Paola Giaimo is in her element: the kitchen. She moves deftly between sink and stove and smiles at people making their way through her Staten Island, N.Y., home.
Giaimo, mother of Vinny Guadagnino of “Jersey Shore” fame, is a major part of her son’s Thursday MTV program, “The Show With Vinny.” It’s set in the modest house where Guadagnino grew up, and she cooks for whoever is around.
Make all the jokes you want about Italian mamas; Giaimo is the real deal. She’s from a tiny town in Sicily, and she makes everything from scratch.
On the table is a platter of sausages and olives. Last night she made spaghetti and meatballs for the crew. This is one show that has no need for craft services. Mom is craft services.
It feels like a victory just to get her to sit. She loves to talk about cooking, and she tells Zap2it her favorite meal to make is “a really good baked ziti or an eggplant parm.”
The secret to making tasty eggplant, which can be tricky because of its sponginess, is “wash it, then soak it in salt,” which absorbs excess water, she says. Giaimo likes to cut the eggplant into thick slices and fries it in corn oil “because olive oil is too heavy to fry.”
As the cooked eggplant drains on paper towels, she makes fresh sauce. Giaimo’s is very simple. “I don’t use garlic when I make a plain sauce,” she says.
She blanches tomatoes, then peels them. “Not plum tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes,” Giaimo says. “Plum tomato has a thinner skin.” She sautes the tomatoes and onions, mashes them and warns, “Don’t add water when you are mashing.” The sauce takes about 20 minutes to cook.
To make the eggplant dish, Giaimo layers eggplant, sauce and a bit of grated Romano, then repeats. No mozzarella or breading on her eggplant.
“Sicilians don’t eat it that way,” she says. “Add another layer and fresh basil. And serve at room temperature.
“The Neapolitans, they bread the eggplant and put mozzarella on it and bake it. “Every town has its own way of life,” she says, explaining customs in Sicily, where she lived until she was 10.
Giaimo shops three times a week and always stocks her pantry with zucchini, potatoes, tomatoes and basil.
“Vinny’s favorite is spaghetti with fried zucchini and garlic and oil,” she says.
A few more tidbits about Giaimo
What are you currently reading?
“Dr. [Wayne] Dyer. My kids are big fans.”
What did you have for dinner last night?
“Antipasto and, believe it or not, potatoes and eggs and salami, and cheese and tomato salad. I bake my own bread every couple of weeks, six to eight loaves.”
What is your next project?
“Decorating the house.”
When was the last vacation you took — where and why?
“I went to visit my son when he was filming in Miami.”