Two Old-World Cuisines

Fresh cooking comes easily to Merle Guadagnini. Her home-grown zucchini, onions, and bell peppers would be the envy of many a gardener, and her rows of bean stalks would make Jack proud! These beans on the vine include kidney, green, pinto and purple beans which turn green when cooked. When a recipe calls for eggs, Merle simply checks to see what “Eddie” has to offer. “Eddie” is one of the Guadagnini’s six chickens and was named after Merle’s cousin from Italy, back in 1998. The Guadagnini chickens include Rhode Island Reds, as well as the Plymouth Rock variety, and produce not only the traditional white and brown eggs, but green eggs as well. The Guadagnini Garden also boasts a wide array of colorful flowers and plenty of tangerine and Valencia orange trees.

Merle is of Scotch and German descent, and she has fond memories of her grandmother preparing sauerbraten, German potato salad, and apple strudel. “My mom’s specialty was smelts – which are whole small fish that have been dipped in flour and deep fried. She also prepared shad roe, which we fought over as kids,” exclaims Merle. When asked what her favorite food to prepare is, she explains, “I love to bake – that’s definitely my favorite. I make all kinds of pies – apple, lemon meringue, rhubarb. And another specialty of mine is Tiramisu.” This is undoubtedly a dessert that is appreciated by her Italian husband, Eustachio, and sons Silvio and Christopher. Merle’s favorite recipes reflect both the German and Italian heritages their families are so proud of. She insists that all family members present sit down for the traditional Family Meal at dinnertime, a custom she has enforced since her childhood. “Dinner is such an important time – an opportunity to share stories and the day’s events,” she enthuses. When asked what is his mother’s favorite dish, Christopher puts it simply: “It’s all good!”

Merle grew up outside Philadelphia and recalls an extraordinary dish called oyster pie, which featured eastern oysters in a delicate white sauce. She also recalls Atlantic City; she and her family often frequented the city’s famous Boardwalk. “It used to be so charming in the fifties – with the cute little seaside homes and beautiful wide beaches. But when I visited three years ago, it had changed so drastically – too many restaurants, stores and casinos,” she laments. Merle and Eustachio moved to Montecito in 1985, and their two sons attended Mount Carmel School, Bishop Diego, and UCSB.

Here Merle shares an old-fashioned German favorite, knockwurst and sauerkraut, her fresh-from-the garden zucchini casserole, and her killer Tiramisu recipe for an International Trio that’s hard to beat!

Zucchini Casserole

4 c. zucchini

1 c. mayonnaise

1/4 c. bell pepper

1 c. parmesan cheese

1/4 c. chopped onion

2 eggs, beaten

bread crumbs

1 T. melted butter

Cook the chopped zucchini, with the bell peppers and onions until tender. Mix eggs with mayonnaise and parmesan cheese and toss with vegetables. Put ingredients in a 9X12 baking dish and add melted butter and bread crumbs. Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 40 to 45 minutes.

Sauerkraut, Knockwurst & Ribs

1 jar deli sauerkraut

1 med. onion chopped

4-6 bratwursts

1/2 rack pork ribs (or whatever amt you want)

Place ribs (separated in pieces) in 1/2 cup water in covered roasting pan. Cook in slow oven 300 deg. for hour or so. Drain liquid & use to cook brown sausages briefly. Sauté chopped onion & mix into sauerkraut.

Put bratwursts & ribs (cut individually) on bottom of casserole dish, spoon sauerkraut mixture over meat.

Cover & slow cook in over 1 1/2 hour. 325 degrees Serves 4-6


2 eggs, separated

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup mascarpone

1 cup strong black coffee

1/4 cup Kahlua or brandy

12-16 ladyfingers or sponge cake cut in pieces

cocoa powder

Beat egg yolks with whisk in medium bowl, gradually adding sugar & beat until thick, smooth & pale yellow.

Soften mascarpone to room temp. & stir lightly, then fold into egg mixture.

Beat egg whites until stiff, (not dry) peaks form. Fold into mascarpone & egg mixture.

Pour coffee into wide shallow serving dish, add liquor. Layering ladyfingers, dip long enough to moisten only and place in dish side by side. Spread mascarpone mixture over ladyfingers, dust with cocoa powder. Repeat layering until all cakes are used & spread remaining mascarpone over top. Dust with cocoa powder.

Refrigerate until well chilled & serve. Best the day after! Serves 4