“Monicker Mockers” or “Life in Tacony”

Over the years I have heard my grandfather  reminisce about his youth on innumerous occasions and no matter the theme of his story; whether it be tragedy or triumph, they always end the same way; with a good laugh. The common thread found in these recounted tales that leads to this unavoidable gut-busting conclusion is the humorous nicknames he uses to refer to guys from his old neighborhood, Tacony. Scummy, Chew-Tobacco, Double-Head, Slug, Scrappy, Long Balls, Shine-A-Mite, Tear-Ass – just to name a few. Who are these guys?

Tacony-Palmyra Bridge

William Brewster and the other Puritan travelers who came to the New World on the Mayflower would be shocked to hear such names being thrown around. The Puritans would name their children positive character traits such as Obedience in hopes the child would grow to embody their given name. They believed a good name would keep their children mindful of the errand they were put on this earth to serve. My grandfather, Pete Stampone (Railroad) and the Tacony crowd operated a little differently. The neighborhood guys would base their names off physical or mental attributes they already personified. Sorry Joe Salandro, maybe if you showered once a month you would be Joey-blank-blank instead of Skunk.

While I have heard my grandfather recount his youth countless times, I have yet to hear him mention a nickname one would strive to exemplify. Although I do suspect some of them have done their best to fulfill their nickname destiny – congratulations Joe Saltarelli a.k.a. Beer Belly. Brewster and his Puritan counterparts should consider themselves lucky they landed on Plymouth Rock and not near the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge where they would be forced to answer to, YO CUZ!

 

 

The Stampone Family Cookbook

Eating is a serious matter in Italy and is just as serious in the Stampone Family.  It seems Italians learn to cook before they learn to walk or talk.  Whether at home with family and friends, or in a fancy restaurant for a special occasion, cooking Italian style is synonymous with fresh flavors, great wine, and the best of friends.  Whether rustic or sophisticated, Italian cooking has always been based on fresh seasonal ingredients.

In the recent past, American chefs and restauranteurs have begun to focus on local ingredients in what has been coined the “farm to

Max's Harvest - Delray Beach FL

table movement”.  I have always found this curiously funny, since our family and Italians in general have been growing and choosing seasonal ingredients and cooking in this fashion for 100 years.  This expression in the use of local, sustainable ingredients, is why Italian food varies so much from region to region and even village to village.  Italians have always followed the rhythm of the seasons and will wait until spring before choosing asparagus, or the summer for a fresh mozzarella and tomato salad.  And when autumn rolls around, everyone is ready for a warm plate of braised beef in Barolo.  From a simple spaghetti with garlic and oil, to a penne allà arrabbiata, authentic Italian dishes are often based on just a few humble ingredients.  What makes them so tasty and delicious is over the centuries Italians have discovered how to achieve the perfect mix of seasonal flavors – this perfection has been achieved through centuries of testing in family kitchens just like ours.

The Max Group of Restaurants

And so, it is with this heritage in mind that I am assembling the Stampone Family Cookbook.  These will be the recipes which we will pass onto our children, teaching them the skills of their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and all who have gone before them.  It is my hope this will allow them to understand what Italian cooking is all about, a celebration of family, and an appreciation for a heritage which they are so fortunate to be part of.

And although this collection of recipes will be fondly referred to as the “Stampone Family Cookbook”, the contribution will extend far beyond the Stampones alone.  Just as the many regions of Italy have played a vital role in Italian cuisine, so has the marriage of families.  From the Rosatos, Vizzas and Lentinis, to the Contorni of dishes of the McGraths, Fosters, and Kramers, all have contributed to the spirit of the collection.

Many of you have asked that I return some of the recipes which previously appeared on our prior website.  Over the next few months, I hope to provide a sampling for your continued reference.  I also hope to offer you the opportunity to make the gastronomy of our family, part of your life as well.  Buon appetito!

My Sister-in-Law, Eva’s, Ridiculously Good Spinach Salad

SALAD INGREDIENTS
Fresh Spinach
8 oz sliced white mushrooms
2 hard boiled eggs chopped
Fresh bacon bits
Croutons

DRESSING INGREDIENTS
1 small onion minced
1 cup vegetable oil
¼ cup cider vinegar
½ cup sugar
2 tbsp. Grey Poupon mustard
2 tbsp. Ketchup
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. Fresh lemon juice

Clean and prepare salad ingredients and mix in a large bowl.  In a separate container, mix dressing ingredients together starting with the oil and vinegar.  Add sugar, onion, mustard, ketchup, Worchestershire and lemon juice.  Mix thoroughly and shake well before dressing the salad.  Serve chilled.

Lawyers Have to Eat Too
“Joe’s Bows”

This rich, creamy pink sauce is offset by a generous dose of red pepper.  Heat 2 tbl.of olive oil in a large skillet over med. heat.  Add 1 lb. sweet Italian sausage (crumbled/casings removed) and a ½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (or simply use hot sausage, we prefer Hatfield brand) – cook until no longer pink, stirring frequently (about 7 minutes).  Add ½ cup diced onions and 3 garlic cloves minced – cook until onion is tender and sausage is light brown (about 7 minutes).  Add one 28 oz. can Italian plum tomatoes coursely chopped (preferably San Marzano), 1-1/2 cups of heavy cream and ½ teaspoon of salt – simmer until sauce thickens slightly (approximately 4 minutes).  Place aside.

