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A big congratulations to Pete, whose Short Rib and Pumpkin Chili was voted Your Best One-Pot Meal Recipe. (Thanks to our friends at All-Clad, Pete will win a pretty amazing prize.) We asked him a little bit about himself and his cooking:
Describe an early food experience that has influenced the way you think about food and/or cooking.
I grew up in a traditional, nuclear Italian-American family with all the typical Sunday dinners and Christmas Eve seafood feasts, so I was exposed to great food and people always being in the kitchen at a very young age. My dad was from Italy, and when I was 13, he took us on our first trip to Italy to meet his 8 sisters and their multiple family tree branches. We started in my dad's little hometown near Verona and through the course of 3 weeks we went into the lakes and mountains around Bardolino and towards Asiago, over to Venice, down to Florence and Rome, up to Lake Como and back down to Milan. Our "home base" who owned and ran a bar. This place seemed to be the town gathering place for socializing and gossip for all the old men. These bars always have the most amazing, yet simple foods, along with coffee and alcohol.
Every meal he served used meats and vegetables straight from his farm. Even at that age I could recognize what "fresh" truly meant. Throughout the trip, we always had family members taking us to the little back alley trattorias and osterias that only the locals knew about. That's when I had my first tastes of things I never even thought you'd eat (at least from a 13 year old's perspective): tongue, horse, rabbit, pigeon... I ate some of the best salumi (and smelled some of the funkiest) you rarely find here in the States. I'll never forget fatty cotechino melting into hot, grilled polenta cakes and topped with shaved Parmagiano-Reggiano... because of that one meal, I taught myself how to make cotechino along with other sausages. That trip, at that age, was an eye-opener for exposing me to the flavors and food experiences that existed beyond my sheltered, grease-ball existence in the Boston suburbs.
What's your least favorite kitchen task?
Cleaning shrimp, especially if they're small and there's more than a pound.
Your favorite kitchen tool?
My pasta-maker. (Chi ha un pastaio mangia bene—He who has a pasta maker eats well.)
What is your idea of comfort food?
The Sunday macaroni and gravy dinner (not "pasta" and not "sauce"—gravy!): meat in tomato sauce chock-full of meatballs, braciole, sausage, pig's feet, beef shank, etc., a throwback to my Sicilian mother's and grandmother's influences on my tastes.
Pete making gnocchi at home.
What is your greatest kitchen disaster?
A long time ago when blackened redfish was the craze, I made my first attempt at blackening fish. We had some friends over for dinner, and we each put our 1-year-old sons in separate playpens hoping they'd occupy themselves so that we could enjoy our dinner... I got the cast iron skillet red-hot on the stove—I mean it was sizzling! I didn't realize that my exhaust fan was set to blow air back into the kitchen, so I tossed the fish into the pan. Flames shot up and steam and smoke immediately filled the kitchen. Either coincidentally or because of the commotion, my son started choking on a stuffed toy he managed to pull the head off. My friends' son somehow got hold of the electric cord of a lamp with a glass shade and pulled the lamp off the table, shattering the lamp. I'm gagging on the fumes from the pepper in the blackened seasoning... My wife is frantically trying to pull batting out of our son's throat, and my friends are arguing over who allowed their son to be so close to the lamp. I learned "blackened" and "burned" are not synonymous. We ended up eating take-out Thai.
Photo of chili by Bobbi Lin; all others courtesy of Pete