the appetizer:

Osteria by Rick Tramonto explores a restaurant chef's passion for Italian food, including recipes for Charred Squash with Balsamic Vinegar and Parmigiano-Reggiano Zucca Arrostita con Balsamico e Parmigiano-Reggiano; Roman Braised Oxtail Brasata di Cota di Bue; and Sauté of Trout with Pumpkin and Anisette Trota con Zucca and Anisetta.

Cookbook Profile

The Osteria

by Rick Tramonto

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An osteria is defined as a "tavern or humble restaurant" where the food is designed to accompany the wine. I love this concept! The cooking is simple—but never simplistic—and straightforward, and over the years it has evolved so that now most Italians think of it as any casual fare with a smart nod to its rich culinary history. At its best, nothing surpasses it, and I aspire to this authenticity at Osteria di Tramonto and when I cook at home.

Our customers happily embrace what we try to do at the osterias every day. As is typical of an osteria, we are open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Customers sense that this is the "real deal," whether they order veal shank osso buco, a plate of garlic-and-oil pasta, a meatball salad, or braised monkfish. Our food is a welcome alternative to Italian-American restaurants; it's a breath of fresh air because its genuineness is a gentle reminder of how comforting and stupendous real Italian food can be, especially when it follows the seasons.

During the last five years, since I opened the osterias, I have rediscovered my Italian heritage in exciting ways. I have made numerous trips to Italy to soak up all I can about the food, the raw ingredients, the cooking, the culture, and the people. Not surprisingly, I found that hospitality is the glue that holds it all together. Italians welcome everyone to their restaurants, large and small, fancy and casual, with open arms—often quite literally—and are just as likely to invite you into their homes if the opportunity arises.

I recognize this impulse. I have been drawn to the hospitality and restaurant business since I got a job at Wendy's at age sixteen when I dropped out of high school to help out with the family finances—and I have been cooking in professional kitchens ever since. I grew up in a large Italian family in Rochester, New York, where home-cooked meals were a daily occurrence and on Sundays could last all afternoon, with as many people as possible squeezed around the table. My two grandmothers spent as much time in our kitchen as their own. I learned to make marinara sauce from my grandmother from Naples, and risotto from my grandmother from Abruzzi. Both my grandfathers cured meat and aged wine in their basements. My aunts baked large casseroles of eggplant Parmesan, and my parents used gigantic pans for rectangular pizzas. (I still have those battered old pizza pans, and guess what? The pizzas I make in them are outstanding!) My parents tended a large vegetable garden and we all eagerly awaited spring's first peas and lettuces, summer's plump, juicy tomatoes, and autumn's mellow butternut squash. We piled skillets high with greens such as chard and spinach and watched as they shrank to a quarter of their mass while they soaked up the garlic and olive oil in the hot skillet.

We shopped at Wegmans, the wonderful family-owned supermarket chain that has its roots in Rochester, and also bought bread and pasta from the nearby Italian markets, although we never hesitated to make our own. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my mother and grandmother, rolling pasta dough and running the silken sheets through the hand-cranked pasta machine. It's no coincidence that my fondest memories of childhood revolve around the kitchen, cooking and eating. We were a typical Italian-American family and food was at the center of our existence.

Cooking the food on the pages of this book is a natural outgrowth of what I recall from those early days. Though I never forget the old-world traditions that demand such enormous respect, in a number of cases I have refined a dish to meet contemporary tastes. When I have been inspired by an unfamiliar cooking technique or ingredient discovered in Italy, I have created a dish to keep up with the normal evolution of any great and organic cuisine.


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This page created December 2008