Catholic Cook Colette Sciscilo, With a Recipe for Zucchine alla Nonna
The Virginia started a cooking apostolate with the goal of helping children learn to cook
A charming, outgoing lady who lives in Manassas, Virginia, Colette Sciscilo has spent her entire life embracing relatives, friends, neighbors, and her Catholic faith. She credits this lifestyle to how she grew up in a typical Italian family with many Italian relatives living down the street, and with large family gatherings all the time.
“My dad’s parents lived in Atlantic City,” she said, “and their home stayed in our family until only a few years ago. In the summers, I was raised there, and I raised my children there, and we have raised our grandchildren there with many traditions and memories! Both of my grandfathers were from Italy and my mom told me that her grandparents owned an Italian market in Washington, DC.”
Raised in the Southeast District of Washington, Colette attended St. Francis Xavier School and St. Cecilia’s Academy, located on Capitol Hill.
“I am one of five,” she said. “We knew families with 10, 12 children when we were growing up. And so many of my relatives lived and worked in the Catholic area there. My dad was a civil engineer, and I can recall stories of my parents raising five children on his small salary. He became a superintendent of Virginia’s Wolf Trap Farm Park, Rock Creek Park, and he created Summer in the Parks, a popular program in Washington, DC.” (The program ended in 1976.)
Not surprisingly, her Italian heritage did involve cooking, and watching family members cook made an indelible impression, inspiring her lifelong passion for cooking.
“My mom was raising five kids and I didn’t watch that much but we were always having company and get-togethers, so I watched moms, aunts and uncles cook, but I did learn to make lasagna with ricotta filling from my mom. My grandmother on my father’s side had a typical Italian upbringing and I would watch my grandmother cook. And to this day I make ‘Concetta’ salad and her meatballs and braciole.”
She refined her cooking, she said, by experimenting a lot and acquiring many cookbooks.
“I like to eat, and I like to cook,” she said. “I taught myself French cooking after a trip to Paris. I would experiment with just an average weekday dinner. When my husband would come home from work, he’d say that this was a fancy French restaurant.” She believes that the presentation of meals is also important, whether it’s fancy or informal, and tablecloths, napkins and food presentation are important, whether one is cooking for two or eight people.
After her children graduated from college and she left her full-time job, she started a cooking apostolate with the goal of helping children learn to cook, plan menus, shop, bake, and eventually more complicated recipes, and even cook French recipes.
“I didn’t charge money,” she said, “and I started with a few girls, and one of the little girl’s names was Maria. She began with me when she was 12 years old, and she knew nothing and did not have any self-confidence. When she came to me, I started the cookbook, a binder, that included how to stock a pantry, cooking essentials, small recipes, what utensils are for, and how to use them. And the girls would have a copy. I would purchase the food and plan the menu, and I would do one dish at a time and start simple.”
Colette was thrilled to see how Maria flourished. Over time, the transformation was amazing.
“I see her all the time, and we still cook together,” she said. Recently, Colette told Maria that she had come a long way from when she first came to her, that she had grown and become her own person with a lot to offer. “You are not just cooking, you are giving something of yourself,” she told her.
When her grandchildren came along, they took the place of her other students as it had become a new generation.
“I still cook, and especially love cooking and baking with the grandchildren, my daughter, and daughter-in-law,” she said. “We have wonderful, authentic meals for all occasions, and we all contribute something. Last month I visited my brother and sister-in-law in New Jersey and carried up with my pots, my wooden spoon, and all the ingredients to teach my sister-in-law how to make Risotto alla Milanese.”
“I love cooking, bringing something to an event, or helping out a new mom,” she said. “At this point, it is important to do it and to pass it on, to help a friend or family member. But the key for me is in asking God to inspire me with a sense of charity and know that he will always lead me on the right path to do his will.”
Zucchine alla Nonna (Zucchini Appetizers)
Colette Sciscilo noted that “alla Nonna” means “in the style of grandmother.”
Depending on the size you cut these, it might render 12 to 18 squares.
- 1/2 cup grated onion
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 3 cups peeled and grated zucchini
- 1 cup Bisquick
- 4 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 4 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9- by 13-inch baking dish, bottom and sides, and line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease the paper.
- Sauté the grated onion in the vegetable oil until lightly browned. Combine the remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and gently toss the dish from side to side to distribute the mixture evenly.
- Bake for 40 minutes, or until the mixture is browned on top. Cook before cutting and serving. Make the bars any size you wish. Cut them smaller, or bite-sized, if you are serving finger food.