GROWING UP IN RIVERSIDE, DIANE Chiappetta Fox watched her grandmother and mother make homemade tomato sauce every summer from the harvest of their gardens. Her grandmother’s basement was filled with jars of tomatoes, eggplant and veggies that she had preserved. “She was really old-school, a live-off-the-land type of person,” Diane says admiringly of her grandmother, the first generation of a large family from Cosenza, Italy, to be born here. “She composted and recycled before anyone else did.”
Now, raising her own family in town with her husband, Bill, Diane, who’s known to friends as Dizy, keeps the connection with the past through food, whether she’s rolling out fresh pasta with her sons, growing a backyard garden, baking loaves of a special Easter bread or cooking her own sauce from scratch. “We call it Red Gold. It’s my base for my sauces and chilis,” she says. And when she and her cousin Cary Loffredo joke around with each other that it’s “time to make Red Gold,” they are putting one serious operation into motion. In order to crank out enough sauce to last all winter for both of their families plus Cary’s in-laws, they start with twenty bushels of tomatoes, either delivered by a produce dealer or picked up at Restaurant Depot. The crew of family and friends sit on crates in the backyard and sort and wash the tomatoes twice, cut them into smaller pieces and then boil them. Then the tomatoes are run through a machine that separates the skin and seeds from the pulp. The mixture is boiled a second time and later the sauce is jarred while still hot; the heat forms the seal that preserves it. “Of course you can buy very good sauces, but this is made our way and I know exactly what’s in it.”
Dizy works full-time as the director of student activities at Greenwich High School, and even as a busy working mom, she is definitely not one to cut corners. When her sons, Will and Dan, were old enough to stand on a kitchen stool, she taught them to make fresh pasta using a hand-cranked pasta machine. They still love the process and they make cavatelli all the time. Dizy and her aunt marinate their own olives. Before hosting family or friends, she’ll drive all over the place in search of the best ingredients. “It’s an illness I have,” she says jokingly. “I go to one place for this, another place for that. I shop at the farmer’s market every week. Sometimes we go down to the Bronx for soppresata and cheeses for antipasti.” When she needed a special black anise to make the traditional Easter bread, she and her cousin found a relative in Italy and asked her to send some over. While she’s following recipes from another period in time, Dizy stays in touch with a great-aunt in Italy through a modern medium, Facebook. Though neither is fluent in the other’s language, they use Google Translate to share recipes and ideas.
Of course, the Fox family has started some of its own food traditions too. Every Sunday Dizy prepares a batch of fried chicken cutlets for the week so that she can send her sons to school with chicken sandwiches and sauce each day. “They absolutely refuse to buy lunch at school,” she says, laughing. Where other kids who are rushing to after-school activities might get snack packs, Dizy improvises, dishing out rigatoni into a red Solo cup so her son Dan can eat it in the car on the way to a baseball game. She hosts a cousins’ Christmas before the big holiday, preserving the rituals she enjoyed as a girl. “I try to keep everything going so the kids get a sense of it.”