Famed chef and cookbook author Mary Ann Esposito will take on a new role when she visits the Currier Museum of Art on Saturday, Nov. 6.
She will be the Sugar Plum Fairy, giving guests ideas for holiday gifts with the wave of her rubber spatula wand.
Esposito, host of the PBS series Ciao Bella, will lead holiday dessert demonstrations during her Artful Dolci presentation at the museum, sponsored by NH Home magazine.
“Christmas and the holidays are about giving and sharing,” Esposito said. “I have always done cookies, so I thought, well, why don’t I do cookies and expand on that and demonstrate Italian desserts, because who doesn’t like treats?”
With little kitchen equipment — no running water and no stovetop at the museum — Esposito said she had to carefully decide what to prepare.
Esposito chose to bring her Pizelle iron to demonstrate different styles of the traditional Italian cookie, including a stained glass Pizelle that has the appearance of a stained glass window after being removed from the press, as well as cone- and basket-shaped Pizelle. Traditional flat Pizelle, Esposito noted, can be used for making an ice cream sandwich, the basket and the cone to hold fruit and whipped cream. “There are infinite ways to use them,” Esposito said. “They are nice to use as gifts.”
Pizelle irons, Esposito said, can be found online and at specialty kitchen stores. She prefers the steel plate style rather than the Teflon-covered presses as the steel enables her to create the desired thinness of the Pizelle.
Another demonstration will focus on the art of biscotti making and will feature Esposito’s chocolate, pistachio, tangerine biscotti recipe, one of her favorites.
“It just wouldn’t be the holidays without making those,” she said. “It is very easy to do. I know that people are busy and their time is limited; that is why I wanted to pick things that were simple, very doable and looked as if you just came out of the pastry shop with the best goodies you could buy.”
“Everyone likes biscotti,” Esposito said. “Most people buy them and they’re OK, but they’re not as good as homemade. I wanted to show people how easy it is to make them and package them to give them away as gifts.”
“I like to give a lot of gifts from my kitchen,” she said.
Like many people who like to get a jump on their holiday shopping, Esposito took a page from her mother’s book and now begins baking her gifts for friends and family every Oct. 12. As of Oct. 28, she had already made five types of cookies and had plans to bake more over the weekend.
During her presentation, Esposito will demonstrate how to make a “New England version” of tiramisu, but she kept mum on the details: “I won’t tell you what that means or everyone will be sleeping in the audience while I make it,” she said.
Esposito will also give tips and answer questions, and share other treats she has prepared, at the museum. She will also sign copies of her cookbooks. “It should be fun,” she said.
Esposito, of Durham, fell in love with Italian food in her early 30s, during her first trip to the country.
“I decided that was the path I wanted to follow,” she said. Esposito enrolled in cooking schools in Italy and “never looked back.”
She soon decided it was time for a “little cable program here in New Hampshire to teach people about Italian food” and pitched the idea to Durham public access television.
“New Hampshire is not known for having a large Italian population, so it became a challenge,” Esposito said. “At the same time, I thought it was worthwhile, something new that people could learn.”
Esposito now writes about food and cooking for two magazines: NH Home and Taste of Italia, the magazine of the National Italian American Foundation.
“[Esposito] is a New Hampshire treasure …. She is just a marvelous person,” said Andi Axman, NH Home Magazine editor.
Esposito said it is seeing the reaction people have when learning new things and the emotional connection that people have with food that she enjoys most about being able to share her passion for cooking.