Monday, March 9, 2015

Guest Chef- Cookin' Italian with Joe Sciorrotta

Italians are serious about food.

There, I said it. You know it. I know it. What good Italian family doesn't gather around a table piled high with delicious food every chance they can? It might be a bit of a cliche, but it's absolutely true. 

Today we are going to get to know Joe Sciorrotta. I've known Joe for quite a few years. His wife Heather and I worked together in an office and he would stop in all the time and visit. I had no idea he was such an amazing cook! Joe likes to share pictures of his dishes online and recently launched a private chef/catering service- he prepares a fantastic meal for you to enjoy in your own home. It's a great niche market for busy people who want that home cooked experience, maybe a romantic dinner for two away from the crowded restaurant scene. Joe makes all kinds of homemade sauces and dressings as well, and has a lot of very happy customers.

Joe has been cooking literally elbow-to-elbow with his parents since he was about four years old. He says he would stand on a chair and chop garlic,  or stir sauces. He loves cooking old school Italian American dishes, the kinds of foods that simmer all day long. With all his experience he has his secrets to getting that slow-simmered taste into foods in a hurry but Joe really loves dishes that you put a lot of time, and love into.

I asked Joe about his role models, and who he feels inspires him in the kitchen. Again, he gives the nod to his parents, and his Nana, Congetta Sciorrotta, who he says was the most influential of all, always with a story to tell and a lesson to teach. He spent most of his time in the kitchen with her. Joe also talked about his grandfather Lyman Michael, who was a Navy cook. Like all big Italian families, he includes great aunts and cousins in the mix.

It's always fun to find out where the great cooks like to eat, so I asked Joe where he likes to eat around the Des Moines area. Tursi's Latin King, he says, is always great (and I have to agree- I have always enjoyed every meal there). Sonny's Bistro is what Joe calls "a diamond in the rough". He has eaten literally everything on the menu and enjoyed every one. Like me, Joe likes eating local, where there is almost always a tradition, a family, a story behind the restaurant, not some corporate entity.

Delicioso!!  Joe's son Gino is getting
a head start on his culinary career
Joe says for him, family, friends and food are life. Nothing brings a family together better than a great meal.

Joe is going to make some Italian Roasted Ped Peppers for us today. When you want to cook Italian, you need to have a solid foundation of the basics, and this is one of the most important basics. Roasted peppers are very versatile and can be part of a fantastic salad, they are delicious on sandwiches and when pureed, make an unbelievably wonderful sauce. 

Roasting brings out the natural sugars in the peppers and creates such intense flavor. When the skin is charred and blistered, it separates from the meat and is easily removed with a swipe of a paper towel. 

The char creates a slightly smoky flavor. Don't be afraid to let the skins really blacken.

Joe combines the roasted peppers with chopped garlic and onion, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes. 

Italian Roasted Red Peppers

red bell peppers
extra virgin olive oil
fresh garlic
Italian seasoning 
crushed red pepper flakes

Choose fresh, plump peppers that don't have wrinkled skin or soft spots. Wash and dry thoroughly. Arrange the peppers on a baking sheet. Heat the broiler to high. You can also blister the peppers on the grill if you like. 

Broil the peppers until the skins become blistered and charred. Turn them several times to char the entire skin.

Place the peppers in a large bowl and cover tightly to keep the steam in. This will loosen the charred skin from the meat.

When cool enough to handle, wipe the charred skin off. A paper towel makes this a snap.

Remove the stems, seeds and membranes and cut the peppers into good sized strips. Set aside on a plate.

Peel garlic cloves to taste. We like A LOT of garlic around here. Chop the garlic, it doesn't have to be a fine mince, just a rough chop is fine.

Trim, peel and cut up an onion. Chop or slice into thin wedges, whichever you prefer.

In a large skillet, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and saute until softened. You can get a little color on the garlic but watch it carefully- you don't want burned garlic, which is bitter and can ruin the dish. 

Add the peppers to the skillet. 

Next goes in about a tablespoon of Italian seasoning, and crushed red pepper flakes to taste.

Allow the peppers to simmer briefly to meld the flavors.

Our peppers are done, so now what? My friends, the possibilities are endless. These peppers are delicious piled onto a sandwich with stacks of Genoa salami, soppressata, provolone cheese. Chopped up with some olives and sprinkled with Balsamic they are a fantastic topping for bruschetta. Use the peppers to stuff pounded out chicken breasts, boneless pork chops or veal. Roll up and roast! Sprinkle strips onto a pizza. Buzz in the food processor and use instead of marinara sauce.

You don't even have to get too complicated here- layer with mozzarella on Italian bread for a grilled cheese sandwich unlike anything you ever had as a kid.

It will be summer here in Iowa before we know it, and I for one, cannot WAIT for all the beautiful fresh vegetables. I hope you will give Joe's roasted peppers a try, and experiment a little too- you can use this same roasting technique with Roma tomatoes for a roasted tomato sauce that is out of this world!

If you would like to contact Joe, you can reach him at Intimate Dining and Catering, 515-422-3026 or email or click the Facebook link highlighted above.

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