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RAO'S COOKBOOK
by Frank Pellegrino


This cook book is one of those rare, unique experiences for home cooks interested in preparing real food -- New York style Italian food. "At home" is the only place you will be able to enjoy this food, because you see, with only ten tables in the restaurant, your chances of getting a seat are not very good! Actually, this is the only restaurant I know of where regular patrons have their table reserved on the same night every week. The regulars do switch with other regulars when schedules clash and they do lend out their regular table to close friends and relatives, but unless you know a regular like Woody Allen, or take your chances on going there to see if someone canceled their table, or if you know how to schmooze the owner, you'll just have to settle for the cookbook!

I also refer to Rao's Cookbook as "New York style" Italian food because the book and the recipes represents the basic simple Italian style of cooking that I know. I'm a native New Yorker and grew up eating mostly Central European foods at home (both of my parents were born in Slovakia). But even so, for some unknown reason, every Wednesday night my mother would cook up a pot of meatballs and spaghetti. I don't know what kind of sauce she used or what she put in the meatballs, but this was the first "Italian" food I ever ate.

As a young adult when I started eating out in New York Italian restaurants, I experienced other styles of Italian cuisine. I can remember having soft polenta at Barbetta's in the early 70s before this peasant food was discovered by foodies of the 90's and made trendy! Other New York Italian restaurants were serving simple, basic Italian dishes such as Saltimbocca, Veal Piccata, Linguine with white clam sauce, and many other dishes. There was a neighborhood Italian restaurant that I ate at frequently called "Cafe 72", named for the street where it was located on the East Side of Manhattan. I can remember having many good Italian meals, listening to Frank Sinatra on the juke box and drinking lots of red wine - with brothers Anthony and Frank behind the bar.


But I digress....and Rao's Cookbook is the reason. To get a feel for the 100-year history of Rao's and its family ownership, I read through the preface and introduction to the book several times. The stories about the original Rao family brought back so many memories for me of growing up in New York City and of course, eating simple basic Italian foods. And I'm not Italian!! I only wish I had had the chance to experience Rao's restaurant first hand when I was experiencing dining out in New York in my young adult years. But now I can re-create these dishes I yearn for in my own kitchen with Rao's Cookbook - even way out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!

Some of my favorite recipes from this book include Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage - "little ears" shaped pasta when added to sauteed broccoli rabe and hot or mild Italian sausage is a dish that you will want to make over and over again. You can't get any simpler than their recipe for Sausage with Peppers and Onions -- a classic Italian mixture that can be served on long pasta or as an Italian hero sandwich using crusty Italian bread. The recipes for Shrimp Francese, Shrimp Oreganate, Shrimp Parmigiana and the classic Shrimp Scampi were so delicious sounding that I had to go out and buy some shrimp and cook up a batch of the Francese style -- dipped in a seasoned egg batter, sauteed and then the sauce is made with white wine, lemon juice and butter. To be absolutely truthful, the entire collection of recipes in this book are my favorites -- not just these few.

The ingredients used at Rao's include De Cecco pasta, Filippo Berio olive oil and imported canned Italian tomatoes labeled "San Marzano". (You can order
San Marzano tomatoes here.) The bread crumbs used in various recipes are freshly made from the Italian bread that Rao's buys from Morrone's on 116th Street. In order to re-create these recipes with the most authentic taste, you would need to use these same ingredients. Obviously that won't be possible for cooks outside of New York, but whatever brands you use, just be sure to use the best possible ingredients. This of course is true when cooking any food!

Rao's has also taken the work out of making their sauces and other foods by selling them on their Website at
www.raos.com. These products are also available at retail in New York City at Zabar's and Bed Bath & Beyond stores around the country. I even found Rao's sauces for sale at some larger supermarkets---just ask the manager.

 

 

 

 
     
 
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