Interview with PBS Host Mary Ann Esposito and Ciao Italia

Mary Ann Esposito, photo courtesy of NY Mag
Mary Ann Esposito, photo courtesy of NY Mag

Interview with PBS Host Mary Ann Esposito and Ciao Italia

Every big idea or theory has an associated sound bite.  The French philosopher Rene Descartes is remembered for his famous line, “I think, therefore I am.”, the chef Jacques Pepin loves to utter, “fast food my way”, and the chef, turned uber capitalist Lidia Bastianich (see the mega Italian Mall, Eataly, just opened with Mario Batali and Lidia’s son, Joe) loves to utter “Tutti a tavola a mangiare” (translated roughly as everyone come to the tables it’s time to eat – kind of ordinary sounding in English!) after she prepares her TV meal.

If the Italian table had an associated sound bite it would be something like, “simple ingredients make outstanding food.”  Give me a few days and I’ll jazz up the tag line, but the idea of simple, great tasting, food made via fresh and seasonal ingredients is at the heart of what it means to eat or cook like an Italian. For PBS host and cookbook author Mary Ann Esposito she’s taken the idea that the best Italian food is made via simple, and fresh, ingredients as a literal truth and just released her new cookbook, Ciao Italia: Five Ingredient Favorites.  Mary Ann’s book includes recipes (from dinner to dessert) that are made with five ingredients or less (including salt and pepper).  Some of my favorites include pork chops with pistachio crust, Prosciutto di Parma and pine nut pizza, and chocolate, hazelnut and banana tartlets.

Mushroom and celery salad from Ciao Italia Five ingredient Favorites by Mary Ann Esposito. St Martins Press, NY
Mushroom and celery salad from Ciao Italia Five ingredient Favorites by Mary Ann Esposito. St Martins Press, NY

In honor of the new cookbook and the fact that I used to see Mary Ann Esposito on the campus of the University of New Hampshire (she tapped her PBS show Ciao Italia close to campus) during my undergraduate years (I never had the courage to introduce myself), I interviewed Mary Ann and asked her a series of questions about her Italian American experience and how she defines Italian cooking.  Here’s our Interview with PBS Host Mary Ann Esposito and Ciao Italia


Finally, here’s my interview with Mary Ann, enjoy:

Question One:
Tell us what it means to be an Italian-American and how you would best suggest to young Italian-Americans to keep our traditions alive and well (across food, lifestyle, and general living)?

Mary Ann’s Answer:
“It means everything to me because the Italian culture has historically set the standard for so much of world achievements.  When you think of inventions, art, architecture, music, saints, science, religion, fashion, family and food, much of it has been attributed to the Italians. Young Italian Americans should involve themselves in organizations like the National Italian American Foundation, study Italian in school and on their own and above all talk to their family members about the history of the immigrants who made them who they are today. I try to do this through our web site and Mary Ann Esposito Foundation which encourages would be chefs to study Italian regional cooking. You can learn more about the foundation on the web site.”

Question Two:
What part of Italy did your family originate from?  What traditions do you (or your family) bring to the US from Italy?

Mary Ann’s Answer:
My family is from the province of Avellino in the region of Campania and Caltanisetta in Sicily. My grandparents were very proud but poor people. First and foremost they brought strength and a fearless attitude. They brought strong religious faith. They brought their skills of tailoring and farming and olive culture. They made wine; we did the same. They cultivated gardens; we did the same. They made all their own food; we do the same. I try to emulate their traditions by recreating the foods I grew up via my books and my PBS series television, Ciao Italia now in its 21st year of broadcast. I also keep my family traditions alive through my blog.

Question Three:
How you define Italian cooking at home?

Mary Ann’s Answer:
Fresh, in season ingredients, treated simply to keep the integrity of the food. All my cookbooks stress this.

Photo: Pistachio pork chops from Ciao Italia Five Ingredient Favorites by Mary Ann Esposito. St Martins Press, NY
Photo: Pistachio pork chops from Ciao Italia Five Ingredient Favorites by Mary Ann Esposito. St Martins Press, NY

Question Four:
You have a Masters Degree in history from the University of New
Hampshire; has your knowledge of history impacted how you cook and see
the world?

Mary Ann’s Answer:
Absolutely. When I wrote my thesis on a Renaissance Italian cooking
manuscript, I began my introduction by saying without food there is no
history. Food and history are inseparable. Early foods like grains,
legumes and puls allowed civilization to flourish and many wars were
waged over whether there was food or not. In Italian culture, food is
the cornerstone of everything. Take bread as an example. When I make
it, I am reminded of how this simple staple from water and flour is
still the staple food of third world and emerging nations. I see that
waste not want not quality that my grandparents had who revered bread
so much that not a bit was every wasted. To this day, I never throw
away stale bread, using it instead for bread salads, as fillers for
vegetables, to sprinkle over pasta dishes and as what has come to be
very chic and in today, the bruschetta or crostino.

On Ciao Italia I give you not only a recipe but the story behind the
recipe; where does it come from, why is it named so. The Mary Ann
Esposito Foundation’s goal is to keep the history and traditions
surrounding Italian regional foods alive. I want the next generation of
Italian Americans to take over where I leave off so we can preserve our
heritage for generations to come.

Question Five:
What are some of your favorite recipes and food types outside of traditional pasta with tomato sauce, for example?

Mary Ann’s Answer:
I love to make polenta and risotto as well as traditional breads and pizza. Once you start studying the regions of Italy and their local foods, you have a better understanding of why there really is no Italian food per se; there is only regional food. I love eels from the Veneto and from Sardinia; the bistecca of Florence and the porchetta of Umbria. Any eggplant dishes and rabbit stews are also favorites. I have so many that it would be impossible to mention them all here and that is why their importance has consumed me in my work.

Question Six:
What are the top five ingredients that you keep in your pantry at all times?

Mary Ann’s Answer:
Extra virgin olive oils, imported semolina pastas, dried beans, arborio rice, San Marzano tomatoes. In fact my latest book is called Ciao Italia Five Ingredient Favorites and you would be surprised how much you can make with just 5 ingredients as opposed to a whole list!


  1. Gosh, Vincent!
    I’m trying to send you an email to tell you that I’m a fan of both your Facebook page as well as Maryann’s but I can’t ‘translate’ your email address into an address –it keeps getting bounced back to me as undeliverable…..
    is it
    That’s what keeps coming back to me.

  2. Love this show! Mary Ann is so easy to understand and fun to watch as well. Great Job

  3. Q: Favorite Italian ingredient?
    A: Silly question!! Garlic!!!

  4. Paula,
    I should have known!
    Vince from

  5. best shopping

    shopping gouwu

  6. serafinadellarosa

    I think Mary Ann is terrific and I love her food history explanations that go along with each dish she prepares. She’s the real deal. Lovely interview. Thanks, Scordo. I always look forward to your blog.

    • Thank you for the nice words about Scordo and Mary Ann! Mary Ann has a master of History from the University of New Hampshire (and she films her show on the campus in Durham, NH). She’s a great person and cook!

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