Yes, they’re real. Meet the two women who made the rules for feeding a crew with love and darn good food. And loads of kisses. They’re my grandmothers, both 100% Italian. One was born in Italy; both came to America through Ellis Island.

And I was so lucky to have them not only as my grandmothers, but teachers in in the kitchen. I learned from watching and cooking with the best.

grandmas and a girl in a blue dress on a red swing.
Me at my college graduation with the two inspirations behind Josie + Nina.

Say “Ciao” to Josie

On the left is my paternal grandma, Josephine. When I visited, I would hang out with her bright and early in the morning as she prepared for her day. She always made time for me when, looking back, I knew she had to be busy getting my papap and some of her kids out the door for work.

Grandma Calabro could feed an army and never lose her cool. She made the best homemade bread and thick pizza in an enormous steel pan that Papap made for her in the mill. I can still taste them both. And her braciole? Tender, seasoned perfectly – comfort food at its best.

And “Salve” to Nina

On the right is the incomparable Nanina Francesca Agnasia Anastasia Lorraine. Yes, that was her name. Everyone called her Nina (long “i”) and she was a legendary cook as well.

Gram personified spunk. And was known for her passionate love for her family which she shared in her thousands of kisses. And her homemade gnocchi (that is the recipe) that we made together for the last time in 1997 at my house.

I remember my gram and my aunt roll out the gnocchi on the kitchen table covered with large white table cloths. It seemed to take all day and it was an event that brought family over in droves. It’s a memory I’ll have always.

The Modern Josie + Nina

While their names technically weren’t Josie or Nina, this is how I imagine them to be if they were just starting out with their families today. Modern women with a strong sense of family who want to put a good meal on the table but not spend all day doing it.

Because there’s so much life to live, things to see and loved ones to hang out with. Maybe on a red porch swing.

Don’t miss a recipe!