Come Into My Kitchen

Parkville potter Tricia Szasz spins many plates: gardener, cook, artist

Artist Tricia Szasz of Parkville enjoys serving her Creamy Fresh Garden Tomato and Basil Sauce With Ravioli in bowls she has made herself.
Artist Tricia Szasz of Parkville enjoys serving her Creamy Fresh Garden Tomato and Basil Sauce With Ravioli in bowls she has made herself. Special to The Star

Tricia Szasz is a hands-on cook with her fingers in many pots. A sculptor, painter, weaver, gardener and cook, Szasz stays grounded by keeping her hands in the dirt, overseeing both her vegetable garden and Parkville Artisans’ Studio, where she creates pottery.

Married to Barna Szasz, who emigrated from Hungary in 1994, Tricia also has a 17-year-old son, Jackson. An architect by trade, Tricia constructs delicious dishes using produce from her garden, honey from her hive and eggs from her chickens.

Q: Has cooking always been a creative outlet for you?

A: Fifteen years ago, I would burn water. Literally. I would have a pot on the stove, get involved in another project, then come to find a pan that’s burned dry with hard-cooked eggs that have exploded onto the ceiling.

I know cooks always talk about their favorite tools, gadgets, knives — but mine is a timer that I clip to my shirt. I know myself well enough that while dinner is in the oven or simmering on the stove, I will get involved in something else and forget about what I’m doing in the kitchen. That’s why I always set the timer and clip it to my shirt, so I’m reminded to circle back to the kitchen, sooner than later.

That being said, the kitchen is absolutely the center of our home and our lives.

Q: Most people aren’t so deliciously self-deprecating when it comes to sharing dinnertime debacles. But we’ve all been there …

A: Throughout my life, I’ve learned way more from the times when outcomes have been less than optimal. But I don’t like calling them mistakes — they can also be beautiful blessings. Part of life’s lesson is to see difficult times as an insight into myself.

I can’t sit still very long and am always busy, but I am eternally grateful for the miracle that is the use of my hands. Of all the things I do, I think my most important art form is cooking for others. Creating delicious food with homegrown ingredients is the greatest gift I can give to others — and myself.

Q: If the zombie apocalypse happens, I’m heading to your Parkville home.

A: It’s true, we have created a little ecosystem here. My husband is a carpenter, and growing up in Eastern Europe, the only way they would eat is if they hunted or grew their own food. It started with my dream of a garden, and now I grow tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, squash and peppers — all organic.

But you know the best way to keep bugs off your plants? Chickens eat the bugs, and as a bonus, chickens also give us eggs to eat. The manure from the chickens goes back into the earth for the garden, and our beehive sweetens everything with honey, while the little pollinators keep busy with our garden plants.

I have Blackfoot, French-Canadian and Finnish ancestors, and part of my heritage is a deep-seated respect for Mama Earth. Don’t get me wrong, I see there is also a lot of craziness out there, but I feel the pendulum swinging toward this quieter, grassroots movement to take care of this ground on which we all stand.

Q: And the earth seems to be a recurring theme, in what you do as a potter throwing clay on the wheel and in the kitchen.

A: I love the book “Like Water for Chocolate,” by Laura Esquivel. It’s a story about Tita, who was born in the kitchen of a Mexican ranch and is only free to express herself through the food she prepares. Tita’s strong emotions are infused into her cooking, and the food she makes affects the people who eat it because of all the love she puts into it.

I relate to Tita. We recently had a family gathering and I spent the entire day preparing food, infusing it with love, and then served it to those who are most dear to me. That is the best feeling.

What heightens the experience of eating is when I serve food I’ve prepared on a platter or in a bowl I’ve formed with my own hands. A simple cup of tea is wrapped in love when I serve it in a mug I’ve made.

This recipe is super fresh for a summer evening meal. Not only can you pluck the tomatoes and basil right out of your garden, it’s a meal that can be prepared quickly.

Make a meal as if it were another form of artwork, with an intention toward delight, while basking in the light of family and friends. My motto? Love people; feed them — physically and artistically.

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.

Visit the studio

Join Tricia Szasz’s Parkville Artisans’ Studio (111 Main St.) and other downtown shop owners for Parkville Final Friday on Aug. 26, starting at 5 p.m. Shop, eat and stroll the historic Parkville downtown area until after dark the last Friday of every month March through October. For more information, call 816-505-1933.

Creamy Fresh Garden Tomato and Basil Sauce With Ravioli

Makes 4 to 6 servings

6 large tomatoes, washed clean

1 cup basil, cut into ribbons

1 clove minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1 (24-ounce) bag frozen cheese ravioli

Parmesan cheese, freshly grated for garnish, optional

Fill an 8-quart pot with 2 gallons of water and bring to a boil on stovetop over high heat.

Using a sharp knife, lightly score the bottom of each tomato. Place tomatoes into water and boil for about 1 minute or until tomato skins split open.

Using a slotted spoon, immediately transfer tomatoes to a large bowl of ice water. Continue process with all tomatoes.

When tomatoes are cool enough to handle, use knife to easily peel the skin off tomatoes and cut out the stem. Cut tomatoes into a 1-inch dice and place into a large saucepan, juice and all. Stir basil, garlic, pepper and whipping cream together with tomatoes and heat on stovetop over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Simmer sauce for about 20 minutes, or until reduced and slightly thickened.

While sauce is simmering, prepare ravioli according to package directions in pot of boiling water used for blanching tomatoes.

Drain ravioli into a colander in sink and pour onto a large serving platter. Spoon prepared tomato sauce over all and garnish with Parmesan cheese if desired. Serve immediately.

Per serving, based on 4: 654 calories (61 percent from fat), 45 grams total fat (27 grams saturated), 297 milligrams cholesterol, 46 grams carbohydrates, 18 grams protein, 1,059 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.

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