Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Meet Louise! You can call her Chiffonade too!

I grew up in an Italian household in Brooklyn, NY with two parents and a brother, ALL of whom loved to cook. We ate dinner together every night where we discussed problems, triumphs of the day –everything. This fostered in me a great feeling of “community” around food. High School Home Ec was a favorite class and I strong armed my classmates into letting me cook everything. They liked the good marks – I got to have an afternoon snack – everybody wins. I cooked a lot as a teenager and into my 20’s but I really became attached to my stove after my daughter was born in 1988. I was inspired to pass down the cooking traditions of my youth and add a few more. As a child, Liana wanted to know why it took me so long to make oatmeal. I explained that I wasn’t pouring it out of an envelope and that I added brown sugar, cinnamon, walnuts, craisins, a dash of vanilla, and I cooked it with milk. Now in her 20’s, my daughter understands the distinction.

I attended Peter Kump’s NY Cooking School in upper Manhattan. The school has since moved to Chelsea and renamed itself Institute of Culinary Education. It’s tough for me to think of it as anything but Peter Kump’s because he was not only the founder but a fixture at the school when I attended. I learned how to cook French food at Kump but I know six or eight other ethnic cuisines, all of which I taught myself. (A good cookbook can be a course in just about anything culinary.) I am presently a freelance caterer and baker; and cook for my own entertainment as well. A local restaurant sells my NY cheesecake –which I consider to be my specialty.

I am unabashedly and unapologetically a foodie. I believe meal times are not an “annoyance” or a “distraction” but a time to reconnect with whoever is on the other side of the table. If you happen to be dining alone, make it a celebration of restoring your body’s ability to function at maximum capacity for another few hours; and an opportunity to exhale. Whether you commemorate this event with a hot dog from your favorite street cart or lunch at The Palm – be PRESENT. I am cognizant during both the cooking process and the eating afterward and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As for the name Chiffonade - when I first discovered chat rooms (innocently, mind you) - I had to pick a screen name. I define myself as a cook so I chose a cooking term. This was during a time where real names were not used and anonymity ruled the day. Facebook changed all that with the use of real names but if I didn't add Chiffonade to my account, none of my foodie friends from years ago would have been able to find me.

Recipes are like children, you should never pick a favorite. However, if I had to narrow it down, I’d say tomato sauce. Not the long cooked Italian Sunday Gravy replete with braised meats – but a simple, quick marinara. This sauce can be used as a springboard for so many recipes. My mother tasted very few dishes through her life she did not feel could be elevated by adding “a little bit tomato.” I wholeheartedly concur.

Basic Tomato Sauce
1 Tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup onion, finely chopped
1-3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup white or red wine
1-28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1-7 ounce can tomato paste
1 teaspoon dry basil or 3-4 leaves fresh basil, shredded

In a saucepan large enough to hold all ingredients, heat the olive oil. Add the onions, sauté for 2-3 minutes over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Add the wine and cook until wine is almost evaporated. This will concentrate the flavor and remove excess water.

Place the tomatoes in a blender (reserve a few if you like, to chop roughly for a chunky sauce). Blend the tomatoes until liquefied. Pour into saucepan with oil & aromatics. Place the tomato paste in the blender. Add 3 tomato paste cans of water. Blend, then add to the saucepan. Stir in the basil, salt and pepper to taste.

Simmer sauce about 20 minutes. It is now ready to be used as a basic tomato sauce or calamata olives, capers and anchovies may be added for a quick puttanesca; or crushed red pepper may be added for diavolo. Sauce can be used to adorn breaded and fried chicken cutlets; to simmer chicken thighs or it makes a great pool into which a few eggs might be cracked for Eggs in Purgatory.


  1. Love the story and the simple, but SO important sauce recipe, Chiff! Tell me, is there a brand or variety of tomatoes/paste that you prefer to use? Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hey Gary - My favorite US brand is Redpack but they are not available everywhere. If you can get San Marzanos you're golden. (Beware of the impostor "San Marzano Style" tomatoes.)

  2. You are bookmarked!!! This is beyond fabulous!!! Thanks for all the sharing!

    1. Thanks Jan! I love this group. Crazy dedicated foodies who love exploring new uses for different products. Peruse the rest of the blog, it's good reading.