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After losing her husband to a rare cancer, 'NCIS' actress finds comfort in cooking

"I think he's smiling back on us today."
/ Source: TODAY

Many professional chefs and home cooks express their love for family and friends by cooking up nourishing meals. And after her husband's death, actress Tembi Locke turned to cooking to keep her loved one's memory alive.

The “NCIS: Los Angeles” star welcomed TODAY's Natalie Morales into her kitchen to share how she repurposed her heartbreak into an Italian cookbook as a tribute to her late husband, Saro. Tembi's memoir "From Scratch" is part love story, part recipe collection. In addition to featuring delicious dishes, the book details Tembi and Saro's unique love story, as well as the couple's heartbreaking battle with cancer.

Tembi welcomed Natalie into her home just outside of Hollywood where the pair cooked up one of Tembi's favorite summer meals.

While preparing the delicious Sicilian recipe, Tembi revealed to Natalie how she first fell in love with Saro when they met in Florence, Italy.

“For him, it was love at first sight?” asked Natalie.

“It was,” Tembi replied. “And, I always thought that was so cliché. But he often told that story of like 'I just knew' and I was all like, 'are you kidding me? How did you just know?' He's like, 'No, no, no, I knew."

Tembi, who is originally from Houston, Texas, was in her 20s when she met Saro walking down a picturesque street in the Tuscan city.

Three years, and many shared meals later, Tembi and Saro wed — but their relationship faced some challenges. Saro's parents disapproved of the couple's interracial, multi-cultural union. They were so upset that they ended up boycotting the wedding. Tembi revealed to Natalie that his family didn't reconcile until after her husband's diagnosis many years later.

After the wedding, the couple moved to Los Angeles where Tembi found success working on several TV series, including "Castle," "Bones," and "The Mentalist."

In 2002, Saro was diagnosed with a rare form of soft-tissue cancer. Tembi cared for her husband for 10 years, but the diagnosis didn't stop the couple from fulfilling their biggest dream.

“Zoela came to us during that time,” Tembi said of her adopted daughter. “And I think one of the things that I learned is life is still happening all around us and for us, we'd always wanted to be parents.”

After Saro’s death in 2012, Tembi picked up a blank journal and headed back to Saro’s hometown in Sicily to heal. She wanted to strengthen her own bond with Saro’s family and give Zoela a glimpse into her father’s life.

She left Italy with the rough draft for a touching memoir filled with flavorful Italian recipes.

Her finished product, “From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home,” chronicles the three summers she spent in Sicily with her former husband's family of farmers. She documents the nourishment she found in returning to her husband’s roots, both literally and spiritually.

Through her emotional journey, Tembi said she has learned so much about love and loss.

"Our friendship became deeper and greater because we got to see parts of each other that we might not have been asked to step forward but for the illness," the actress said, before adding, "I think he's smiling back on us today."