Mom’s kitchen was ‘Little Italy’ with lots of love

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About 10 years ago, my husbandís family began compiling a cookbook to honor and forever preserve my Italian mother-in-lawís cooking legacy.

My husband Jimís grandparents were all born in the Abruzzo region of Italy on the coast of the Adriatic Sea.

Jim grew up in Steubenville, Ohio, on the Ohio River, a city known for both its steel mills and richly multi-cultural diversity, and, in particular, Italian/Polish communities. Having been raised by Italian parents themselves, his parents spoke fluent Italian; some of their friends spoke only Italian. Even Mass was said in Italian.

Mary (Tatonetti) Marinoís kitchen was where she best expressed her deep love for family and tradition. Italian cooking was an art form for Mom, perfected over a lifetime. From sauce made from bushels of fresh tomatoes to curtains of fresh homemade pasta drying on wood dowels, Mom took no shortcuts in preparing food for her family.

But Mom never stopped with just her family; she cooked for the entire neighborhood. Everyone who walked through her door was fed an authentic Italian meal. Visiting the Marino home was a culinary experience. Hours were spent in the dining room visiting with friends, family and neighbors gathered together to share Momís homemade chicken raviolis, pork and chicken cutlets, gnocchi and pasta.

Whenever we came to visit Mom and Pops in Steubenville we left loaded with leftovers and always were sent home with the best Italian sausage from nearby Loprestoís Meat Market, perfect Italian bread from Steubenville Bakery, and half-gallon sized bags of pecorino romano that Pops had freshly grated on his far superior homemade cheese grater.

Mom loved cooking for everyone ó it was her supreme expression of love.

Mom was diagnosed with Parkinsonís in 2003. The disease progressively slowed her down over the years, and ultimately stole from her the ability to cook. It was a hard-fought battle, but finally Mom had to lay down her wooden spoon.

By then all of her four kids, their spouses, and her nine grandchildren were cooking Momís recipes ó making batches of homemade sauce, pasta and ravioli, stuffed shells, eggplant parmesan, pasta e fagioli, meatballs and rosemary chicken.

In 2009, Jimís oldest brother John came up with an extraordinary idea: Letís all gather up Momís recipes and create a family cookbook! The arduous project launched with flurries of emails and phone calls exchanging our various versions of Momís recipes that we had Ė Mom actually rarely followed any written recipes, her superb baking being the exception. She was a culinary artist who relied on her own eyes and palate to create her meals.

The process of discussing Momís cooking and sharing stories was fun and drew us together.

John had already been shooting lots of close-up photos of Momís food and of her and family cooking together. The rest of us began flipping through our photo albums for pictures of Mom and Dad cooking in our kitchens when they traveled to visit us and their grandchildren through the years.

In 2010, just two years before Mom passed away and three years before Pops passed, family gathered to present Mom and Pops with the book that had been assembled with such love and honor for them. Titled ďMary Marinoís Gift of Love,Ē it bears a rich legacy and is filled with colorful family photos and stories about our own most treasured, often hilarious, memories of our familyís amazing relationship with Italian food Ö and the one who all her life gave us the best of the best.

As we all say Mom and Pops, ďA Salut!Ē

Community Editor Carol Marino may be reached at 758-4440 or community@dailyinterlake.com.

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