For over 20 years, Mary Ann Esposito has been the ambassador of Italian food and cuisine on American television. Her show, “Ciao Italia,” has made numerous stops in Boston and the surrounding areas throughout its 21 seasons on PBS.
This year, the show is entering its 22nd season, although Mary Ann is already hard at work on number 23.
“With Mayor Menino we recently filmed an episode at ‘Tutto Italiano,’ a famous Italian grocery store in Hyde Park,” she says. “The show we recorded this time will be featured next year,” says Mary Ann. “We made a special called “Panini per Pasquetta,”and the mayor made an excellent sandwich with frittata, asparagus and parmiggiano. It was delicious!”
Mary Ann has featured Boston’s mayor more than once on her show, including an episode about the traditional Christmas Eve Feast of 7 Fishes.
“Ciao Italia” is the longest running cook show on American television and it often includes location shoots in some of the most prominent and famous Italian food stores and restaurants in the country.
“Actually, one of our first location shoots was in Boston,” Mary Ann recalls. In the early ’90s, in fact, the show stopped at Bova’s Bakery, Joe Pace & Sons’ and Polcari’s, all in the North End.
“Another great show we’ll feature next year will have Italian Consul General in Boston Giuseppe Pastorelli preparing a dish from his native Rome.” Pastorelli will join Mary Ann in June to film the making of three typical Roman pasta dishes — amatriciana, carbonara and gricia with pears.
“He said he needed guanciale to make the gricia, but I wasn’t sure we would find it,” says Mary Ann. “He said not to worry about it. He’ll get some from Formaggio Kitchen.”
“I also go to Italy once a year in the summer,” she says. “It’s part of a 10-day tour with the group ‘Under the Italian Sun.’ Every year we visit a different region of Italy and explore the local food traditions. This year we’re going to Lombardia and Liguria with 16 other people.”
Mary Ann grew up in a household filled with the typical smell of Italian cuisine. Both her grandmothers – Nonne – both worked with food and her mother had studied to become a dietician in Perugia, Umbria.
“I think the secret to our show is approachability,” she says. “It’s food you can make. It’s comforting to know anyone can make these dishes. I use ingredients that can be easily found.”
Residents of the greater Boston area will have many opportunities to see Mary Ann in action. On April 26, she will be preparing an entire meal at the Clarke Culinary Center in Milford, and she will also be at Boston University on May 14 for some hands-on cooking.
For lovers of St. Anthony’s Feast, Mary Ann will return to this year’s celebrations, after hosting a successful cooking demonstration at last year’s Feast.
See Mary Ann featured in this RAI International special by Stefano Salimbeni featuring some of the most prominent Italian and Italian American TV chefs.