Interview with Mary Kovach about her cookbook “Don’t Cut The Basil”

Interview with Mary Kovach about her cookbook “Don’t Cut The Basil”

It is a pleasure to inform you that our friend, colleague, and collaborator Mary Kovach has just published, together with her cousins Corrina and Angela Siciliano, a book of Italian recipes: “Don’t Cut The Basil: Five Generations of Authentic Italian Recipes.”

The book, with a foreword by Ale Gambini, is available on paperback or on electronic format either through or through their website Cugine in Cucina:

We had a brief conversation with Mary, and we think that her answers summarize the true spirit of the Italian culture, based on family and community.

Mary, tell us something about this book; when did you start thinking about it?

When my grandma passed away, I saw my cousins for the first time in many years. We reconnected and started celebrating Sicilian Sundays again! We got together and shared food, stories, and started talking about the number of people across generations who enjoyed food from our grandmothers, mothers, and now us. Then the conversation evolved to how we could keep our family recipes and traditions alive, and from there, we decided we would write (at least) one cookbook!

Do all the recipes in the book come from your family?

All of the recipes in our cookbook are from our family, except one. Ale Gambini is a chef and author who was born in Venice, Italy but now lives in California. She was kind enough to write our Foreword, so we took her watermelon caprese and created our own version as a thank you to her.

Why shouldn’t you “cut the basil”?

There are many things we were taught in the kitchen. One of those lessons included tearing the basil. So we learned that we are to tear the basil, and not to cut it. 🙂

Tell us about the importance of food in Italian American culture.

Our great grandmother taught our grandmothers how to make pasta sauce, who taught our mothers, who taught us. Our great grandmother bore 10 children and passed away in her 40s. The girls took what they learned from their mother in the kitchen to feed their family during the Great Depression. They grew up in an Italian neighborhood and the door was always open. That’s how we were raised. We share food and celebrate one another at the table. When people visit, we gather at the table.

Does cooking together and sharing meals strengthen family ties?

Absolutely! It’s what we do. We prepare meals together, eat together, enjoy one another, and clean up together.

How important is it to choose the right ingredients?

For me, I know there are certain spices for different dishes. However, it’s more about what you like, so we use “quanto basta” (qb). If we like more of something, we add a little more. If we don’t like something as much, either leave it out or just add a little. For example, I don’t like many types of cheese, and I especially don’t like it on pizza. I may sprinkle some grated cheese, but I definitely don’t put a layer of mozzarella across the top. Many of my American friends think it’s crazy, but I think a pizza tastes a million times better without it.

What is your favorite recipe, and why?

My favorite recipe in our cookbook is Nonna Mary’s Italian Biscotti. My grandma baked dozens of these cookies daily. I was raised on them. She made them for my father and sent them to Vietnam when he served. She made them for all of our major life events within the family, and also for neighbors, friends, senior centers, churches, the fire station (my father was a fireman), and any other gathering. She was literally called “the Cookie Lady,” when we would go places; everyone knew who she was because she handmade each cookie and shared them with everyone to enjoy.

Many thanks to Mary, Angela, and Corrina, and many compliments for the wonderful book! Mary’s comment that they decided to write “at least” one cookbook make us hopeful that other books will follow this one!