My mom, Rosa Giuseppina Ianniello, was born on July 2, 1938 in the small town of Recale, Caserta in the Campania region of Italy. She is an incredible woman who has endured more tragedy than most, but you wouldn’t know it from the big smile she still greets everyone with to this day. Growing up working on a tobacco farm in southern Italy wasn’t the most glamorous thing, but my mom somehow found a way to make the best of it. In addition to picking prickly cucumbers and sewing tough tobacco leaves, she had a very important job… to cook for the other workers and her family. This is where her love for feeding others (and mine!) began.
She came to America for a visit after being persuaded by her American cousins. She met my dad who had immigrated to California a few years prior to her visit. I’ll save their love story for another time, but suffice it to say that it was quite the whirlwind romance and resulted in her moving thousands of miles away to start a whole new life in a strange land of opportunities.
My mom taught me many things but the ones I hold most dear are: to smile, to love in a big way, to have faith (especially in the face of adversity) and to cook. Even as a young child, I recognized that I was in the presence of a gifted hostess when I saw my mom in action. It didn’t matter who or what, she made EVERYONE feel welcome. She knew everyone’s favorites and made sure to fill everyone up. Her favorite phrase was (and still is), “Don’t-a be shyyyy!” because the thought of someone not eating or feeling uncomfortable was too much for her to bear.
As soon as I could hold a knife properly, she had me helping her prep. My favorite place to be was right by her side, chopping and dicing and slicing away. As an eight year old, I could clean squid like nobody’s business. My friends thought it was gross, but to me, I loved being my mom’s sous chef (plus calamari was one of my favorites so the quicker I cleaned, the quicker I got to enjoy it!). I loved going to the market with her too. She shared all she had learned growing up on the farm in Italy. I was in charge of picking green beans and mushrooms, one at a time, which meant we always took our time. I loved finding the freshest ones and I was good at it.
Thankfully I was a great eater and not finicky. l ate everything she served and enjoyed every bite. Many of my friends didn’t know what goat cheese and zucchini flowers were – but to me, they were downright delicious. I soaked in each and every helpful tip, interesting piece of information and bit of wisdom she had to share. I just couldn’t wait for my very own kitchen— to one day carry on the beautiful Italian legacy and tradition she so lovingly shared with me. Little did I know that her and my passion would one day culminate in CASAGIOVE California, and allow me to share her passion and wisdom with you!