In 1985 Ingrid Croce opened Croce's Restaurant and Jazz Bar as a tribute to her late husband, the legendary singer-songwriter Jim Croce. Ingrid's customers enjoy warm hospitality inspired by more than thirty years of cooking for family and friends, and a menu of dishes influenced by the people, places and events that have touched her extraordinary life. In Thyme In A Bottle: Memories and Recipes of Croce's Restaurants (April; $24.00; hardcover), the title a loving reference to Jim Croce's hit song "Time in a Bottle," Ingrid shares these recipes and recollections for the first time.
From the very beginning, Ingrid's life has been blessed with wonderful food and wonderful people: her grandmother's traditional Russian-Jewish dinners, her glamorous mother's elegant buffets, Jim Croce's mother's bountiful Italian feasts and her own home-grown vegetable creations. In each chapter of Thyme In A Bottle, Ingrid recalls a chapter of her own life and the foods that made it special. Her childhood in Philadelphia is filled with the memories of Grandma Ida's Beet Borsht, Kasha and Varnishkas and the ethnic street foods on South Street. As a teen, she met and fell in love with Jim Croce—as well as his Italian family's Roasted Pepperonata Salad and Tagliatelle Pomodoro. The Croces built a home together in a Pennsylvania farmhouse complete with a country garden and an outhouse. Ingrid's just-picked vegetables became the basics for countless delicious dishes like Broccoli Rabe with Olive Oil & Garlic and Fried Zucchini Blossoms.
After Jim Croce's tragic death in 1973, Ingrid comforted her son with his favorite foods, like Pennsylvania Pot Roast and Rice Pudding. The young widow and single mother took a trip to Costa Rica, and tasted spicy dishes from Mexico such as Fish Tacos with Pico Fish Sauce and Salsa Borracha that would later influence the menu of Ingrid's Cantina. In 1984, Ingrid began her professional food career and created her signature dishes: 31 flavors of Blintzes and the giant muffins she calls "Poppers". She soon opened Croce's Restaurant and Jazz Bar, and together with her chefs created menus inspired by diverse cultures and fresh ingredients like Thai Chicken Salad and Spicy Grilled Shrimp with Wild Rice Pancakes. An extraordinary life of travel, music, love, loss, adventure and experience is reflected in every aspect of Ingrid Croce's restaurants, and on every page of Thyme In A Bottle, a culinary autobiography as unique as its author.
After the untimely death of her husband Jim Croce in 1973, just as he was achieving stellar success and hit records, Ingrid Croce, a 26-year-old widow and single mother, began a journey that eventually led to her career as a restaurateur. She surfed in Costa Rica, pursued a music career, owned and operated a children's school, served as Vice Consul for Costa Rica in San Diego, ran a marathon in Stockholm, served on the board of a women's bank, saw her son Bar Mitzvahed in Israel and traveled the world, seeking new experiences and tasting new foods. A series of unsuccessful vocal chord operations left her unable to sing and eager to find a new career. She channeled her life-long love of cooking and entertaining first into a tiny blintz kitchen, Blinchiki, and a small catering business. She soon was ready for bigger and better things.
In 1985 Ingrid opened Croce's Restaurant and Jazz Bar, pioneering the revitalization of San Diego's historic "Gaslamp Quarter. " She soon grew Croce's into a mini-empire of restaurants and bars, including Ingrid's Cantina and Sidewalk Cafe, Croce's Top Hat Bar & Grille, Upstairs at Croces, Croce's Coffee House and a full-scale group sales and catering operation. Ingrid brings to her business a unique, educational approach to management, involving each employee in the overall success of the business by creating a network of support that builds self esteem, a clear mission statement, and numerous incentives and rewards. Each of her restaurants serves what she calls "Lifestyle cuisine," a contemporary American menu that celebrates the influences of diverse ethnic cultures and relies on exceptionally fresh and delicious ingredients. She's created at Croce's bars and restaurants a unique, familial atmosphere, where talented musicians have a place to play, employees are valued and encouraged to grow, and diners always feel at home.
Pictured: Ingrid's restaurants in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Photograph by Birdie Carter.
In a medium-large saucepan, sauté the onions and scallions in butter until golden brown. Stir in the pumpkin. Add the chicken broth, bay leaf, brown sugar, curry powder, nutmeg, and parsley and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
Transfer the soup to a food processor and purée with the half-and-half or chicken stock to reach the desired consistency, creamy with medium density. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds or chopped chives. A small dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche may also be used to garnish.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the pumpkin in half vertically and discard the seeds and stringy pulp. Place the pumpkin, cut-sides down, in a shallow baking dish and add water about a 1/2 inch high. Bake for about 1 hour or until tender. The pumpkin is ready when it is easily pierced with a fork. Cut each half into wedges and peel. A 3-pound pumpkin yields about 3 pounds cooked.
Serves 6 to 8
Boil the macaroni until al dente and set aside.
Beat the ricotta, cream, and garlic together in a medium bowl. Transfer the ricotta-cream mixture to a large skillet. Over medium heat, stir in the Parmesan, mozzarella, jalapeño, and Green Chile Sauce. Add the cooked macaroni and stir the pasta until incorporated. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and transfer wide soup bowls. Garnish with red pepper threads and parsley.
Place the tomatillos in a pot, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil. Drain immediately. If the cores of the tomatillos are large, remove them with a knife. Otherwise, put the tomatillos, jalapeños, cilantro, onion, garlic, salt, and lettuce leaf in a food processor and blend until smooth and green.
This recipe makes 1 cup of chile sauce.
Thyme In A Bottle: Memories and Recipes of Croce's Restaurants
by Ingrid Croce
Introduction by Arlo Guthrie
256 pages; 200 recipes
24 black & white photographs
Publication date: April 1996
Reprinted with permission.
This page originally published as a FoodDay article in 1997.
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This page modified January 2007
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