Friday, March 1, 2013

"Now That's Italian!"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a nice Italian boy, as well as a former runner-up in the Newman’s Own & Good Housekeeping Recipe Contest for a dish I called Zezima’s Zesty Ziti Zinger, I have many remembrances of things pasta.

Aside from being a flash in the pan, however, I can barely boil spaghetti.

So I recently took a class in which I learned how to make ravioli.

The class, at the Brookhaven Free Library on Long Island, N.Y., was given by Richard Kanowsky, whose last name isn’t Italian and whose immediate family is as culinarily challenged as I am.

“My mom is horrible in the kitchen,” Chef Richard said. “My dad, too.”

But his maternal grandmother was “a really good cook,” he said. “I learned from her.”

Although Chef Richard’s ethnic background includes Russian, German, Dutch, French and Czech, his grandmother was half-Sicilian. “It qualifies me to make ravioli,” he said.

“My ethnic background includes Martian,” I told him. “Otherwise, I’m Italian. My mom is a great cook. My wife and my mother-in-law are of Italian descent. They’re great cooks, too. Unfortunately,” I added, “it doesn’t qualify me to make ravioli.”

“We’ll fix that,” promised Chef Richard, who was impressed that I beat out all but one person in a field of thousands in the national recipe contest. “What was your secret?” he asked.

“Red wine and vodka,” I responded. “Paul Newman loved my dish. I told him I fed some to my dog to see if it was all right. He asked if my dog was still alive. When I said yes, he wolfed the stuff down like he hadn’t eaten in a week. That he and my dog have since passed on is merely a coincidence.”

After going over his professional background -- he has cooked at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston and at Carnegie Hall in New York City and co-owns Kanobley Catering on Long Island -- Chef Richard told the dozen class members that we would be rolling in dough.

“That,” he explained, “is why I asked you to bring rolling pins.”

Although Chef Richard had already made the dough we would be using in the class, he demonstrated how it’s done so we could do it at home. The ingredients were flour, eggs, olive oil, heavy cream and kosher salt. The process involved making a well, or a large hole in the middle, and using a fork to stir the egg mixture into the flour and collapsing the well walls.

“You knead the dough,” Chef Richard noted.

“No kidding,” I said to Toni Anne, who was sitting next to me. “I ought to play Powerball.”

After Chef Richard gave us eggs, cheese, flour and bags of dough, he handed out powdered rubber gloves and showed us how to roll pieces of dough, cut them into smaller pieces, squeeze a small mound of cheese onto each piece, use a pastry brush to apply the beaten eggs to the edges and fold over the dough, using our fingertips to push air out of the ravioli.

“If there’s an air pocket,” he said, “the ravioli could explode in boiling water.”

Chef Richard went around the class to inspect our work. When he got to me, he said, “Your ravioli could be served in a restaurant.”

“Tell the Ritz-Carlton I’m available,” I said.

Then I took my dozen ravioli home to cook for myself and my wife, Sue.

I plopped them into a pot of boiling water. They didn’t explode. I drained them, put them in a bowl, covered them in tomato sauce and served a ravioli to Sue.

“Delicious,” she said. “It didn’t break apart. You did a good job.”

Coming from a great Italian cook, it was the ultimate compliment. Paul Newman would have loved it.

Copyright 2013 by Jerry Zezima


Dave Astor said...

"Remembrances of Things Pasta"? Wasn't that work by Proust's Italian cousin renamed "In Search of Lost Thyme"? But, seriously, another warm and funny and wonderful column!

Suzette Standring said...

Does making ravioli qualify as a "filler" column? Delicious!

Suzette Standring said...

Does making ravioli qualify as a "filler" column? Delicious!

Foxy Roxy said...

I have a plan for us . I will make the dough and you can continue on your own to make the ravioli. We will need at least 50 . How does that sound ? In the meantime Sue can teach you to make gravy . Can't get away with using bottled gravy . It is not ITALIAN . " NOW THAT'S ITALIAN " from beginning to end . If it's too hot in the kitchen get out .

Cathy Turney said...

Jerry! Another reason to avoid the kitchen - exploding raviolis! I rest my case. My dad exploded pea soup in a pressure cooker when he left the dingle-dangle off the top. The kitchen is a hazardous area of the home. Love your story, but it made me hungry!

Jerry Zezima said...

Thank you, Dave! Actually, Proust's Italian cousin is writing a series of "In Search of" books. The next ones are "Parsley," "Sage" and "Rosemary." If they're made into a movie, Simon and Garfunkel will, of course, write the score.

Jerry Zezima said...

It's a deal Momz! I actually CAN stand the heat, mainly because I am full of hot air. Anyway, you make the dough, I'll make the ravioli and Sue will make the gravy (what non-Italians call sauce). Then we'll open a restaurant.

Jerry Zezima said...

Thank you, Cathy! My ravioli didn't explode for two reasons: (a) I squeezed the air out of them and (b) I didn't leave my dingle-dangle off the top of the pot. There's nothing worse than a boiled dingle-dangle. It hurts just thinking about it.

Jerry Zezima said...

Yes, Suzette, it qualifies as a filler column because readers have already had their fill of it.

Mike McHugh said...

I can relate, Jerry. My grandmother was german and a fine cook. Still, I can't boil a can of sauerkraut.

Jerry Zezima said...

Thanks, Mike. The key, I think, is to take the sauerkraut out of the can before boiling it.