My Aunt Jean just published “Momma Jean’s Kitchen: Featuring Marotta Family Recipes.”
It is the result of a decade-long project. In it, she celebrates both the joy of family and the comfort of Italian cuisine. I’ve been looking forward to sharing this piece of Marotta history. My grandfather, Guiseppe Marotta, came to this country through Ellis Island on May 6th, 1906 at the age of 17. After being here a few years, he returned to Squille, Italy to ask Rosa Fasulo to marry him.
Those of you who have published a book know the time and effort such a task requires. Here is an interview with the author, Jean Marotta.
From idea to publication, what part of the process took more work than you expected? What part of the process was more fun than you expected?
The publication process took much more time and effort than I imagined. From a word document to graphic artist to printer. Each step required more time than expected. Proofing and editing were also time-consuming. It was proofed at least 20 times. Each time we thought it was finished, we would find something we missed. From now on, every time I pick up a book, I will appreciate the journey from author’s pen to book store shelf
The fun part was picking out pictures to put with recipes. Each story and photograph brought great memories. The excitement of my family, especially my granddaughters, was also fun. They all had a hand in the finished product. It has been a wonderful journey from the first idea of writing my story in a cookbook to the final publication.
What are the best parts of family cooking which you hope your cookbook helps families recapture?
In this day and age, families rarely have time to eat together. The kids go off with their plates in one hand and electronics in the other. Hardly anyone sits around the table together. The kitchen is a warm place where wonderful aromas join with laughter and friendship. Cooking with and for your family is a loving gesture. It brings families closer. A bowl of soup is a warm hug. Come in the kitchen and cook with me. Give the children tasks to do. You will notice how they open up and talk about their day while they are performing their task. Gather your family around the table. Say grace, pour the wine, light the candles and mangia (eat). During this quality time together, share your daily experiences. Make it a family gathering. If it is impossible to gather every night, set aside a family night.
For you, what makes Italian food, Italian food
Culture and tradition. In Italy, Italian food was prepared with vegetables grown in backyard gardens and meat raised on the farms. Tomatoes, garlic, legumes, olive oil, pasta, and poultry were among the most common ingredients. When the Italians immigrated to this country, they brought their peasant ways of cooking with them. They have a strong sense of family. Food is a common thread that brings families together.
Can you recommend an easy, flavorful dish that a busy parent can get on the table in a flash?
HERBED BEANS WITH PENNE PASTA (page 66) comes to mind. It takes approximately twenty minutes to prepare. It is actually my favorite pasta dish in the book. Another one is pasta topped with JEAN’S “TASTES LIKE TOMATOES-OFF-THE-VINE” PASTA SAUCE (page 67. Pair either with a salad and a vegetable and you will have dinner on the table in less than thirty minutes.
Which recipe in the book do you make most often? Why?
SAUCE AND MEATBALLS (page57). It is one of my family’s favorites. It speaks of good times around the table together. The smell of meatballs sautéing and garlic frying in the pan permeates the house. Skylar loves the “sauceless meatballs”. They are ones that have browned but have not yet been added to the sauce. Sydney Rose likes the sauce with Italian bread. She places some in a bowl and sops the sauce up with her bread. Ally enjoys it too. It’s evident by her picture next to the recipe (page 56).
Which recipe should a young man learn how to make well in order to impress women?
SWEET ITALIAN SAUSAGE SAUCE (page 62) or SAUCE AND MEATBALLS or EDITH’S MEAT SAUCE WITH WINE (page59). Nothing says “love” like a bowl of pasta.
Which recipe in the book is for very special occasions? Why?
CHICKEN SUPREMES (page 108). It is scrumptious. Parmesan cheese, fresh bread crumbs, clarified butter are a heavenly combination. It makes a beautiful presentation and is delicious smothered in cream sauce. My children and grandchildren request it every Christmas. I pair it with BASIL RISOTTO (page 74) and steamed asparagus. It is a culinary delight.
It has been said that “Italian cuisine is characterized by its extreme simplicity, with many dishes having only four to eight ingredients.” What would you say are your essential ingredients?
If you have olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, fresh or dry basil, parsley, oregano, beans and parmesan cheese on hand, you will have options for dinner. There are many ways to use these ingredients. Don’t be shy, be creative. Add your own touches which could be, more salt, more seasonings. The possibilities are endless. For example, PASTA PUTTANESCA (page 58) begins with a Marinara Sauce with the addition of anchovies, capers, olives and fresh basil. It is served over penne pasta. It is scrumptious.
What is the most unusual dish you’ve ever made?
CHICKEN REUBEN (page113) is unusual simply because it does not have one Italian ingredient. Sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island Dressing are not exactly Italian. Yet, it is delicious and my husband requests it often.
Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your career, or the profession that would be interesting or helpful to others aspiring to write a cookbook?
I am first a wife, mother, grandmother and Registered Nurse. I raised three children and worked as an Administrative Assistant at the New York State Senate for 16 years. At the age of 58 I decided to earn my Nursing Degree. I graduated in 2002 as Valedictorian of my class. I subsequently worked as a Labor and Delivery nurse for 5 years and now work in the Pre-admission Testing Unit of a local hospital. I have four beautiful, loving grandchildren. I love to cook and feel comfortable in the kitchen. I tend to be a nurturer by nature so cooking satisfies that part of who I am. Anyone who likes to cook and serve their families should begin by writing their recipes down. Also, collect family recipes from relatives. It is a legacy to leave those who come after us.
Do you have any amusing kitchen incidents to share with us?
One day I made a pecan pie. I put it in the oven, set the timer and waited the allotted time for it to bake. The timer rang, I opened the oven door with the intention of removing it. It was beautiful. The pecans on top were toasted. It was a lovely sight. I reached in with my pot holders to pick it up and the whole pie slid out of the pie plate onto the bare oven rack. I stood there for a few minutes, staring at the pie dripping onto the oven floor. I felt like I was dreaming. I couldn’t believe it. It was quite a task to clean the oven after that incident.
What is your best cooking tip for a novice?
Keep your meals simple. That way you will learn the basics of cooking. Master the simple recipes, then move on to more difficult ones. Use your imagination. Pair ingredients that you like into your recipes.
Interested in buying the cookbook?