Plant, Harvest, Cook! with Mary Ann Esposito
In Episode 58 of the Kitchen Confidante Podcast, Liren Baker talks with Mary Ann Esposito about her latest cookbook, Ciao Italia: Plant, Harvest, Cook!, Ciao Italia’s longevity as the longest running television cooking series, her home garden with her husband Guy, and more!
Italian Cooking and The Ciao Italia Garden — with Mary Ann Esposito
On the podcast, I recently spoke with Mary Ann Esposito, the creator and host of the nationally televised PBS series Ciao Italia. She is also the author of numerous cookbooks, including her most recent, Ciao Italia: Plant, Harvest, Cook! In this latest book, Mary Ann shares tips for anyone interested in growing vegetables and cooking them Italian.
In this episode, we talk about her Italian heritage and stories from her three-decade career teaching the nation about Italian regional home cooking and gardening.
Listen to the full episode here, or keep reading for some of my favorite moments with Mary Ann.
Tell us more about how you started Ciao Italia.
Growing up in a traditional Italian American family, I cooked a lot and was always helping prep ingredients in the kitchen. At the time, I resented a lot of it because I wanted to go and play, but it gave me a lot of great kitchen experience. Everything my grandmothers taught stuck with me, and I embraced my heritage more when I was older.
I became very curious about Italian food and decided to enroll in a cooking school in Sorrento, Italy. My teacher taught me how to cook lasagna — it was all wrong! His lasagna sheets were way too thick! My grandmothers always taught me that you had to be able to see your hand behind your lasagna sheet when you roll it out. That’s how you know they’re thin enough.
That experience helped me realize that I already had a strong foundation for understanding Italian regional food. So, when I returned home, I started cooking adult ed classes about Italian cooking. Over the years, I continued to visit different regions of Italy and learn more. Then in 1989, I proposed a cooking show to my local TV channel.
We did a pilot show in my home kitchen. It was a crazy day of filming, but the show got really good reviews, and I signed on for 13 more shows. There were no Italian regional cooking shows then, so I think I was at the right time and place.
Over the years, we have always focused on approachability. Cooking shows can be intimidating, but Ciao Italia stays the steady course, teaching you about doable foods you can make in your kitchen with ingredients you can find nationwide — while keeping true to the recipe’s authenticity.
What made you decide to write this book about the Ciao Italia Garden?
Each show season has always had two episodes based on the Ciao Italia Garden (my home garden). I’d take viewers into the garden and teach them about growing Italian vegetables like eggplants, artichokes, and tomatoes.
The pandemic caused our production to shut down, so I had more time to write. I was excited for the opportunity to share everything I’d ever learned about Italian vegetables (from my Italian husband, head Gardener for Ciao Italia) into a simple book.
And it is important to note that the book is not just for people who want to garden. This book is also useful for when you go to your farmer’s market or any vegetable section at the grocery store.
Ciao Italia: Plant, Harvest, Cook!, by Mary Ann Esposito (Mary Ann Esposito, Inc, 2022).