Cook 12 oz. DeCecco bowtie pasta (Farfalle) in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente (firm to bite).

Bring sauce to a simmer and add the cooked pasta until heated through and the sauce thickens (about 2 minutes).  Divide pasta among four plates, sprinkle generously with freshly grated Parmagiano-Reggiano. (If you own one of those green cans of alleged parmesan, proceed no further.  Immediately remove it from your household and never buy it again).   Top with 3 tablespoons freshly minced basil or parsley.  Buon Appetito!

EVOO – Buyer Beware

Anyone who is a fan of the Food Network quickly recognizes the reference to EVOO – Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  What most people don’t know, is what we typically buy off the supermarket shelf and even from specialty stores, falls far short of the high standards that define this remarkable substance.   I recently read the book, “Extra Virginity, the Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil”, by Tom Mueller.   I’ll share his wisdom.

For a thousand years, olive oil has been a sacred symbol of religious rituals not to mention its medicinal qualities, and its use as a beauty aid.  The most aromatic of oils, it is extracted from a fruit rather than a seed, like sunflower, canola or soy oil.

But this symbol of purity is the subject of a deeply corrupt marketplace of fake products.  One of the most respected private olive oil associations is the Corporazione Mastri Oleari located in Milan.  The organization’s tasting panel adheres to strict protocol prescribed by Italian law.  Panel members train their senses to detect the faintest of flaws.  Tasters cradle brandy snifter style glasses in their palms as they smell the fragrances.  They then take a mouthful of oil by a technique known as strippaggio which causes them to suck air at the corner of their mouths which coats the taste buds and causes the oil’s aroma to travel into the nasal passages.

Unfortunately, the product which most of us have access to is not the oil of hardworking artisan producers who live to conserve the ancient and local Italian traditions, but rather a product of fraud and deceit – - some of it isn’t even made from olives.

In many ways, the most important oil producing place in the world is the region of Puglia, the heel of the Italian boot.  This area has produced oil for thousands of years, when the hillsides of famous oil areas like Tuscany and Spain were bare of groves.  Wild olives have thrived and survived in Puglia’s hot dry climate since the Ice Age where it has been a staple forever.

True EVOO is pressed or spun out of the olive pulp, yielding a fresh squeezed fruit juice with all its health enhancing ingredients intact.  Seed oils on the other hand generally require the use of solvents such as hexane for extraction.  The solvent must then be removed to eliminate unpleasant tastes and odor.  Removal occurs in a refinery where the seed oil undergoes desolventization, deodorization, bleaching and degumming.  The result is tasteless, odorless, colorless liquid fat.

The majority of olive oil now produced by multinational corporations is not EVOO despite the labeling of bottles.  Nor is it “cold pressed”, “first pressed” or even made from olives grown in Italy.  Let the buyer beware, bottles labeled “Product of Italy” hardly guarantee the purchase of EVOO.  More likely you have purchased oil from olives shipped to Italy from places like Spain and North Africa which are relabeled as Italian.  In Italy, a range of enforcement agencies work to protect the food industry, but their efforts fall short and fraud is rising steeply.

The size of the food and agriculture sector is estimated to be $5 trillion worldwide.  The enormous profits associated with food allow the unscrupulous to influence legislation, pay for campaign advertising, and otherwise silence those who question their practices.

Fortunately, true oil producers in Italy are pioneers in what has become a renaissance in EVOO.  New technologies, advances in botany and agronomy have enabled skilled Italian producers to make some of the best and healthiest oils.  Hardworking producers are creating oils with personality.  In Italy, training courses for oil sommeliers are becoming popular.  Oil bars, on the model of wine bars, are becoming popular, and restaurants are offering an oil list, similar to a wine list.  The oil list identifies different characteristics to match various dishes.  Over the last 15 years, the olive oil boom has increased consumption two-fold in North America, tripled it in Northern Europe, and six-fold in Asia.

The difficulty for us as consumers is that despite the flourishing market, true quality producers are struggling.  The wholesale price of EVOO, or what is classified as such, has plummeted over the last 10 years.  Mostly due to the questionable production techniques of the conglomerates.

The rare art employed by producers of quality oil simply can’t compete.  Consequently, olive oil has become one of the most adulterated of food products, particularly in Italy, who is the leading importer, consumer, and exporter of olive oil.  Most scams involve the mixing of low grade vegetable oils flavored and colored with plant extracts and sold in tins and bottles with fancy Italian flags and paintings, and imaginary producer names.

There is a quality divide between true extra virgin oils and the supermarket version.  Fortunately for the American consumer, organizations like the Culinary Institute of America have joined the experiment and are creating standards to allow us to identify and enjoy truly great Extra Virgin Olive Oil…The Queen of Fats.

The Romans, who created one of the longest lasting empires in history created the phrase “caveat emptor”…”let the buyer beware”.  When you purchased an amphora of oil in the Roman world, you knew from the label exactly what you were getting.  We can only hope that our journey takes us full circle and we can celebrate and enjoy the extraordinary oils that deserve the name “Extra Virgin”.