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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Cook du Jour

Tony Pizza's kitchen experimentation yielded a cross-cultural winner he calls Mexican Manicotti.

(Couldn't help sharing this item, featuring long-time friend, Tony Pizza. MW)

Papa Pizza has a flair for simple fare

Name: Tony Pizza.

City: Camarillo.

Specialty: One-pot meals.

Secret: Collect recipes and use ones that you like.

One-pot meals: It isn’t like he’s been cooking all his life, but Tony Pizza has made the most of his senior opportunities.

His wife, Rena, had been cooking during the first 30 years of their marriage, so when it came time for Pizza to help out with kitchen duties, he rose to the occasion.

Though he insists on one-pot meals, Pizza has amassed a large cache of recipes for every occasion.

His beef stew and chicken and rice are great examples of his favorite cooking style, while his Italian enchilada — aka Mexican manicotti — serves as the finest illustration of his culinary flair.

“I’ve always liked to cook,” he said. “Everyone likes my manicotti.”

Source of inspiration: There was a time when Pizza’s mother was so concerned that her son would “starve as a bachelor” that she sent him recipes from the back of Bisquick boxes and the labels of Campbell’s soup as well as a book of Italian recipes from a grocery store.

“She told me that you may not use them all, but these are some that you can do.”

That heartfelt gesture has been a source of inspiration over the years, as Pizza has accumulated quite a trove of recipes from newspapers, magazines and the Internet.

Then there are the cookbooks from fundraisers that always provide an interesting recipe or two.

“Eventually I get around to trying them,” he said.

Fewer than six: Once a week, Pizza gets an opportunity to cook dinner for his son, daughter-in-law and family. He generally spends the week in preparation; stew, pork chops or pasta dishes liked baked ziti usually suffice — as long as the ingredients are fewer than six.

His stew with carrots, onions, potatoes and onion soup makes for an interesting dinner; so does his tomato pot roast, with chuck roast, tomatoes, potato, onion and carrots.

“Those are the kinds of things everyone likes,” he said.

But when he cooks for his native Hawaiian-born wife, he generally cooks Asian-inspired meals. Dishes like sukiyaki with vegetables cooked with soy sauce and sugar always top the menu list.

“Those foods are her favorite,” he said, “and I like preparing her favorites.”

Italian Enchilada — aka Mexican Manicotti

16-ounce container ricotta cheese

2 eggs

4 ounces or 1 cup of shredded mozzarella, divided

1 teaspoon dried parsley

Pepper to taste

9 or 10 fajita-size flour tortillas

26-ounce jar or can of pasta sauce

Mix together ricotta, eggs, 1/2 cup of mozzarella, parsley and pepper.

Place a couple spoons of mixture into each tortilla. Spread a little layer over the outer “flap” to help seal it, then roll up the tortilla.

Spread pasta sauce on the bottom of a 9x12-inch casserole dish. Put tortillas seam side down on the sauce and add the remaining mozzarella.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Serve with meatballs, sausage and bread.