CT chef shares immigrant tales and recipes from her ‘Meatball Project’

For New Canaan’s Anna Francese Gass, cooking is a tie to her family’s heritage. Growing…

For New Canaan’s Anna Francese Gass, cooking is a tie to her family’s heritage. Growing up, her mother, Gina Crocco Francese, was a first generation immigrant from Calabria, Italy. Her mother prepared recipes from her own childhood to share her Italian culture with her children, thousands of miles away in the family’s new home in Rhode Island.

Gina, like many women before her, prepares her recipes from memory, so when Anna, a professional chef and recipe tester, realized she didn’t know how to prepare her mother’s dishes, she set out on a mission to record her family’s favorite meals, which she called her “Meatball Project.”


“It all started with a meatball. We got in the kitchen, my mom and I, and we cooked up all the recipes, I translated all the pinches into teaspoons and the handfuls into cups and we went from there. But then I realized I have so many friends with parents who are also first generation and I thought maybe they also have mothers who don’t have everything written down and I could provide a service. I could go cook with these women — just like I did with my mom — and write their recipes down,” said Anna.

Nearly five years later a project that began with a meatball evolved into her cookbook that features more than 100 recipes from dozens of women from around the world who shared their immigration stories and recipe.“Heirloom Kitchen: Heritage Recipes and Family Stories from the Tables of Immigrant Women” published in 2019. She will share highlights from her book during the New Haven Museum’s virtual talk “Heritage Recipes of Immigrant Women” on Jan. 13. 

“I thought it made the recipe even more rich to know the woman behind it and why she came here,” she said. 

After recording her mother’s story and recipes, Anna reached out to her friends’ parents and thought she would only get a few responses, but found that nearly 20 people wanted to share their recipes and their experiences. 

“When these women came here in a new land, speaking a new language, trying to get a job and trying to raise American children, all the different challenges they faced and every time they recreated the dishes of their mothers they were transported back, they felt like they were back in their home countries,” she said. “And that made them feel safe, it created that safe haven in the comfort of their home.”

“Heritage Recipes of Immigrant Women” will be on Thursday, Jan. 13 at 6 p.m. The New Haven Museum event is free, but registration is required.

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