Learning to cook from my Italian Mamma!

I had some friends over for dinner one night and we tasked ourselves with making a simple Italian dinner, inspired by our past 3 weeks in homestays with Italian mothers who cooked Italian food. To me, 3 weeks was definitely enough to learn a thing or two and make the best food possible. We made pasta al pomodoro, salad dressed in oil and salt, vegetable soup, and baked roles. Easy enough and it was delicious, especially enjoying the meal with friends.

The day after, I detailed to my mamma what we had made, excited that we managed to make a good-tasting meal that, although not toe-curling and luxurious like her meals, it was something. But instead she gasped and was shocked at my lack of using spices and cooking the “right way.” I’m no expert but she was on to something.

Little did I know you were supposed to cook the tomato sauce before adding it to pasta and that you were supposed to add things like olive oil, garlic and salt to it. I did remember to boil the water before adding the rigatoni so that’s something I was proud of.

But because of my extravagant faux pas, my Italian mamma has made it a mission to make sure I leave Italy in a few months with at least the ability to feed myself good food, Italian style!

Here’s the first (simple!) recipe I learned…

Vegan Lentil- Tomato Soup

  • some chopped celery
  • salt
  • garlic bits
  • oil to drown it
  • a bag of lentils
  • a can of tomato soup
  • water
  • your choice of pasta (your choice how much)


  1. Cook the celery, salt, garlic and oil in a pot until the garlic is golden.
  2. Add the tomato sauce and leave for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the lentils and water to cook it. Leave for 30 more minutes.
  4. Cook the pasta separately and add at the end
  5. Spice and salt as desired.


I learned a few more things…

  • Recipes are told with hand gestures, that is, cutting motions, tears from the onions, pouring and bubbling noises.
  • You don’t quite get measurements. It’s more of an “add as much as you want” type of deal.
  • It always turns out pretty good because all you really need to cook is some creativity and risk-taking.

And since this little experiment, I’ve become inspired and now cook almost all of my lunch meals and weekend meals which have ranged from curry rice with steamed veggies, arroz con leche (a mexican specialty), penne arrabiata, candied orange peels, banana bread (in Oxford, England… an article will come soon on those travels!) and more. Being able to cook for myself and having the confidence that it will turn out well has been miraculous for my self-esteem and for really believing I can do anything. In the movie Ratatouille, the head chef (with a french accent) said “Anyone can cook” and I think he was right!


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