Jo Marie Scaglia is a visual cook.
“It’s in my head before it’s on paper or in my mouth,” she says while fiddling with a piece of paper with loose scribbles — the first draft of a recipe for pappardelle with a sauce of fresh, vine-ripened local tomatoes.
Scaglia grew up in an Italian restaurant family (her parents owned Mario’s in Westport). Since 2005, she has launched three healthy, fast-casual concepts known as The Mixx — two in Kansas City and one in Overland Park. Last year she added Caffetteria, a family-oriented gathering place with an expanded menu, in Prairie Village.
The continuing growth of her company, which employs more than 100 people, has required Scaglia to add a director of operations and outsource human resources and accounting to preserve her creative time because, she says, “in the kitchen creating is my happy place.”
Scaglia starts almost any menu creation with a trip to the farmers market –– sometimes stopping off at multiple markets in a single day. Never mind she also raises a garden at home.
“Get the freshest, best ingredients, and let the food do the work for you,” she says.
Scaglia’s mother made “old-school” tomato sauce, the up-early kind that needs to begin simmering on the stove at 6 a.m. for the flavors to meld in time for Sunday dinner. But Scaglia — the mother of an 8-year-old daughter and two elderly furry family members — is more of “a quick-saute-kind-of-sauce girl.”
‘Plate and dish problem’
“When I think about food and entertaining,” Scaglia says, “I think about it as a display and presentation.”
Scaglia owns no fewer than 15 sets of china, yet none of the sets is a cherished family hand-me-down. She picks up most from estate sales and auctions.
Her latest find is a set of plates with tiny ’60s-style red flowers she deems perfect for serving a summer tomato salad. She also has a 1950s set of china decorated with silver wheat blowing in the wind. And then there’s her treasured salt and pepper shaker collection.
It all goes on the table in an eclectic yet artful way, she says while scrolling through her phone pics. Her self-described “plate and dish problem” means Scaglia usually has the perfect plate for every dish she creates.
TOMATO SAFFRON PAPPARDELLE
Makes 1 quart
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves elephant garlic (or 8-10 regular cloves), roughly chopped
1 small yellow onion, sliced (about 1 cup)
4 large vine-ripened, locally grown tomatoes (about 6 cups chopped)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 pinches saffron
15 fresh basil leaves
1 sprig fresh rosemary, removed from stem
3 sprigs fresh thyme, removed from stem
Zest and juice of 3 lemons
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut in 1-inch pieces
3 fresh, clean leeks, split down middle
2 fennel bulbs, sliced
2 to 3 pounds pappardelle pasta
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 pound head-on jumbo shrimp
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
Squeeze of lemon
1 bunch living watercress, root removed
¾ cup shredded ricotta salata
Place olive oil, garlic and onion in a skillet over medium heat and saute for 4 minutes. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper; cook for 10 minutes until softened and tomatoes release liquid. Reduce heat to low and add saffron, basil, rosemary, thyme, lemon zest and juice; simmer 10 minutes. Using a hand-held blender, puree tomatoes slightly, adding butter to create a silky sauce. Set aside.
If desired, marinate shrimp for 20 minutes in the olive oil, garlic and parsley. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of oil over leeks and fennel. Place vegetables on a baking sheet and roast until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes, turning once.
Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. If protein is desired, while pasta is cooking, grill shrimp 3 minutes per side then add a squeeze of lemon. Toss noodles with sauce, garnish with roasted vegetables, watercress, ricotta salata, grilled shrimp and serve.