Our person of the month for September is Valeria Robecco, a journalist from Reggio Emilia who has lived in New York City for more than 10 years. She is president of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA), and has covered the United Nations since 2010 as UN contributor for ANSA, Italy’s leading newswire service. She has also reported for several major Italian media outlets such as La Stampa, Il Giornale, and Panorama, with a special focus on US politics and international affairs. We have known her for a long time, and can guarantee that, beyond being skilled in her career, she is also a wonderful cook.
HOW WAS YOUR SUMMER?
I consider myself very lucky because I was able to go to Italy, after not having seen my family for many months. Of course, it was a bit difficult at times to understand what we could and could not do, but I was able to truly rest this summer. I did simple things, following the rules related to the health emergency. I enjoyed time with family and close friends, and went to the beach in southern Italy and to the mountains in the north, in the Dolomites, where I've been going since I was a child. I come from Reggio Emilia, so I also got to spend some time in the country. I believe that avoiding crowded places for a year is not a major sacrifice, but that it can make a serious difference in shaping the trajectory of the pandemic. I also believe that wearing a mask—even in hot weather—is an act of responsibility.
During my Italian vacation I ate well, because I really like good food.
What flavors did you bring back to New York with you, and what was your favorite summer dish?
I really like good food. In fact, one of the most beautiful things I did during this vacation was to taste the best and most traditional dishes from the places I visited. I brought inspiration from the flavors of the south and the Amalfi coast back to New York: fabulous fish, eggplants, basil, mozzarella, as well as giant tomatoes, so tasty and sweet. I also adopted more substantive dishes from the mountains, such as venison ragù, cured meats, mountain speck, and culatello. From my hometown, I was inspired by prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano. Erbazzone (a traditional savory pie from Reggio Emilia) is a constant in my New York preparations, just as it is a tradition back home: my mother always prepares Erbazzone when I come back, since she knows it is one of my favorite dishes. I know how to prepare it too, but my mother's tastes different, even if only from an emotional point of view.
You love to cook. During the lockdown, with restaurants closed, what dishes did you make the most?
I cooked a lot and also looked for new inspiration. I believe New York has very good restaurants with cuisines from all over the world. I really like to experiment, especially with Middle Eastern, Lebanese, Greek, and Indian cuisine. But obviously, when I cook, I cook Italian and for this reason when I go out I like to try other cuisines. The lockdown certainly gave me plenty of opportunities to experiment. I ordered some deliveries, though I’m not a big fan of ordering food from home. I really like the experience of eating out, and seeing new places. I cooked a lot, from appetizers to second courses with fish and meat. I experimented with meatballs; lamb chops; lasagna with mushrooms; spaghetti with cuttlefish ink, clams, and bottarga; and ravioli. I also love to make classic finger food appetizers with meats and cheeses.
Your dinners at home are special. Can you tell us some of your secrets?
I love to organize dinners at home with friends. I believe it is something that we, as Italians, have in our blood and I certainly inherited it from my mother and grandparents, who have always been great lovers of gatherings with friends in our country house. In the summer, I remember great barbecues with friends. I tried to bring these traditions to the States. I like to cook, to prepare the house, and to set the table. I love to make my guests feel at home.
The holidays are over. September is a very busy month for you. What do the coming months have in store?
The holidays have been over for a while. August was challenging, especially this year with the Republican and Democratic conventions. September will be very intense, with events that are all linked: the elections, the unresolved coronavirus emergency, and the challenging virtual format of newsgathering. Even the UN General Assembly, which I have been covering for 10 years now, will be different since almost everything will be virtual.
And then there will be the final rush of the election. I believe that the months between now and November will be intense. As the president of UNCA, this year was strange: no meetings, events, press conferences, or dialogues with diplomats. However, it was all challenging because I tried to help our colleagues in every way possible, also helping them to understand how the UN was dealing with this pandemic. Trying to find a way to communicate and keep doing things virtually was an onerous task. I believe that, however, diplomacy requires real, face-to-face contact, and that the same is true for journalism. I really hope the emergency will end soon and that everyone will be able to go back to real life.