Respect for the land was thought to me by my grandmother at an early age. In the region of Calabria, Italy, where I lived with my mother, father, five siblings and, of course my grandmother, the day would start early and the planning of the day's meals would be second only to the lighting of the focolare (hearth) witch served as the main source of household heat, both for Winter and chilly Summer nights.
By the time we returned home from school, the house would be already enveloped in wonderful aromas of appetizing ingredients simmering on the stove, mixed with the soft voices of my mother and grandmother discussing events of the day that had already taken place earlier in the morning, or, with just a hint of pride and satisfaction, how the neighbor's focaccia was not as good as theirs.

Upon our entrance their attention would immediately focus on us and the "merenda" (snack) that would hold our hunger until dinner time.  After having wolfed our snacks down, we would try, all at once, to get their attention, each of us convinced that the one screaming the loudest would receive the most.

After settling us with our homework, my mother and grandmother would go back planning the next fruit or vegetable canning of the season. Cooking with the seasons has always been the rule to Italian cooking and for good reason.  In season, fruit and vegetables have the best flavor and texture, as a result they require simple cooking to bring forth the full freshness, an advantage to busy and health conscious cooks.

Since I can remember and even before I was tall enough to reach a countertop, I was always trying to "help " in the kitchen with my mother and grandmother gently directing me. I knew even then that I would never part with those exquisite aromas. Early on I was made  to recognize the change of the seasons by the colors of fruits and vegetables.

As soon as autumn would make its entrance, my grandmother and I would take long walks in the woods she owned, in search of mushrooms, instilling in me the serious, complicate way of choosing them. Mushrooms have an uncanny habit of springing up, maturing and vanishing, within the space of a few days or a couple of weeks. Some types appear at the same spot year after year, others not. Upon returning home my mother and grandmother would start the process of cleaning, storing and preserving, some, and cooking others. A good ragu of mushrooms consisted of a mixture of different types, each with its own distinctive flavor, making it a highly flavorable dish.

Spring would announce its arrival with a gentle breeze that would make the curtains, in open windows, dance while wonderful aromas of dinners made with freshly shelled peas and/or asparagus would waft through.

Summer in Calabria would arrive bouncing with the energy of a child let loose at the end on his last day of school. The sun is bright and dry, temperatures, usually reaching 90, perfect whether for lazy naps and long swims in the nearest pond.

Large tomatoes, with sweet red bright pulp, grazed with the most sweet tasting basil; freshly roasted peppers, drizzled with the best extra virgin olive oil;  chunks of Reggiano parmigiano or Pecorino Romano; bread with a crunchy crust and soft middle accompanied by the most delicious wine, would usually be supper.  After dinner, a "passeggiata" (walk) would be the perfect ending to a summer day.  Friends would gather in groups in the "Piazza" enjoying each other and stopping to an outside café, for espresso, cappuccino or an "aperativo", with the moon and stars shining bright in the background.

Winter is story-telling time.  In winter, after dinner, we would all gather around the "focolare" and listen to stories told to us many times before, always with a different ending to keep the excitement alive. My "nonna" would roast chestnuts and dried figs on the fire while we children would force ourselves to stay awake so as to not lose even a minute of it.

Dinner would consist of robust dishes; prosciutto, salame of every variety, black olives, cured in olive oil are only but a few of the dishes spread on the table, all accompanied by the hearty laughter of my family.

Food has always been a connector that brought families, friends and people together. Whether an elegant meal at the home of a friend or in one's own kitchen, Italian food brings memories of festivities, good times and wonderful mouth watering flavors of delicious antipasti, pasta of every shape, crisp salads, fruit and vegetable straight from the garden, delicious sauces, fresh fish and seafood; high quality lamb, pork, beef, freshly cut by the local butcher; backed goods, from tiramisu to savory focaccia.

Italian cuisine has never been more popular, both in Italy where traditional recipes are enjoying some kind of rebirth, and other countries where is no longer believed that the norm for Italian food are Cheap wines in the wicker-clad bottles, pizza and spaghetti. Excellent chefs, retailers and lots of representatives from Italy make sure that authentic products reach far beyond the country of origin. Almost everybody has a favorite Italian wine like Grignolino or Prosecco  and   almost everybody recognizes Arborio rice as the base for a perfect risotto.

Italian cuisine is by all means not a single entity, but rather a vast variety in a country of relatively small size. From the Alps to the tip of the boot, Italy measures 750 miles - plus two large Islands: Sicily and Sardinia.  The changing geography of the peninsula gives each region a different climate resulting in a vast array of flavors and colors.

A common tie for every province is the insistence on freshness, high quality and pride people take in the development of the products. Food in Italy is a daily celebration to be shared with family and friends, both at home and in the best restaurants.  

My hope is that the recipes, in this book, that I have chosen, especially for you and your family, would inspire to establish joyful memories to last a lifetime.

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