Photo by DAVID ALBERS, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo
Deborah Mele fell in love not only with her husband but also Italian cooking almost 40 years ago. She learned the basics of the cuisine and how to perfect traditional family recipes from her in-laws.
She and her family moved to Milan, where she lived for eight years, and traveled Italy extensively, learning about regional cuisines and appreciating not only the food but the culture, history and people.
Now, Mele and her husband live in North America six months a year and run the vacation guesthouse Il Casale di Mele in Umbria, Italy, the other six months.
Mele gives cooking lessons and writes the recipe blog Italian Food Forever when in Italy. She shares Recipe Rebuild, a healthful recipe blog, with her daughter Christy Hoban. It is dedicated to healthy foods and healthy eating to help rebuild lives one recipe at a time. She said she gets inspiration for her meals when she visits the market each day to see what has been freshly delivered.
Here are her answers to our questions about cooking and a favorite Umbrian pasta recipe taken to a new level with fresh plum tomatoes.
Naples Daily News: How different is your cooking in Naples, Fla., than it is in Italy?
Deborah Mele: I do not think my cooking is remarkably different in Naples than it is in Italy. I primarily keep an Italian kitchen in both locations, based on fresh, local and seasonal ingredients. We do enjoy a lot more seafood when we are in Florida since Umbria is a landlocked region without a coastline and fresh seafood isn't as readily available.
NDN: Do you find it difficult to get fresh ingredients in Naples for your Italian cooking?
DM: There are many ingredients that I use in Umbria that are difficult to find in Florida, such as fresh truffles, fava beans and artichokes, to name a few.
There are also many ingredients available in Florida that I cannot find in Umbria such as the wide variety of winter squash, winter greens and the vast selection of seafood options I love to cook with, so it balances out.
NDN: Where do you get your tips for your blog?
DM: I have been working on my blog for over 11 years, and my inspiration comes from many sources throughout that time. I’m constantly coming up with new ideas for using seasonal produce I come across at farmers markets, love preparing traditional Italian holiday recipes and often research and share recipe requests from my blog visitors.
NDN: Would you like to publish your own cookbook?
DM: I am constantly asked if I have published a cookbook, although as yet I have not had the opportunity. I am presently working on a cookbook proposal, as I have fallen in love with the cuisine of Umbria. I would love nothing more than to share this incredible cuisine with others by writing my own cookbook.
NDN: You teach cooking classes in Umbria, but have you ever considered doing them in Naples?
DM: I have often discussed the possibility of doing cooking classes in Naples, but we work extremely hard taking care of our guests in Umbria for six months a year. It is gratifying to have some downtime when I’m back in Florida to relax, develop new recipes and spend quality time with our family.
6 large plum tomatoes or 1½ cups chopped from a can
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup onion, finely diced
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 Italian sausage links, removed from the casings
1 cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
½ teaspoon red chili flakes
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 pound dried pasta, preferably a short pasta
Pecorino cheese, grated to use when serving
1 Heat a pot of water and bring to a boil.
2 Cut an X on the stem end of each of the tomatoes.
3 Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water and blanch for one minute.
4 Drain the tomatoes and drop into a bowl of ice water.
5 Use a sharp knife to peel the skin off the tomatoes and carefully cut out the core.
6 Use your fingers to gently squeeze the tomatoes over the sink to remove most of the seeds.
7 Cut the tomatoes into a medium dice and set aside.
8 In a heavy bottomed saucepan heat the olive oil and add the onions.
9 Cook the onions until tender.
10 Add the sausage and cook until lightly browned, breaking up the meat as it cooks.
11 Add the garlic and cook another minute or two, until fragrant.
12 Add the tomatoes, oregano, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes and cook on low heat for 10 minutes.
13 Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil and cook the pasta according to directions for al dente.
14 While the pasta is cooking pour the cream into the tomato sauce and mix well and cook over low heat until thickened.
15 Drain the pasta and toss with the sauce and chopped parsley.
16 Serve immediately with the grated cheese.