A Manhattan Beach Resident Pulls Together Her Beloved Italian Grandmother’s Recipes for a Cookbook

Sunsets and zeppole.

Christina Minutillo | Photo by Sue Bryce

If you thought Christina Minutillo was satisfied with just self-publishing a book on sunsets during the pandemic, you would be wrong. She’s already on to another passion project: archiving her family’s recipes into a cookbook. 

Her beloved grandmother’s passing inspired Christina to document her Italian roots. Encouraged by her cousin, Christina curated a book featuring their holiday celebrations, family stories and heirloom recipes.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, Christina found some much-needed time to appreciate the simple pleasures of life. Inspired by the beautiful sunsets she sees from her 1930s Spanish beach bungalow, she reflected on her idyllic childhood in Connecticut filled with love and delicious Italian food. Cooking with her first-generation Italian grandmother, Amalia (“Mimi”), and helping prepare many of the recipes for the family get-togethers as a child is a gift she treasures and wanted to share. 

“The quiet time spent at home during quarantine in 2020 opened up some space to create,” Christina shares. It was a chance to step back from the whirlwind pace and extensive travel of her full-time career in the fashion industry and put her energy into creating a cookbook. 

Christina’s life philosophy has always been to move in the direction of her inner voice. She strongly believes the path ahead becomes more apparent when you follow your inner guidance. Some might call it flow or serendipity or coincidence. Life is about doing and accepting the imperfect. It’s a great perspective that helps her navigate the ups and downs, achieve more than most and adjust to an occasional curveball like a pandemic. 

While still working a full-time job from home during the safer-at-home order, she self-published her first book on sunsets and then launched into researching, testing and tweaking family recipes on weekends and late at night. Feeling nostalgic, she was determined to capture the precise flavors of her grandmother’s cooking. 

She recalls painstakingly testing a recipe for zeppole that Mimi would make every Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, Christina missed the opportunity to learn how to cook the recipe before her grandmother passed; she recreated the recipe through trial and error from her memory of how it tasted. 

Christmas Eve would not be the same without her grandmother’s homemade zeppole. It was further confirmation that she needed to document the family recipes to maintain tradition and preserve the authenticity of her grandmother’s cooking legacy. 

Her great-grandmother Mary, Mimi’s mother, was from Benevento, Italy. She was known for her famous cavatelli and “was a master of hosting family dinners,” Christina shares. One of nine children, she and her family immigrated when she was only 6 months old. 

They settled in Ohio and eventually moved to Waterbury, Connecticut, in the 1920s, where they planted roots in Town Plot—a tight-knit Italian American neighborhood. 

The local church, Our Lady Of Mount Carmel, was central to the community and is known for a four-day Italian feast held every July. They served delicious pizzelles—little pizzas made with fried dough and topped with marinara sauce and grated Parmesan cheese. 

Christina’s food memories are indistinguishable from the sense of comfort and joy the family gatherings provided her growing up. Her grandmother always had a well-stocked pantry and was ready to feed a crowd or make something delicious at a moment’s notice. Her childhood was filled with large family events, parties and holiday celebrations. The extended family of 30 people gathered around the table at “Gram’s” (great-grandmother Mary) every holiday and Sunday.

Christina continues the legacy of entertaining with her own Friendsgiving and elaborate dinners here in California, serving rustic Italian dishes just like her grandmothers made. Her book, Cooking with Italian Roots, celebrates her family holidays, along with rustic Italian recipes served at the dinner table. 

Not everybody has an Italian grandmother who bakes a cake for every birthday, graduation and any other celebration or gathering. Those special treats and the opportunity to bake and cook with her grandmother are the foundation for Christina’s legacy. She hopes to share her love of cooking with others and teach kids how to cook and bake. 

Perhaps her inner voice has it right. We can learn from Christina’s actions to appreciate a beautiful sunset and celebrate life with good food, family and friends.