno‘s Creamy Pesto Pasta. Buon appetito a tutti! Salute! 😉
Stacia currently is a nutrition educator for the Food Trust in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She educates students (K-8th Grade) about the benefits of eating “whole foods” (fruits, vegetables, etc). In addition to teaching nutrition classes, Stacia also hosts “cooking in the classroom” lessons, where she teaches kids how to cook healthy meals, and conducts parent workshops, where nutrition and food choices are discussed and cooking lessons take place. Stacia recently set out to share her knowledge of cooking Italian food, using natural, wholesome ingredients, by starting her blog, Stir & Sip with Stacia. Her online video classes are set to begin on March 1, 2012.