Towards the end of the summer in the small town of Caserta in southern Italy, it is difficult not to notice the number of tomatoes being delivered to the Barca family home. About 200 kilos are delivered to the Barca’s home each year for the making of the family tomato sauce says Antimo Barca a chef at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort.
About ten members of the Barca family take part in this old family tradition, sometimes more, sometimes less. But it usually involves brothers, sisters, mother and father and other extended family members.
It is an all day family affair that gets started at 7am, often lasting until 7pm at night or later. There is a lot of labour involved; the tomatoes are washed and boiled in huge containers. All the 200 kilos tomatoes are put through a press machine, squeezing juice into buckets. The juice is then poured into about 500 glass bottles. During the process, everyone is covered in tomato juice, no one is spared and the smell of cooked tomato fills the air.
At mid-day the Barca family takes a break. They gather around a large table for lunch of fresh pasta, salad, parmesan cheese, bread, wine and always talking and laughter.
The making of the family tomato sauce is not just about work, it is about spending time together.
In the evening, the bottles are boiled again to sanitize them and left to sit overnight.
The next day, the 500 bottles are stored in the basement. The tomato sauce will be used to make family meals throughout the year. And the following year, the family will get together again to make tomato sauce. It is inconceivable the family would buy tomato sauce in a store.
While Chef Antimo has been a cooking professionally for 15 years, when he goes home to Italy he never cooks.
“When I go home my sister or my mom cooks for me,” says Chef Antimo in an Italian accent. “It is much different than cooking in a restaurant for 100 people. Restaurant cooking is more fast. Cooking at home – you can put more time and a lot of love in your cooking.”
But when Chef Antimo went home last year, his family finally gave him a chance to cook for them. He made sushi because there are no Japanese restaurants where they live. His mother and sister did not hold back their distaste.
“They said ‘What’s this? Raw fish – no,’ “ shrugging his shoulders. “They always eat Italian food.”
About this dish: Chef Antimo created this vegetarian pasta dish as an alternative to eating meat and fish that is readily available on the island. The fresh gnocchi gives this dish a hearty feel to it.
Recommended wine: Greco di Tufo a white Italian.
Gnocchi with sundried tomato pesto, mascarpone cheese and spinach
Recipe by Chef Antimo Barca
2 lb russet potatoes
1 lb flour
1 pinch salt
1/2 sundried tomato
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
10 fresh basil leaves
4 oz parmesan cheese
3 oz mascarpone cheese (substitute cream cheese)
2 pinch of salt and pepper
Boil potatoes for about 45 minutes until cooked and then peel. Mash potatoes in a bowl and add 1/2 lb flour, reserving the rest to use if the gnocchi is not light and fluffy. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add beaten egg and mix everything well. On a floured board, knead the ingredients lightly. Form into long cylinders. The gnocchi should have a light texture which is cohesive enough to remain whole while it is being boiled. If the mixture is too wet, add the additional flour until the proper consistency is achieved. Cut the long cylinders into about 1-inch long pieces. Using your fingertips, crimp gnocchi into marquise-shaped dumplings
Blend the sundried tomatoes with olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, basil, salt and pepper. Mix in the mascarpone cheese and parmesan until it gets a creamy consistency. Sauté spinach in a little garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook the gnocchi for approximately 3 minutes in boiling salted water until they float to the top. When they are ready, sauté with sundried tomato pesto, spinach and shaved parmesan.
Each week reporter Shurna Robbins goes behind the steaming kitchen doors to get the story on hardcore cooking. Along the way, each chef shares his favourite recipe that everyday people can cook at home.