How to Cook with Your Heart

I’m so blessed. I grew up surrounded by intuitive, brilliant cooks. In my home, my cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents…everyone. For me it was normal to have a nearly 6 course holiday meal that went on for over 7-8 hours. I never once thought of not having our kitchen table covered in different sides, both traditional, and experimental. My parents were always inventing some kind of new dish, and I’m still mad at myself for being so picky growing up! My pickiness did not distract my passion for food, though. I always observed, and am still today captivated by the symphonies of cooking a meal. The dashes of salt and herbs, unmeasured. The high-pitched ting of the lid coming off the pot of sauce to stir. The steam of rosemary baked potatoes released out of the oven, dancing around the arms and face of my mother. The whistles of air to cool off a bite to taste every single thing.

It’s difficult to recall the first time I remember being so influenced by food, when it has truly influenced every aspect of my life. Every Sunday morning, my dad would make us breakfast in bed with his famous omelettes with fresh, buttery toast. On our birthdays, he would carve however old we were out of toast, and have extra bowls of our favorite fruits on the side, always with a candle. He taught me all the secrets to making his omelettes when I was no more than 7-8 years old. We invited the cousins over for Sunday breakfast, he propped up a step stool next to the stove, and we were whipping up omelettes for everyone, special order, like a B&B. I can’t tell you the secret to the delicious omelettes, but I can tell you that they were born out of not letting any food go to waste.

Even when we had nothing, my parents kept our bellies full. They recalled recipes from their parents using what they had to survive during the great depression. They even had us convinced that the crust of the bread is the best part and should never go to waste. I still believe it today, and cringe when I see people leaving their crusts to the trash. Put it in the food processor and make bread crumbs! Ugh, I digress. My grandma would even make me cream cheese sandwiches on cinnamon raisin bread. Something that may sound ridiculous to some people, but genius is often born out of necessity.

This always reminds me that even though the world is smaller, and we have easy access to produce from all over the world, sustainability will always prevail. Whatever is available, in season, or local. My family put emphasis on this without trying. Our apples were always from the yard, or our close friend and farmer nearby, and we had a joined vegetable garden with the neighbors.

Growing up, I looked forward to Christmas time to make Nokla with my grandma. Easter was always a favorite mostly for the pasted (baked spaghetti and ricotta with black pepper), and less for the chocolate, or getting to dye the eggs. Sundays were for omelettes and grandma’s house. Birthdays meant birthday toast and one of my mom’s crazy creative cakes. School lunches were always accompanied by a hand-written note. And at every holiday meal, we sing a song together to give thanks for our incredible meal and time together.

Many people ask where I get inspiration for my recipes. I’m often left speechless by a flood of cherished memories surrounded by food from my family. But that’s just it — it’s the memories of my family that inspire me, and the tastes of the food are secondary. It’s how I felt in my heart in those many moments of togetherness that drive me to create.

I often get messages asking for my recipes to be more specific, which I can totally understand! But I do it on purpose. Every single meal I make is created by following the basic structure of salt, fat, acid, and heat, as reminded by my forever food idol, Samin Nosrat. But beyond the balance of those four crucial structural elements of a dish, I hear my dad in the back of my head: “Too much salt!” or “It’s missing something…what if we toast it??” or my mom: “Add a little lemon juice!” or “Mmmm…what about a little garlic?” It’s these relationships that guide me through every dish. Our neighbor here in Italy was teaching me how to make risotto. I asked her how to know when it’s ready, and she said “…quando canta,” “…when it sings,” My grandmother gifted a cookbook of D’Adamo family recipes to every grandchild. She even included an alphabetized page index in the beginning of the book…but almost one ingredient from every recipe is missing. Every time I tried to make her recipes, they would never come out the same, and I couldn’t figure out why. After some time I realized that all of these recipes are guidelines, and to let my intuition do the rest.

My best advice to cooking any meal is to listen to the dish, and truly follow your heart! Taste everything…what do you think it needs? Let your intuition tell you. That’s what cooking is.