In Vita Greco’s Kitchen:
1st of two parts.
Should you be strolling down a street in Linden and mouth-watering aromas suddenly tickle your nostrils, follow the lingering path of scents and unashamedly knock on the door to which they lead you. Chances are, unless you look like a hardened criminal, you will be invited into the magical world of pots and pans and spices and delectable things cooking in Vita’s kitchen. True to the Italian hospitality, you will be encouraged to taste her morsels of delight. All this is accompanied by fine Italian wines. This, of course, is not going to happen. However, you can enter Vita’s kitchen and taste her delicious recipes through her cookbook, “Next Door to the Chicken Market.” So, sit back, relax, have a glass of fine Italian wine and take this journey with me.
Vita has been dubbed as “The Sauce Queen.” When I asked her how this happened, she explained. “This comes from Sara Moulton, from the Food Network, when she judged a contest that I won…it was entitled ‘Who makes the best Spaghetti Sauce in New Jersey.’ Of course, I call it Gravy (because there’s meat in it.) I became a finalist based on the recipe and a letter explaining why I thought it was the best. I won when many judges tasted all the products and unanimously decided on mine as the best.Wow!”
Vita’s cookbook is truly a family heirloom. At the beginning, she explains how the recipes are gathered from family and friends. When you open her cookbook, before you get to the wonderful Sicilian and Italian recipes, Vita shows pictures of her family and different celebrations, so by the time you do get to her recipes you feel like you know her and are visiting her home, helping out in the kitchen and then sitting down enjoying the meal with her family and friends.
I myself love to cook as well, and I have made quite a few Italian recipes, but I never realized that there was a difference between Italian and Sicilian cooking. To me Italian was Italian, until I met Vita. She explained: “Sicilian people are Italian, of course, but the cooking is usually with lots of fish and vegetables. This is true because it is an island and fishing is widespread. Fruits play a large part as does pork. Pasta (macaroni) is big in both Sicily and the mainland Italy. A lot of different cultures have influenced Sicilians in the early years…Greece and Africa among them. Sicilian cooking is simple and light…maybe because of its southern location. However, when Sicilians came to America, many of the recipes became mixed; because people from different regions of Italy were living in the same neighborhoods. Also, the inter marriages with Italians from other regions of Italy played a part. Although my cookbook is basically Sicilian (because my mom was Sicilian), some of the recipes are from my father’s heritage, which was Neopolitan. And even that can be broken down into the fact that his family was from Valata, which is outside of Naples, but they sometimes referred to themselves as Neopolitan. But they are Valatese. It’s amazing.”
Vita prefers cooking to baking, but the cookbook has plenty of both to please those with a sweet tooth. I already have a number of Vita’s sweet delicacies in mind that I wish to try out for the Holidays. Vita explains “I prefer to cook although I do bake. I’m a clean/neat freak…so I clean up as I go along. Baking is messy to me. When I bake, I line the kitchen table with newspapers…can’t stand all that flour. I was never a sweets eater as a child, so I zoned in on cooking. But, now that I’m older, I like sweets, which are easy to buy. But for authentic Italian pastry…I do bake.”
And during the wonderful festive season, Vita has a Christmas Eve Open House each year for family and friends. As an added attraction, she has an appendix to the cookbook telling us about the annual event. She outlines the preparations, foods and again recounts anecdotes of the past.
Vita’s Christmas Eve Open House is the 2nd part of this Blog. Look for it in the very near future. Vita’s cookbook “Next Door to the Chicken Market,” (love that title) is available online from our Bookstore, Kindle.com., Barnes and Noble “The Nook” and Kobo.com. Also, Vita will be a guest on BlogTalkRadio, “Authors of the Round Table,” in the near future. Watch our Calendar of Events on our Home Page.