MANALAPAN — Linda Schiano, who teaches Italian at the Manalapan Englishtown Middle School, enthusiastically shared her knowledge about how to create and cook pasta with more than 100 eighth-graders on a recent day at the school.
Some 10 years ago when Schiano began teaching at MEMS, she came up with the idea of having an annual pasta presentation for her students. She said she appreciates the support she has received, particularly from Assistant Principal Paul DeMarco, who is the world language supervisor.
Schiano said she was inspired by her parents, Susanna and Emilio Schiano, who emigrated from Naples, Italy, to the United States 60 years ago.
“My parents, who were born in Italy, inspire my cooking,” she said. “They always made home-cooked meals with fresh healthy ingredients. My work is completely based on my heritage. My parents were born in Italy and struggled as immigrants to make a life for themselves and their children here. I am so proud to be Italian-American. I am so excited to be able to share my passion with my beautiful students.”
Schiano showed her students the pasta maker her mother brought from Italy to America. The decades-old device looked brand new.
Schiano’s grandmother, Costanza Colatosti, from Cappella, Naples, was also an inspiration.
“I would make the spaghetti on Sunday afternoon with my mother and my nonna (grandmother),” Schiano said. “I have wonderful memories of preparing the dough and putting it through the machine and then spending time with the entire family enjoying it.”
Speaking of her mother and her grandmother, Schiano said, “They did not have a rolling pin to roll the dough. Instead they would use a broom stick; very ingenious.”
During her presentation, Schiano explained the history of pasta and other Italian foods, including espresso, cappuccino, biscotti, Nutella, pizza and tomatoes.
Pasta is a staple in Italian cuisine with more than 200 shapes, Schiano said. It was known as a poor man’s food because it is inexpensive and has few ingredients — flour, eggs and salt.
Her goal is to help her students learn the history of Italian food.
“I want them to take this knowledge and share it with their parents and their grandparents,” Schiano said.
Over the years, Schiano has expanded her presentation to include a history of Italian foods.
“The presentation is special because it talks about the rich and fascinating history of various Italian foods,” she said. “Italian food is known worldwide. The first pizza was named after Queen Margherita. That is where we get the name Margherita pizza. The colors used in the ingredients are the colors of the Italian flag; green – basil, white – mozzarella, and red-tomatoes.”
The drink cappuccino comes from the Capuchin friars, referring to the brown color of their habits. The word biscotti in Italian means twice cooked because the cookies are baked and then cooled, then put in the oven again and cooked to take out the moisture.
“The students really seemed to enjoy the day,” Schiano said. “I think they feel it is relaxing, interesting and informative. Many of them are of Italian descent and can identify with the foods (I speak about) because they eat them at home.”
She said her students often tell her they tried making pasta at home after watching her do it in class.
Julia Messina, 13, said the event was interesting and special to her.
“Our teacher, Signora Schiano, has brought the essence of Italy into the classroom,” Julia said. “She has taught us the background of many Italian dishes that are well known.”
Mary Rohmeyer, 13, said the pasta presentation was a highlight of her day.
“I learned about different foods and drinks from Italy,” Mary said. “Most of all it was interesting to learn how to make pasta.”
Nicholas Delgrande, 13, said he loves how Schiano shares interesting stories behind the Italian items.
“I feel like she really cares about this presentation,” Nicholas said. “I enjoy it very much because I’m Italian.”
Jake Mollica, 14, said the presentation was moving and recalled how his late grandfather cooked wonderful Italian foods.
“I really enjoyed seeing these foods again and it made me smile thinking about my grandpa,” Jake said. “Thank you, Signora Schiano.”