I grew up in the Venetian countryside, in a village with nothing going on for it, with the exception of food. The food there has always been good.

Both sets of grandparents had their own garden – a source of fresh vegetables and fruits as well as a classic distraction for retired people in the area. When not small-town gossiping, you could find them putting their abundant spare time to good use by taking care of their veggie patch, with truly astounding results. Production was indeed much higher than consumption, so they were always happy to share. As for my parents, they lived nearby and didn't have a garden of their own, so they would always gladly take advantage of the bounty of seasonal produce they had access to. All throughout childhood and well into teenage years, I spent most of my summers in close proximity to both gardens, helping where I could while letting those long, lonely, humid afternoons fade away among a bit of cherry-picking, some tomato canning and a good deal of bean podding. The food we ate on a daily basis was heavily based on what was growing in the garden – our cooking influenced by both seasonality and availability. I eventually came to see food as a cycle and I learnt to live in anticipation of what every season would bring. Seasonality has hence been a concept that has resonated with me since an early age, and like many things acquired in the early stages of our lives, it stayed with me ever since. A big chunk of what I know about food, and the way I cook today, derives from this heritage.

My parents, living the post-world-war-II dream in rural Italy, were part of the generation that embraced modernity while still preserving a bit of the old-school wisdom and thrifty lifestyle. They had been taught not to waste anything – especially food –, and had a natural tendency to prefer legumes or home-reared eggs 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). They also loved traveling and exploring the local delicacies – they have always encouraged me to be a curious eater by bringing me with them.  However, the food they would make (or shall I say, my mum would make) on a daily basis was simple and straightforward, mostly vegetarian, and intrinsically seasonal. It was traditional food adapted to the modern times, reaching into the future while it remained deeply rooted into the culture of the place we lived in. 

I left home age 19 to go to college, but I didn't go very far the first time around – I was only a 45-minute drive away. I left, mostly, to escape the suffocating atmosphere and the narrow-mindedness of the village. I wanted 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 had learned to enjoy a proper meal, so I felt the need to start cooking and get to know how do it decently. Using the small weekly budget I had in hand, I would spend on seasonal produce from the market and good staples from the old-school shops under the arches of Palazzo della Ragione, all to the detriment of my boozing allowance. I cooked simple, mostly vegetarian, grain-fueled meals (as students do), but they were made with good ingredients, and they tasted as close to home as they could get. 

Food slowly became an interest, and eventually a healthy obsession, not without a little help from some life-changing encounters. I blame my roommate Paolo, who is an avid cook and a great host, plus 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. More and more fascinated by the power of food to bring people together and make sense of our own existence, and increasingly unsure of what I was doing with my life, I took my chances. I shifted the focus of my major, wrote a thesis in Sociology of Food, dropped a career in 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 in this exclusive program. 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 three whole frozen chickens. She must have thought I was going to the land of nothing, 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 rather felt like the land of plenty – its breathtakingly beautiful hilly landscape clashing dramatically with the flatlands I came from. It looked exactly like the kind of place I thought I could live forever.

In the end, I only stayed two years, but long enough to be changed for good. Masters aside, 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, and that he had left to travel the world and he had 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. We connected over the same love of simple, wholesome food. 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 we 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. Expat life also turned me into a nostalgic cook of sorts, one who is always seeking grandma's or mum's advice while trying to recreate some regional or family favourites. 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 – no matter how far I try to run away from it. Likewise, the food I cook will always be the food of my origins – simple, seasonal, straightforward, and mostly vegetarian. Food is how I come to terms with who I am and 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 a bit clumsy at times, and I apologise for that. I am slowly coming to accept that no matter how hard I try to master this second language (English) I love so very deeply, I'll never really own it. Jesse finds this clumsiness rather cute. As for the recipes, they are sometimes my family's, others just some regional classics. At times, they are borrowed from my favourite food writers of Italian food. They will sometimes have a Mediterranean flare; others, they will come with a good dose 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  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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