Turning Over Generations in Three Easy Steps

Rosemary Pelli’s joie de vivre is contagious. Upon entering her Mountain Drive home, one is instantly overwhelmed by her genuine warmth and hospitality. She bubbles over when discussing food and family.

“One of my earliest memories is strolling in my grandmother’s garden,” says Rosemary. “I watered the plants while Grandma Rose walked each row of fruits and vegetables. These were no ordinary plants. The seeds and saplings were lovingly stowed aboard the ship that carried my family from Calabria, Italy to New York Harbor. Along with her seeds, Grandma brought us her culture.”

Despite the adjustment to her new surroundings, Rosemary was consistently comforted by her family’s gatherings in the kitchen for Sunday dinner.

“As a child, I remember the sweet aroma of her kitchen,” she says. “I heard the sizzle of fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil, sautéing in olive oil. But most of all, I saw a family coming together.”

A proper introduction to Southern Italian cooking begins with an emphasis on the sauce. Rosemary explains the origin of the word marinara sauce comes from “mariner,” or fisherman. Back in Rosemary’s grandmother’s day, the fishermen brought their catches home to their wives, who promptly cooked them to make a sauce. Tomatoes and spices were added, and Italian-Americans often included meat or chicken as well. Here Rosemary offers a variety of sauces, beginning with her Grandma Rose’s original, followed by her mother’s creamy chicken sauce, finishing up with Rosemary’s own spicy Southwestern sauce. Each presents its own special Italian taste treat!

Grandma’s Basic Marinara Sauce

¼ cup virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, sliced

10 basil leaves, chopped

6 large vine ripened tomatoes or one 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 cup water and one 12-ounce can albacore tuna, drained

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon salt and ½ tablespoon pepper

Sautée garlic and basil in olive oil, add tomatoes, sugar, water, salt and pepper. Cover and cook on medium to low heat for one half hour. Add tuna and cook for 15 minutes. Serves 4 to 6. (Rosemary’s note: Grandma served this sauce over linguini pasta with a salad, homemade bread and, of course, Grandpa’s homemade Chianti wine.)

Mom’s Chicken Riggi (Rigatoni)

¼ cup virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, sliced

10 basil leaves, chopped

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1 small onion, diced

4 cherry peppers, diced

1 chicken breast, diced

1 can 28 ounces plum tomatoes

¼ cup white wine

1 tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper

½ pint heavy cream

Sautée the garlic, onions, basil, mushrooms, peppers and chicken in large frying pan. Add crushed plum tomatoes, white wine, sugar, salt and pepper. Cook covered for half an hour and add cream before serving over mezzi rigatoni. Sprinkle with Romano grated cheese. (Rosemary’s note: Mom served this pasta dish with endive salad and a good Merlot.)

Rosemary’s Southwestern Pasta

¼ cup virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, sliced

10 basil leaves, chopped

1 4-ounce can diced mild chili peppers

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper

Dash of sour cream and heavy cream

Sautée the garlic, basil and chili peppers in olive oil. Add crushed tomatoes, salt, pepper and sugar and simmer in a covered saucepan for 45 minutes. Add sour cream and heavy cream when sauce is completed. Serves 4 to 6. (Rosemary’s note: serve over mostaccioli or ziti pasta, along with a salad with fresh orange wedges and a Pinot Grigio wine.)

Carrying on a Tradition

Rosemary feels it is her legacy to carry on the tradition of her grandmother’s original sauce; however, she sometimes experiences a fleeting temptation to grab a can of ready-made marinara as she strolls down the aisles of Trader Joe’s. “But I think of my namesake and the desire passes,” she explains. “Grandma’s marinara recipe has traveled thousands of miles, through generations and many variations. Like the seeds she carried from Italy, my granddaughter, Antonia, now waters my plants. I guess history does repeat itself.”

And so ends this celebration of another of Montecito’s accomplished cooks.

– This article was written with special thanks to Peter Phillips.

(If you know a cook who deserves attention, please e-mail your suggestions to news@montecitojournal.net)