I’ve written before about how I don’t often judge cooking contests anymore.
I could probably judge four to six contests a month if I accepted all the invitations I receive. But I have a preschooler and want to be home with her after work and on the weekends. (Well, most of the time anyway.)
But when the Sons of Italy called, I could not refuse.
The Sons of Italy is a national organization for men and women of Italian descent in the United States. The Triangle chapter was holding a “Chopped”-style competition between two members and asked me to judge.
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What wooed me? I would be tasting food that I can’t order at an Italian restaurant and wouldn’t be able to taste unless I traveled to Italy.
And so, I found myself with a 4-year-old in tow on a recent Sunday enjoying a six-course meal prepared by skilled home cooks who were representing specific Italian regions.
Nick Verna, a cookbook author who has the society’s title of “orator,” prepared dishes representing Naples and Salerno, where his grandparents are from. Pete Barletto, the society’s president, cooked dishes from Puglia, which produces food known as “la cucina povera,” or cooking of the poor. He remembered his grandparents’ cooking being influenced Greek and Middle Eastern influences.
It was quite the feast for myself and the other judges, Dino Pinelli, owner of Dino’s Capri Restaurant in North Raleigh, and Shaan Colyer, a sous chef at Pittsboro Roadhouse & General Store in Pittsboro.
Verna started with a zucchini frittata, which would be the perfect make-ahead dish for a dinner party or an easy weeknight meal to make on Sunday. Barletto’s first course was tomato pie, which my daughter devoured.
Then came prawn cannelloni, which was a crepe stuffed with shrimp, cheese and bacon. (The crowd oohed when Verna described the dish.) Barletto served roasted pork stuffed with bacon and greens.
The dinner finished with Barletto’s simple lemon cake and Verna’s take on Baba au Rhum (cake soaked in rum and simple syrup and topped with cannoli cream, shaved chocolate and a Sambuca-soaked strawberry).
The food was delicious. The judging was tough. (Verna won.) And I learned that if you like a good meal at a reasonable price, you should hang out with these folks. The diners only paid $12.50.
If you want to join the Triangle chapter of the Sons of Italy, go to trianglesonsofitaly.org
The organization has a few upcoming events: an annual fundraising breakfast at O’Charleys in Brier Creek on Sept. 3, an annual family picnic at Bond Park in Cary on Sept. 25, an Italian author night with Gilda Morina Syverson, who wrote, “My Father’s Daughter, From Rome to Sicily,” on Oct. 5 in Apex, and an annual Christmas dinner party on Dec. 11 at Dino’s Capri Restaurant in North Raleigh.
Details on cost, times and how to buy tickets can be found online.
Roasted Zucchini Frittata
From Nick Verna who notes that this dish is just as good hot, cold or at room temperature; leftovers make a great breakfast or lunch. You can serve it with a salad or an antipasto.
1 medium zucchini, cut into 3/4 -inch slices
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
Black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 ounces pancetta, chopped small
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 ounces shredded Fontina cheese
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
Place zucchini in a large bowl; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt, black pepper to taste and oil. Toss to make sure well coated. Place zucchini on a large rimmed baking sheet and place in oven. Cook for approximately 30 minutes or until the bottom of the zucchini has started to turn a light golden brown. Remove from the oven and place zucchini in a bowl to cool.
While zucchini is roasting, place pancetta in a small frying pan, and saute over medium heat until crisp. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and place on paper towel-lined plate.
Whisk eggs in a medium bowl until uniform in color. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, cheese, milk and cooled zucchini until thoroughly mixed.
Heat 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat and add butter. When the butter is foaming, lower the heat to medium and add the egg mixture. Sprinkle the cooked pancetta on top. Do not stir.
Cook until edges have started to set, then place skillet in oven for 5 minutes. Once center has set, turn oven to broil and cook until the top of the frittata has turned a light golden brown.
Remove the frittata from the oven. Run a spatula around the edge and slide it out onto a cutting board. Cut and serve immediately.
Yield: 4 to 8 servings