First generation American born of italian immigrants, Rossella Rago grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn with a deep link to her Italian roots in Mola di Bari (Apulia), the village where her parents were born. As for the majority of Italians, Rossella’s family was a major influence for her education. She grew up spending most of the time with her grandmother, Romana, in the kitchen, learning all of the traditional recipes. Although she graduated from St. John's University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Italian Literature, with an assured career as a teacher, her culinary DNA came out with so much passion that in 2009 she launched the “Cooking With Nonna Show”.
What inspired you to cook with the Nonne?
Cooking with Nonna was born in my Nonna Romana's basement in Brooklyn. As I attended university, then intending to become an Italian language teacher, I began to feel like I was going down the wrong path in life. Sensing my dissatisfaction, my father Vito finally sat me down and asked me what it was I wanted to do with my life. I blurted out "I should host a cooking show! That's the greatest job in the world!".
We both had a good laugh about how wonderful it would be to start a cooking show that documented the most authentic cuisine of our heritage: the recipes of Italian grandmothers. Well, a week later my father Vito purchased the web domain www.CookingWithNonna.com and began construction on our set in my family's kitchen. In the summer of 2009, Cooking With Nonna was officially born, and the rest we can say is history!
Have you ever cooked with the Nonne before shooting?
It all depends on whether the Nonne are local, or if I already know them well. When we shoot with my Nonna Romana or any close friend of my family I pretty much know what they are going to throw at me, so I like to save the cooking for the camera. I think the most beautiful moments of our show come about spontaneously.
If a Nonna wants to make something complicated and if she lives very far away then I will usually test the recipe myself a few times, so I can fully understand how to communicate the steps in the episode. In all the videos, I like to think of the Nonna and I as a team. She’s there to show how she naturally does things and I’m there to explain it all, because most of the time they are very deep in concentration. They know how to do everything because they have been doing it for a lifetime, but I try to elaborate as much as I can so it's accessible to everyone.
It must be an adventurous experience evolving from the videos to blogging and now having a book published
Yes it has been quite an adventure! I started Cooking With Nonna when I was still in college, and now I’m almost 30, so I really feel I have grown up in this business throughout the years. I've had the opportunity to cook with and get to know so many incredible women.. I have wanted to write this book for quite some time, and at a certain point our fans began to demand one as well. Many of them thought I already had one! I would receive messages every day asking if I had a book, and where they could purchase it. I knew it had to happen, but with these things timing is everything.
Finally, when Race Point Publishing approached me to write the book, I knew it was the right time. In many ways, this is the last generation of the classic "Nonna" many people know and love. The kind of woman that cooks all day and doesn't use a recipe and revels in feeding her family. I wanted there to be a book that would not only preserve their recipes but also tell their stories. The book is a collection of over 100 recipes and life stories from 25 different Nonne. All of them are unique in their own way. After spent months talking with them and testing their recipes that I feel I’ve become a granddaughter to 24 more Nonne! I'm so proud that they trusted me to be their voice.
When should we expect the book’s release?
The book is available for preorder now on Amazon.com and autographed copies are available via my website CookingWithNonna.com. It will be available in all major bookstores on March 15, 2017.
Will you engage a promotional tour?
We will be organizing many signings and events throughout the country. Please make sure you are signed up to the mailing list at www.CookingWithNonna.com to be informed!
Is there a preferred or “special” recipe?
All of the recipes in the book are incredibly special because they represent all of the amazing women behind them. The book is organized by course and starts with from "basics and sauces" where you can learn to make different cuts of pasta by hand and dress it with Nonna Rina's perfect Bolognese sauce. It goes on to appetizers such as Nonna Graziella's Sicilian Arancini. There is also a chapter on savory bakes, where you can learn to make the perfect focaccia Barese, and the dessert chapter contains my Nonna Romana's wedding cake recipe, which I have never shared before. There is also an entire chapter on cookies, because everyone who ever had a Nonna has such incredible memories of cookies.
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