Nana’s Fried Cauliflower is a nod to Italian heritage

06/10/2014 8:00 AM

06/09/2014 3:40 PM

Sam Bazdarich cooks with the passion of his Italian heritage, and everyone who eats his food tastes the love. He and his wife, Janet, married for 42 years, have two sons, Justin, 37, and Andrew, 30.

With tasty talents that are a chip off the old butcher’s block, Justin, a chef, reinterprets the Italian food of his youth at his restaurant Speedy Romeo in Brooklyn, N.Y. Justin credits his father for his fondness for food.

“My father taught me how to eat and how to enjoy the experience,” Justin says. “His love of food has been passed down to me. When I go home to Kansas City, we spend a lot of time in the kitchen.”

Residence: Overland Park

Occupation: Manufacturer and marketer of wireless accessories

Special cooking interest: Italian food

What are your plans for Father’s Day? I just flew out to New York to spend time with Justin at Speedy Romeo. I love to go to Brooklyn and see Justin in his element at the restaurant. He’s not only good with the food, he’s also good with the people who come in and eat. That’s what I call true hospitality.

Janet and my other son, Andrew, just returned from a trip to Oregon, so we will likely barbecue pork steaks at home, St. Louis-style, by brining them in vinegar, water and salt before putting them on the grill. I’ll probably have friends over and serve the pork steaks with Maull’s Barbecue Sauce. As they say, ‘Don’t Baste Your Barbecue. Maull it!’

What is your tie to St. Louis? We’ve called Kansas City home since 1975, but I grew up on the Hill in St. Louis, which is a famed Italian neighborhood in the city. My mother, Catherine Giambrone, was born in Chicago, but her parents were from Sicily. My mother started my whole love affair with food.

When I was growing up, there was always enough food to bring friends home for dinner. My mother was happiest when there was food on the table and all of us were enjoying it. She cooked until she was more than 90 years old.

Now, I find myself the same way. The kitchen is a communal place, and I love cooking for others to enjoy.

Do you think Justin is the same way? Justin opened Speedy Romeo — which is named after a race horse — in 2011 after attending culinary school and working closely with Jean-Georges Vongerichten for more than 10 years. Justin likes to make people happy with his food.

The location of his restaurant used to be an auto repair shop, so there’s no gas line that’s run to the restaurant’s kitchen. Instead, wood fire fuels the entire operation — from pizzas and burgers to appetizers and wood-fired steaks and seafood. Speedy Romeo only uses the best ingredients from Italy for his pizza and buys all of his other foods from local farmers and food purveyors.

One of my favorite things to eat at Speedy’s is the Saint Louie, Justin’s wood-fired version of the pizza I enjoyed growing up in St. Louis. It’s cut into squares and topped with Italian sausage, pepperoni and Provel cheese. Don’t forget to put his pickled peppers on top!

Why did you choose to share this recipe? This is something my mother used to make for the Hill’s St. Joseph’s table in St. Louis, when I was growing up. Since St. Joseph’s Day falls during Lent, there is no meat placed on the table, and the tradition comes from Sicily as part of a large feast to honor their patron saint Joseph. Italians believe San Giuseppe protected the people from famine during a severe drought.

Nana’s Fried Cauliflower is considered a side dish and is almost like a frittata but doesn’t use an egg to bind it together. It is simple and hearty, and you don’t miss the meat. I think it would make my mother proud to see the success Justin is having with his restaurant. If nothing else, the language of good food travels across time and can span generations.

Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at pepi@kc.rr.com to nominate a cook.

Nana’s Fried Cauliflower

Makes 10 1-inch servings

1 medium cauliflower head, broken into small florets and steamed until fork tender, yielding about 4 cups

1 cup Romano cheese

2/3 cup Italian bread crumbs

2 tablespoons freshly chopped Italian parsley leaves

1/8 teaspoon sea or kosher salt

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional

Optional garnish:

Fresh parsley stems

Romano cheese curls

In a large mixing bowl, gently stir still-warm cauliflower, cheese, bread crumbs, parsley and salt together. Set aside.

In a 10-inch nonstick sauté pan or skillet, melt butter and olive oil together over medium heat on stovetop. Sauté garlic and optional pepper flakes just until fragrant.

Add cauliflower mixture to pan and press into pan with a rubber scraper. Do not stir cauliflower mixture but go around edge of pan with rubber scraper to dislodge cauliflower mixture from side of pan and create a rounded edge.

Allow mixture to sauté for 4 minutes or until a browned crust has formed on the bottom. Wearing oven mitts on hands, place an oven-safe 10-inch plate on top of sautéing cauliflower mixture. With great care while holding onto the plate with one hand, carefully invert cauliflower 10-inch form onto plate, browned side facing up.

Gently slide 10-inch cauliflower round back into sauté pan, uncooked side down. Allow cauliflower to sauté for an additional 3 minutes, or until a browned crust has formed on the bottom and cauliflower is warmed through.

Still wearing oven mitts, place oven-safe 10-inch plate on top of finished cauliflower and — with hand on plate — invert contents of sauté pan onto it. Gently slide cauliflower onto serving plate, garnish with parsley and cheese. Cut into 10-inch wedges and serve as a side dish.

Note: Bazdarich uses imported Romano cheese and Progresso brand Italian-style bread crumbs.

Per serving: 110 calories (49 percent from fat), 6 grams total fat (3 grams saturated), 15 milligrams cholesterol, 8 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 394 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.

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