Food: ‘Mary’s Italian Family Cookbook’ tantalizes with stories, recipes

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Mark your calendars for Saturday, Sept. 29 for a cookbook signing and tasting event in the back garden at Williams-Sonoma on Broadway. The Mary’s Pizza Shack family will be signing copies of the soon-to-be-released “Mary’s Italian Family Cookbook” and serving samples of foods from the book.

There is nothing like the smell of printer’s ink, which is what leaps from the sample copy of this first-ever Mary’s cookbook that Mary’s Pizza Shack’s Director of Food & Beverage Vince Dito dropped off.

Among the great things about these types of cookbooks are the stories the authors write to go with their recipes. They tell their life stories, or the life stories of the people and regions they write about.

Who in Sonoma Valley hasn’t been to Mary’s Pizza Shack? We started at the original shack in Boyes Hot Springs, loaned to Mary Fazio by the Delrosso family, then-owners of what’s now called Boyes Market, and the parents of Francine Maffei and Rosemary Haver. (Both daughters have told this writer stories of taking food over to Mary to cook and of her bringing them pizza once she got her pizzeria going.)

The introduction to Mary’s Italian Family Cookbook is a poignant story written by her children, “Toto” Albano and Anna Albano Byerly. It traces Mary’s family origins from the island of Ischia to Sonoma via San Pedro and San Francisco, with all of the hardships, rejections, acceptances and eventual popularity that many hard working immigrants often experience.

From that first Delrosso rental “shack,” where she started with her $700 life savings, to now, Mary’s has grown to 19 restaurants. One night, when Janet Nicholas and this writer took our little kids out to Mary’s at the original shack when our husbands were out of town, it actually snowed. When Dito heard this he immediately said, “1976!”

Don’t skip the introduction and notes with each of Mary’s recipes written by Toto and wife Peggy Albano, and Anna Albano-Byerly. You will find real treats, indelible Mary Fazio humor about the whole process, and little recipe cheat steps here and there.

Enjoy recipes for everything from Mary’s Italian dressing to her Skillet Pineapple Upside-Down Cake baked in cast iron, her eggplant parmesan, Peggy’s Meat Loaf, Mary’s Meatballs, tripe, rabbit, rigatoni with artichoke hearts, and pork chops with broccoli rabe, and eggplant and artichoke sandwich, to Anna’s famous blue cheese dressing and lots of family recipes not served in the restaurants.

Wine will be available for purchase at the Williams-Sonoma event, and a portion of proceeds will be donated to “No Kid Hungry.” 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Event is free. Cookbooks, $35. Books will only be sold at this event, at Mary’s Pizza Shack restaurants and at

Here’s an inspiration Mary Fazio quote from page 47: “I just loved being in my Pizza Shack. It was like my playhouse and I was one happy girl.”

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