Best Cook: Italian Food
Teresa D’Angelo was 7 years old when the German army stormed her home village of Orsogna in Abruzzo, Italy, in 1943. She and her family fled, hiding in a cave for 13 days.
Neighbors sneaked small pieces of food to them. “Just bits of bread,” she says now, standing in her recently renovated kitchen in North Falmouth, Massachusetts.
As a boy, Ennio Scenna lived in the same village, and eight years after the war ended, he and Teresa married. A few years later, Ennio begged Teresa to go with him to America. And so she came, reluctantly, to Watertown, outside Boston. “I was so unhappy at first,” she remembers now. As she talks, she’s beating eggs, grating garlic, and showing me how to make polpette di formaggio.
Teresa spoke little English and understood less. “I go to church; I don’t understand anything the priest is saying. I go home and cry,” she says, shaking her head. “Ennio says, ‘Learn to work and maybe someday we can go home.’ But that someday never came.”
Teresa looks up again from her work and smiles. Her bright eyes are the color of green olives. “But this is the land of opportunity, and all my dreams have come true,” she says. “We raised three children and sent them to college. And now we have a house on the beach and a house in the city. I am completely satisfied.”
Behind both those houses are the gardens that Ennio keeps. “We have the same gardens here that we had in Italy,” Teresa explains. Ennio even coaxed figs to grow in Watertown. Walnuts, plums, and peaches; every vegetable, every herb, every flower. Ennio grows; Teresa cooks.
Her house has long been the place where everyone comes to eat. A normal dinner would have 13 at the table, but then others would come, and most often she set places for 20 or 25, and everyone got in line to take home the leftovers. “I never minded,” she says. “I always made plenty.”
Teresa thinks teaching people to cook would help the economy. “Instead of giving people a loaf of bread, give them a five-pound bag of flour,” she reasons. “An average pizza costs $10 or $12–do you know how many pizzas I can make for that money?” She lifts her hands into the air. She learned that she could survive on bits of bread. She learned that life can be beautiful. And frustrating: “What are you going to do?” Just keep cooking, Teresa. Please?
Click here for two more of Teresa’s recipes