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Big Shots, Big Books, Big Hearts
Entertaining Mary Ann Esposito
Mary Ann Esposito, Italian cooking maven, long time host of the PBS series Ciao Italia and author of over a dozen Italian cookbooks came to visit us about a month ago. My dear friend, Cindy Salvato, professional pastry chef and Johnson & Wales instructor, who also worked for years with Mary Ann on her television show, brought us together because she wanted Mary Ann to taste my Neapolitan Pizza and watch it cook in 90 seconds in our wood-fired oven. I’m sure Mary Ann has tasted a few Neapolitan pizzas in her time, so I was a little curious how mine would measure up.
After hours of chatting with Cindy, her husband, Ken, Mary Ann and her husband, Guy, about wine and food and Italy and after feasting on Neapolitan pizza and salad and dessert, it was time to part. We kissed each other’s cheeks twice and, as Valerie cleared the dishes, I sat down and thumbed through Mary Ann’s big fat gift to me: a signed copy of her 2011 cookbook Ciao Italia Family Classics: More than 200 Treasured Recipes from 3 Generations of Italian Cooks. Her “Glazed Strawberry Tart”, one of the recipes from this book is perfect for strawberry season. I made it recently and it’s as good as it looks.
The glaze will enhance the flavor of any strawberry you find. Here’s the recipe. “Where in the world are you going to put Mary Ann’s huge cookbook?” Val asked me. This was not a crazy question. Prior to Mary Ann’s visit I had moved three piles of heavy cookbooks that were in the den to the upstairs hallway. During Covid, I had re-read many of my older cookbooks, opened boxes of cookbooks sent to me as presents, and bought a few of my own. The dog loved to sniff the cookbooks since Julia Child’s tome always smelled of butter, Marcella Hazan’s of tomato sauce. The piles may have smelled good but they didn’t look good. The house is not small but it was drowning in cookbooks.
I tried to give a few away, but after accidentally letting an old Martha Stewart Entertaining book go, I cried. My sister-in-law sent me a new one. I just can’t help myself. The soul of every author is precious to me and once a book is in my clutches, I can’t release it, especially if it is signed or splattered with wine or notated by me. Whenever someone tries to borrow a cookbook, I just tell them, “I’d rather buy it for you then give you mine.” Rather than spend money on therapy, I decided to buy a new bookcase.
I briefly considered purchasing a bookcase from my favorite Maine furniture maker, Thomas Moser. We have some wonderful old Moser cherry wood rockers, chairs and tables, but the price of that furniture is now way beyond our budget. The cost of lumber is finally starting to come down a bit, but it’s still insanely high and all fine furniture makers, I am told, are out straight since so many wealthy homeowners, to keep from going bonkers during the pandemic, decided to renovate and add fine furniture. The only really rewarding and practical thing to do if you want high quality furniture in a hurry, is to go antique shopping. Our favorite place to prowl around here in Southern Maine is The Farm Antiques. If you ever want to spend some time in a beautiful antique shop where everything is polished and tagged and displayed with great care, you must go see Hannah (and David, her dear husband). The two of them travel abroad on shopping trips once or twice per year and they always come home with the best treasures.
On a recent rainy week-end we visited Hannah and discovered a handsome English mahogany bookcase from the late 19th century that could accommodate all of my precious cookbooks including Mary Ann Esposito’s gift to me. By the way, it turns out Mary Ann really did enjoy the pizza I made her. Here’s what she posted on Facebook right after her visit to Jillyanna’s:
If ever there was a pizzaiola, Jill is she.
Having studied in Naples to learn how to make la vera pizza Napoletana, her pizza cooked in a wood fired gorgeous outdoor custom made pizza oven, had all the right stuff.
Jill teaches pizza lovers how to make it and if you want to find out how: cook@Jillyannas.com can give you a slice of pizza that will remind you of Napoli.
If you, too, want to enjoy the pizza served at Jillyanna’s there is still time to sign up for three Saturday evening Signature Pizza Classes. They all take place (rain or shine) from 5:30pm-9:00pm. You can sign up for July 17th, August 7th, or August 21st. Go directly to Jillyanna's Woodfired Cooking School. You can also choose to take a wood-fired intensive or hold a private pizza party here. Just call us at 207-967-4960. Summer is so short. Hope to see you soon! In case you were wondering, here is the bookcase I bought from Hannah.