The first time I met Maria Gerace she came to a Saturday lunch at my apartment, we started at noon and parted at 4 in the morning. Mussels, crêpes, late night pasta, and many bottles of vino – that was the perfect start of a friendship that would always circle around food, wine, and long conversations. When I go to Maria’s kitchen she makes cannelloni for me – not a couple but 20 (you can find the recipe on meikepeters.com). In her kitchen, she’s my Italian mamma who always takes care that my plate (and glass) is never empty!
Maria grew up in a small town in Calabria, close to the sea, right at the tip of Italy’s boot and far away from the life she was longing for. She was raised by her grandmother who planted the seed in the young girl’s soul that a good life is always connected to good food and to people to share it with. At a young age Maria was already used to patiently peeling pounds of fava beans in the evening in front of the TV; to making passata in the garage once a year with the entire family, each member having at strict role in the procedure – a hierarchy that only slowly alters with age. Food was never just prepared for oneself, but always shared with the whole family. The famous Sunday tomato sauce enriched with polpettine, a weekly ritual, which smell and taste is so deeply woven into her memory, was a frugal feast in her granny’s kitchen that no family member dared to miss. The young ones brought their boyfriends and girlfriends, the aunts and uncles sharing laughs and stories, a constant flow of people pulled to the kitchen of a woman who held everything and everybody together like a magnet.
Once a year the family would gather and go on a ‘pilgrimage’ to slaughter a pig at a small village close by. The blood would be collected immediately to make sanguinaccio, cooked with cocoa, sugar, and spices it was turned into a rich chocolate sauce that the kids loved. Even for the young ones it was normal that every part of an animal was used, that the whole family would always be involved in every food endeavor, and that there were recurring culinary rituals that marked the flow of the year and made it special. Traditions that everyone was longing for.
Although her curiosity and hunger for life made her leave the south of Italy to study industrial design in Milan, to travel and experience the world and widen her view, to then settle in Berlin with her husband Jan and work as an eyewear designer, Maria’s voice always mellows when she talks about her granny, about Italian food, and the sea.
You can find all the blog posts about the Meet in My Kitchen podcast episodes including my guests' recipes on meikepeters.com under 'Meet in Your Kitchen'.