Ethnic influences equal cooking hybrid

Fresh and abundant ingredients used in cooking

Fresh and abundant ingredients used in cooking

January 13, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

FALLING WATERS, W.Va. - Proscuitto-stuffed bread, another loaf stuffed with broccoli and cheese, poached pears, tangerine sorbet, cream puffs and salad joined the manicotti main dish on Anna Ciampi's dining room table.

We thought there would just be manicotti, which was the proposed feature for this Sunday story.

But Ciampi kept dipping back into her kitchen, emerging with yet another made-from-scratch dish.

This is a good problem to have.

Fresh ingredients and an abundance of food are a way of life for many Italian families. Things are no different in the Ciampi household.

Ciampi, 60, who lives in Falling Waters, emigrated to the United States from Italy with her family when she was 10 years old. She grew up in Westchester County, N.Y., and has been living in West Virginia for the past 12 years. Married and with two adult sons, Ciampi is an ESL teacher for Berkeley County public schools.


Her cooking is a hybrid of American, Italian and other ethnic styles. "Not 100-percent Italian," she said.

This was reflected in the broad range of food Ciampi prepared the evening of the Herald-Mail interview.

"I wanted to show a bit of my culture with the manicotti," Ciampi said.

Ciampi's manicotti was featured in a cookbook she helped edit. The cookbook, "Taste of Our Italian Heritage," compiles recipes submitted by members of the West Virginia lodges of the Order of the Sons and Daughters of Italy in America, Ciampi said.

The book is a fundraiser for the organization's scholarship fund.

For the manicotti, Ciampi starts with crepes made from eggs, milk, water and oil. For the filling, it's ricotta cheese, mozzarella and Parmesan.

"That's the thing with Italian cooking: You can make some of the best dishes from the simplest ingredients," she said.

She also uses her own homemade tomato sauces. "I can 150 quarts a year," she said. Buying marinara or white sauces sold in jars will work for those who don't can at home, Ciampi said. Just don't buy sauces sold in the can.

Ciampi shares her recipe for manicotti with The Herald-Mail. You can see more of her recipes at

Talking with Anna Ciampi

Anna Ciampi chats with The Herald-Mail about her Italian heritage and Italian cooking.

Q: So, you are Italian.

A: I was born in Italy ... in the region of Abruzzo, centrally on the Adriatic Coast.

I was almost 10 when I came to this country. My mom and my sister, my dad was already here. I learned to appreciate cooking, homemade food, just by the food we had at home growing up ... my mom used to send me out to the herb garden and she would say, "Anna, just go out and bring me a bouquet of parsley. Bring me a sprig of rosemary." And doing so, I'd think, "Hmmm, they smell so good." And then my mom, she was very clever, she would say, "Do you want to stir the sauce? I don't have time, and taste it, see what else it needs." So my taste buds were trained at a very young age.

Q: People here always talk about how great the food is in Italy. Is that the case?

A: It's very true. I'll tell you, we always seem to gain a little weight when we go there, simply because we are invited by all our relatives and they want to present you with a seven-course meal and it's many more calories than you would normally eat at home. And those dinners are so frequent, you don't have time to catch your breath. If we allowed it, it would be every day at a different relative's house. It's just not possible, you know?

Q: When you came over here when you were a 10-year-old girl, what was something that surprised you most about American cuisine?

A: It was all very new. We were not used to hot dogs and hamburgers. I had never heard of them, I had never seen them. I was used to our Sunday meal: (It) consisted of homemade pasta, homemade noodles.

Q: Was it hard for you to map out what you used for the dishes you made today?

A: Not really, I don't really measure when I cook, only when I'm making the breads, but otherwise I pretty much cook by eye as my mother did.


For the filling

2 pounds ricotta cheese

2 eggs, beaten

8 ounces shredded mozzarella

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 tablespoon finely grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon fresh Italian parsley, minced

2 teaspoons bread crumbs

1/2 cup mozzarella for the topping

For the crepes

3 eggs

2/3 cup milk

3/4 cup water

1 cup flour

2 teaspoons canola oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

5 to 6 cups of tomato sauce, homemade or jarred. White cream sauce can be used instead.

Put all the ingredients for the filling in a bowl, except for the mozzarella reserved for the topping. Stir together well with a wooden spoon. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put all the crepe ingredients in a food processor. Process for about two minutes, stopping to scrape the flour from the sides, until the batter is smooth and creamy.

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