Astra Zarina, who studied architecture at the University of Washington in the early 1950s and later became a UW professor, began traveling to the...
World touring Chef Varinia Cappelletti recently stopped in sunny San Diego before heading to her next stop in the chilly parts of Midwestern towns and New York. Commenting on the warm California climate, she dreaded the part of her tour that would take her to the colder states.
“The weather here is so beautiful,” said the chef, who is affectionately known by friends and family as Chef Vary, asking her assistant and husband, Edoardo to “keep the doors open and let in that lovely sunshine.” Although Chef Vary brought special ingredients from Italy, she had a vast display of American flours, plum tomatoes and other items that she insisted had to be freshly purchased.
Speaking with a noticeable Italian accent, and dressed in a black tunic decorated with the Italian flag and her name embroidered on the left breast pocket, the chef was at home in the small makeshift kitchen set up by Pan Bon, one of the newer Italian restaurants in Little Italy.
She began her cooking demonstration by mentioning a bit about her Italian Chef Around the World tour, describing her recent stops in Williams-Sonoma, Bloomingdales and the University of Denver. She has also held cooking demonstrations in several different states, as well as her first American Company in New York which was started in 2009, “White Lily USA.”
Fond of the Italian ingredients and special cooking utensils she brought from Italy, the chef admitted her fondness of American ingredients and products. “Of course I never go anywhere without my Kitchen Aid Mixer,” she said, fondly hugging the appliance. This she used as she began her cooking demonstration by chopping up freshly cooked spinach, one of the ingredients for her specially prepared Gnudi Toscani (ricotta and spinach dumplings), giving bits of advice to the 15 cooking demonstration participants as she added cheese and flour to her recipe. Next, expertly cracking eggs with one hand, she added these to the mixer.
“Although there are certain ingredients that you must get from Italy, like vinegar from Modena and Italian Parmesan or Pecorino cheeses, you can use many ingredients from here,” she said. As an example, she pointed to her mixer and held up a bag of rice flour and one of Quinoa. “Aside from Tuscany being the land of great wines, it is also the land of extra virgin olive oil,” stated the chef. “But of course, the really good olive oil is very expensive, like the wine.”
In anticipation of the Toscan-styled gnocci, husband and assistant, Edoardo began serving participants of the cooking demonstration a sweet white wine and Panzanella with Quinoa. Chef Vary pointed out that the quinoa recipe would be available, as well as the recipes for the rest of the dishes, after they were served, adding that this appetizer was healthy as well as a great beginning to a meal.
Several bottles of Valpolicello were also served by Edoardo who praised the wine adding that Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a red Italian wine made from the Montepulciano wine grape in the Abruzzo region of east-central Italy. It should not be confused with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a Tuscan wine made from Sangiovese and other grapes which was being served at this meal.
“We love the simplicity of her recipes,” said Cheryl and John Pioli, sipping wine and enjoying Chef Vary’s ricotta and spinach dumplings. Residents of Rancho Penasquitos, the couple made a special trip to attend the chef’s visit. “We are looking forward to going to Florence and staying at her bed and breakfast. We’ve travelled to Florence, Venice and Rome, and love Italy,” they added.
For Chef Vary’s next offering, she made “a special chicken cacciatore,” which she explained, “is very famous throughout Italy.” She recommended buying organic chicken and plain “the most plain you can get,” sausage, recommending staying away from “added flavors or ingredients.”
“In Italy, what doesn’t kill you makes you fat,” joked Chef Vary, adding comments about Italian cultural habits. “Nobody has breakfast in Italy, we just have a cup of espresso and maybe a small croissant, certainly not the big breakfasts you eat here.”
The Italian Chef around the World began taking questions from the audience, as the food and more wine were served. She finished up by preparing her special version of Tiramisu Amore Mio, much to the delight of the course participants.