I grew up in a village in the Venetian countryside, where there wasn't much going on with the exception of some small farms producing good produce, and the proximity of the Adriatic sea giving us access to inexpensive, fresh, local fish. Both sets of grandparents had a garden, and we all drew fully from the bounty of seasonal fruits and vegetables they gifted us with during the summer months. The food we ate was heavily based on what was grown – our cooking habits influenced by both seasonality and availability. I grew up in close proximity to this garden and its ever changing fruits. I helped harvesting cherries, canning tomatoes, and podding beans, and in doing that, I learnt that food is a cycle, and started to live in anticipation of all the excellent produce that the next season would bring. Seasonality was a concept that resonated with me at a young age and, like many things acquired in the early stages of our lives, it stayed with me ever since.

My parents, who grew up in post-war rural Italy, have always been thrifty when it came to meals. They had been taught not to waste anything, and had a natural tendency to prefer legumes or eggs from our hens over expensive cuts of meat. They surely enjoyed a long, indulgent Sunday meal prepared with care and including multiple courses (pasta, a roast, and pudding), but on most days the food was simple and straightforward, mostly vegetarian, and intrinsically seasonal. It was traditional food adapted to the modern times, yet it remained deeply rooted into the culture of the place we lived in. A big chunk of what I know about food, and the way I cook today, derives from this heritage. The rest comes from the travel experiences I had at a young age. My parents loved traveling through the various regions of Italy – exploring the local cuisine and dig deep into the food traditions of the area. They have always been curious eaters and have always encouraged me to do the same – to try, taste and learn about the local mores by means of food. If I understand anything about the huge yet precious regional differences existing in Italy, it is in big part thanks to them.

I left home age 19 but didn't go very far the first time around. I left to go to college, yet I was only a 45-minute drive from home. I left, mostly, to escape from the suffocating atmosphere and the narrow-mindedness of the village, to find new friends, and collect new experiences. Padova, where I spent three years as a bachelor student in foreign languages and cultural studies, was most certainly not a metropolis – you could bike everywhere in half hour – but back then it seemed just enough to make me feel liberated. I didn't care much about food at the time, but I liked eating well, so I felt the need to start cooking and learn how to do it properly. Money was short, but I always tried to make a budget to buy seasonal produce at the market and spend a little more on a few good staples – dairy, bread, pasta. I ate mostly vegetarian, grain-fueled meals – as students do – but to me it seemed perfectly fine. It was the way I have always eaten.

Food grew on me – not literally, of course. It slowly became an interest, and eventually a healthy obsession. I began cooking for others, too – something I had never done before, and something my family only did on special occasions. Sharing a meal at home with friends was what I ended up loving above all things. I blame my roommate Paolo, who is an avid cook and one of the most convivial people I have ever met – he would always make an extra bowl of pasta for whoever was around. I blame his mum Agnese, who spoilt us with her outstanding preserves, delicious sweets, homemade panettone and her whole-hearted generosity. Our cupboard was always filled with her jams and her pickled asparagus, and it was a beautiful thing to see. I blame it on my other roommate Sari, whose father was a butcher and would always send his son back with tasty homemade salami. I blame my classmate Chiara, whose dad makes Prosecco and grappa and grows vibrant, beautiful green asparagus, the flavour of which I will never forget. All of these people opened my eyes and introduced me to much of the fantastic food that is grown, made and produced in different corners of the region. They have helped shape my views on conviviality and food sharing in an indelible way. Because of these factors and many others, I ended up shifting the focus of my major. I wrote a thesis in Sociology of Food, dropped a career in translation, foreign studies and diplomacy, and decided to pursue my passion for food instead.

Shortly after, aged 22, I enrolled in a Masters program in Food Culture and Communications at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont – the only university focused exclusively on food studies – not without much excitement for having been accepted. I moved from Padova to Bra, the town closest to the campus, with a car filled mostly with provisions from my grandmother. There were eggs neatly wrapped in newspaper and arranged in spare shoe boxes; jarred tomato sauce and other pasta sauces with peas and asparagus; a bag filled with pomegranates from her tree, one with figs, and a thermic bag with frozen chicken. She must have thought I was going to a land of nothingness, but it was quite the opposite: the Langhe region of Piedmont is one of the richest for food traditions and craftsmanship, with areas of excellence ranging from winemaking to truffle hunting, from cheese making to top-quality beef rearing. It felt like the land of plenty – its breathtakingly beautiful hilly landscape clashing dramatically with the flatlands I came from – and exactly the kind of place where I thought I could live forever.

In the end, I only stayed two years, but long enough to be changed for good. Throughout the Masters, I consolidated my understanding of food via lectures on sensory analysis, organic farming and anthropology of food, and study trips to some fascinating gastronomic regions in Europe. I also met students from every corner of the planet, all genuinely passionate about food, all slightly homesick, and all eager to share their nostalgic food memories and recipes with others. I cooked for them and ate at their table, and was blown away countless times by the stories and the flavours I was experiencing. The most important lesson I learnt, right then and there, is that food shape us.

Bra is where I met my husband, Jesse. He was a student in my class, but I didn't connect with him immediately. It struck me, though, that he was also from a small town in the middle of nowhere Illinois, but that he had left to travel the world and lived in many of the places I had always wanted to visit. I started to invite him for dinner halfway through the program to listen to his stories, and I ended up falling in love with him. We connected over many nights eating simple soups and salads, baking bread, and sharing memories, him about living in Mozambique and eating mangoes and massive prawns, me about my grandmother's aubergine stew and Venice's best squid ink risotto. We bonded over common dreams of going on adventures and seconding our wanderlust. I knew he was the one, and we were married in my hometown seven months after the end of the Masters. I had just turned 24.

We live in London now. We moved for work, shortly after the wedding. The transition from our slow life in Langhe to the fast pace of the big city had been hard at first, but we got used to it, and eventually learnt to love London's vibrant food scene and its eye-opening diversity. My way of cooking and eating has adapted ever so slightly to the availability of ingredients and the new speed of life, but the substance hasn't changed: local and seasonal ingredients seem to always take centre stage. I have actually become more of a nostalgic cook, and frequently seek my grandma's or mum's advice in order to recreate some regional or family classics. In the kitchen, I am constantly going for the traditional, the homey, the familiar. It slowly became clear that no matter where I go, my cooking will remain deeply rooted into my family heritage, bound to the place I still call home – that village in the middle of nowhere Veneto. It will forever be simple, seasonal, straightforward, and mostly vegetarian. I like to think that food is how I came to terms with where I am from.

Somewhere amidst these life happenings, Life Love Food was born, first as a shy attempt to record my cooking experiments during university years, then as a journal about musings and memories, all somehow connected by the fil rouge of food. You'll find my writing to be clumsy at times, as a try to master this second language – English – I love deeply, but I'll never really own. As for the recipes, they are sometimes my family's, others just some regional classics. Often, they are even borrowed from my favourite food writers of Italian food. They'll sometimes have a Mediterranean flare; others, they'll come with a good deal of Venetian wit. Rest assured, though, that they will always taste better when shared.


Feel free to get in touch if you have doubts, questions, recipe issues, constructive criticism or positive feedback – I would love to hear from you! You can email me anytime at valeria [dot] necchio [at] gmail [dot] com – there is nothing I love more than reading your comments and emails. 


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