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posted: 1/29/2014 5:22 AM

Cook of the Week: Banockburn mom incorporates Italian favorites into modern meals

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  • Video: Theresa Zagnoli makes a salad

  • Theresa Zagnoli and her son, Joe, 10, mix spices for shrimp that will top their arugula salad.

       Theresa Zagnoli and her son, Joe, 10, mix spices for shrimp that will top their arugula salad.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Theresa Zagnoli and her 10-year-old son, Joe, show off their spicy shrimp and arugula salad.

      Theresa Zagnoli and her 10-year-old son, Joe, show off their spicy shrimp and arugula salad.
    photos by Gilbert R. Boucher II/gboucher@dailyhera

  • Theresa Zagnoli with her son, Joe, 10, make spicy shrimp salad in their Bannockburn kitchen.

       Theresa Zagnoli with her son, Joe, 10, make spicy shrimp salad in their Bannockburn kitchen.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

 

By Sally Eyre

Daily Herald Correspondent

If you grew up in an Italian home, you know what Theresa Zagnoli means when she says that in her home "food was love."

Living a block away from her Italian grandmother, Theresa remembers that whenever anyone came to visit the greeting was rarely, "how are you?" Rather visitors were more likely to hear, "What do you want to eat?" As the only grandchild in town, Theresa spent many hours with her grandmother in the kitchen, garden and cellar.

"My grandmother had a big bowl of butter that she kept near the gas stove so it was always melty and she would use this big spatula -- everything started with butter. I used to say that the only thing we didn't eat with butter was watermelon!" Theresa laughs.

These days Theresa lives in Bannockburn and still cooks Italian, but has found a way to find balance in her meals.

"I've reinvented my cooking three or four times," she says. "I've gone through the gamut, these horrible phases, like the one where I was using fat-free yogurt in everything. First carbs is bad, then sugar is bad, so I've retrained myself. We do eat very differently from the way I ate as a child -- with bread and butter at every meal and green salad with lots of oil."

Theresa tries to make leaner versions of pasta dishes by using whole-wheat pasta, quinoa and "a lot of fish and a lot less sugar." For today's video she cooks up a spicy shrimp salad with help from her 10-year-old-son Joe.

"I've included all the fads in my routine now, less carbs, less salt, but there's no tofu in the house. When I tried that my family looked at me like I was crazy." she laughs.

In the summer Theresa enjoys her small vegetable garden.

"It lasts such a short time, I can some tomatoes and then we eat pounds of zucchini cooked 25 different ways!"

Theresa has a favorite sauce, or as she says gravy, she likes to make.

"Every cook has a pasta sauce. Our pasta looks bare to people because we like that rich, thick sauce that has that cooked-for-12 hours flavor." She generally doesn't use a recipe but has tried to point us in the right direction.

"My family likes to joke with anyone who comes over and says, 'I love this!' They tell them, 'enjoy it now, because we'll never see it again!' I tend to open the refrigerator and that's how I cook."

One thing she really doesn't enjoy doing that much is baking.

"To bake you have to have measuring spoons and cups and I never know where they are!" Recently however, her son Joe has become a big fan of TLC's "Cake Boss." After attending a program Buddy Valastro hosted, Theresa and her son were inspired to make a turkey-shaped cake for Thanksgiving and a basketball cake for the opening of his season.

"We're all over the fondant decorating!"

She travels often for work and treasures her time at home surrounded by family.

"Being Italian, food is love. When we have a party it's all about the food," she says. "I love sitting at the dining table for three hours. That's where the conversation is. Sitting at the table is a safe barrier; people are more likely to open up than when they're sitting in a room with nothing to protect them. I just love it."

• To suggest someone to be profiled here, send the cook's name, address and phone number to food@dailyherald.com.

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