"I wish I knew how to make a casserole," says Mary Margaret Capellino Galleano. Fortunately, that urge occurs only when she's invited to a potluck.
Most of the time this energetic, plain-speaking 76-year-old is whipping out dishes such as risotto, polenta, osso buco and gnocchi. It's in her blood--her family came from the far north of Italy, the Alpine region where gutsy food warms soul and body.
Galleano lives in Mira Loma next to the winery owned by her son, Don. For years, she supervised the tasting room. Now she's busy with bowling, cruises--and cooking.
"I didn't say I'm a good cook," she tells you, although, of course, she is. "But I love to cook." This day, she is making veal scaloppine with Marsala wine and Sherry; risotto with dried and fresh mushrooms, a green salad with oregano-spiked tomatoes on the side, and a lemon-flavored Sherry wine cake accompanied by strawberries. A couple of guests are coming for lunch, and her son will bring over the wines.
Galleano's house is the sort of place you can relax in. "I can't be a fuddy-duddy about having everything in place. Men from the winery troop in and out," she says. Complete with claw-foot tub and pull-chain toilet, the old house was moved to the vineyards from a river bottom in San Bernardino. The kitchen and living room overlook the vines. There's a bottle of olive oil and a couple of wine bottles on the back of the Magic Chef range. And the big dining table is the sort that you can picture Italian families gathering around, talking with lots of energy, emotion and gestures, just like in the movies. The atmosphere is homey Italian right down to Jocco the cockatiel, who can chirp out "O Sole Mio."
Galleano cooks as only a genuine Italian can. In other words, she's not uptight about authenticity. When she doesn't have Arborio rice, she makes risotto with Uncle Ben's converted rice. And it tastes wonderful. For polenta, she uses Albers yellow cornmeal instead of polenta flour.
"I don't cook by recipe," she says. "I just sort of ad lib." So when Galleano Marsala seemed too sweet for veal scaloppine a la Marsala, she cut it with Sherry.
Galleano's pesto is definitely unorthodox. It's a brilliant, dark-green fluid mixture that she freezes in ice cube trays, handy to drop into soup or spaghetti sauce. Missing are two customary ingredients--nuts and cheese. That makes it more versatile as a seasoning, she explains.
Poultry seasoning may not be in most Italian larders, but Galleano uses it frequently. It goes into spaghetti sauce and into the flour that coats the veal she has pounded flat for scaloppine. "I remember my mother doing it," she says.
Galleano is a purist about some things, though. One is fresh garlic. "I never use garlic salt," she says adamantly. On the other hand, she has taken to conveniences such as the microwave. She's eager to show how she microwaves chopped onions and stores them in the refrigerator ready to use the next day; she does the same with mushrooms. "I've learned a few tricks in my 76 years," she tells you.
In good Italian tradition, she uses lots of home-grown foods, like vegetables and home-cured olives. Son Don cures the olives and they store them in the freezer. Greens for the salad she is making came from friends' gardens. The mix includes dandelion greens, curly endive and romaine. Galleano adds the winery's own red wine vinegar to the hard-boiled egg she is crushing for the dressing.
The one thing she does not do is bake, except for easy things like the Sherry wine cake, which is made with mixes. In her family there was no time for such pursuits. "I guess they had to struggle, so they never baked," she says, talking about her grandmother, who had eight children.
The family emigrated to Canada, then the United States. Galleano was born in North Beach, San Francisco. When she was 3, her parents moved to Redondo Beach and took up poultry farming. "I had to help. In those days you didn't come home from school and watch TV," she says.
When making risotto she crumbles in an Italian sausage, although ordinarily she would use chicken giblets. She remembers the stew her grandmother would make from giblets, livers, cocks combs and feet "in the old days when times were tough." It may sound like hardship food but "it was delicious," Galleano says.
At 27, she married Bernard "Nino" Galleano, whose father sold wine grapes to her father. Bernard died in 1983.
Family history told and dishes ready to eat, she calls to her son, "We're gonna eat, Donald." And in he comes with the wines for lunch: Zinfandel from old vines; a white wine blended from Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, and a sweet, almond-flavored wine for the cake.
Don Galleano talks enthusiastically about his mother's cooking. He's obviously devoted to her, and he hands out a booklet that tells her life history, with photographs. The booklet was compiled for her 70th birthday celebration, which involved days of partying.