Cookbook author and teacher Rosetta Costantino was born and raised in Verbicaro, a small wine-producing hill town in Calabria, at the southern tip of the Italian peninsula.
Her parents shaped her connection to food and the land. Her father, a master cheesemaker and winemaker, tended the family's olive groves, vineyards and the farm's goats and sheep. Almost all their food came from their property or the nearby Mediterranean. Her mother and grandmothers knew how to live from the land, how to grow vegetables and preserve them for the winter months, and how to make bread and friselle from scratch. They knew how to make pasta with only flour and water and shape it every which way, even rolling it around a knitting needle to make the famous Calabrian fusilli.
As a child, she learned from them. Rosetta remembers taking wheat to the mill, returning home coated from head to toe in white flour. She watched them press olives into oil, and inserted strips of tomatoes into the glass bottles they used to preserve them.
The family moved to the Bay Area in California when Rosetta was 14 years old, and though they settled into the fast pace of life there, they kept their traditions. They continued to grow their own produce, raise rabbits, make their own ricotta, and cure their own salsiccia Calabrese with spicy peperoncino from their garden. Even after she earned a chemical-engineering degree at the University of California Berkeley and went on to a successful career in Silicon Valley, Rosetta retained her love of her family's traditional foodways.
In 2001, as a stay-at-home mom, Rosetta returned to her roots in the kitchen, honing skills learned from her mother and grandmothers. A 2004 San Francisco Chronicle story on the Costantino family, "Calabria from Scratch - Foods of Calabria," produced an overwhelming response that inspired her to venture into teaching the cooking of her native land.
"I realized there is a great interest in the foods of our region," Rosetta says, "and that I must share what I was so lucky to have grown up with, so that the dishes and recipes will not be lost."
Calabrian cooking is yet unexplored. The region is off the beaten path and the best foods are found in farmers' homes, not fancy restaurants. "My goal," says Rosetta, "is to introduce dishes that would be served to guests in a home in Southern Italy..." and, it should be added, to the Calabrian ways of turning fresh, simple fare into pure satisfaction.