Come Into My Kitchen

Kitchen adventures serve as a refuge from Nancy Ballenger’s hectic life

Special to the Star

You seem to have an appetite for adventurous eating. I was born in Springfield, Illinois, and My mother was a terrible cook. She would boil things to the point where they were screaming to be let out of the pot. I was a very picky eater growing up, and I guess it’s because the texture of all that boiled food did not appeal to me. My first real attempt at cooking was with my college roommate preparing something out of Bon Appetit magazine. Learning to prepare real food so that it wasn’t bland or overcooked was a revelation to me.

This recipe is a revelation, too, with the addition of anchovies that add a depth to the sauce. Where did you get the recipe? My husband and I don’t eat red meat but are not strict vegetarians, so I am always looking for recipes with good flavor that don’t include meat sauce. This recipe is from “Italian Cooking Class Cookbook” by the editors of Consumer Guide, published in 1982. I have been making this recipe for at least 25 years because of the interesting ingredients, including capers, Greek olives and anchovy fillets. I have shared this recipe with family members who also like to cook and enjoy Italian cooking, even though we are of English descent. My husband and I returned from North Carolina, where we visited my husband’s niece and her family who own an Italian restaurant outside of Winston-Salem, and I am sharing this recipe with them, too.

You are a sharer by nature, especially through your involvement with the American Business Women’s Association. Why do you feel it’s important to support and mentor other professional women? I have gained all of this knowledge and experience — not only in the workplace, but also in life — and feel I must pay it forward. As women, we need to encourage each other, and it’s about striking a balance in life. It isn’t any good when a woman is successful at work, and her personal life is crumbling around her. Some women think they can “have it all,” but you need to make priorities in life and keep a positive attitude no matter what comes your way.

Sometimes that’s easier said than done. How do you keep balance in your life? Barry is a very supportive partner and is there to help me. We share cooking together, and with his interest in chemistry, often meals at home are better than anything we could order in a restaurant. One trick I’ve learned to make weeknight dinners easier is to make bigger meals during the weekend. Roast two chickens instead of one and use that extra meat to make a dish such as enchiladas one night.

If there’s anything I can tell other women is to learn how to say no to things that aren’t a priority. Don’t be afraid to ask your family for support, find an employer that is vested in you and really seek your passion in life. Things will work out if you just keep at it. That doesn’t mean it will work out exactly as you planned, but keep a sense of humor, and that’s a life strategy you can take to the bank.

Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Send email to her at to nominate a cook.


Residence: Peculiar

Occupation: Bank senior vice president and American Business Women’s Association ambassador volunteer. To get involved in a local chapter, go to: or call 913-732-5100.

Special cooking interest: Pesco pollo vegetarian dishes

Fun fact: Since 1983, both Nancy’s husband, Barry, and sister, Lois Hart of Louisburg, Kan., were featured in the Come Into My Kitchen column. Now it’s Nancy’s turn.

Pasta With Eggplant Sauce

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 (3/4-pound) eggplant, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes

2 teaspoons salt

1/3 cup olive oil

1 red bell pepper, cored and diced

1 medium onion, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces with juice

1 tablespoon freshly chopped basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil leaves

1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce

7 Greek-style black olives, pitted and finely chopped

6 anchovy fillets, rinsed, patted dry and finely chopped

2 teaspoons drained capers

1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley leaves

1 (1-pound) package spaghetti or pasta of choice

Freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, if desired as garnish

Place eggplant cubes into colander placed in sink. Sprinkle with salt and toss to coat. Allow salted eggplant to sit in colander for 1 hour, tossing occasionally.

Rinse eggplant and shake off excess water. Squeeze eggplant dry in a large piece of cheesecloth or clean kitchen towel, and set aside.

Warm oil in a large saucepan on stovetop over medium heat. Add eggplant, red pepper and onion to pan and sauté for 5 minutes. Add garlic and heat for 1 minute. Stir in plum tomatoes with juice, basil and hot red pepper sauce. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low. Place lid on pan and simmer for 20 minutes.

Uncover pan and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes. Stir in olives, anchovies, capers and parsley. Place lid back on pan and simmer an additional 5 minutes.

Prepare pasta according to package directions in a large pot of boiling water. Drain and toss with sauce in a large serving bowl. Garnish with grated cheese, if desired.

Per serving, based on 4: 704 calories (28 percent from fat), 22 grams total fat (3 grams saturated), 5 milligrams cholesterol, 108 grams carbohydrates, 20 grams protein, 1,057 milligrams sodium, 7grams dietary fiber.