featuring:

Antonio & Fiorella Cagnolo

from:
Antonello Ristorante
recipe:
Beef, fish, and sausage
in three jars

A farm? Better not get my black shirt dirty. Ha. I think Antonio just called me something in Italian. It’s a tomato farm he uses down South: Nic Romano’s VR Green Farm. Lets do it.

Daniel and I hop in the car with Antonio at the helm. Now I know why some folks are scared of the freeway. We there yet? What’s that, a golf course? Oh, there it is. Very cool.

Antonio is like a hound dog smelling everything in sight, even grabbing an old plow to show how he used to do things back home. Looks like he found the bocce balls. OK, one throw. No, don’t eat the tomat—OK, one tomato. Hey who’s the boss here? Let’s get going, we need to get to the fish house before the big one gets away!

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So how did you guys meet?
Fiorella: I’ll say that [she laughs]. We met in Rome. I was living in Rome for 11 years and he came to visit Rome for a holiday, and we met through dinner with some friends.
Antonio: I was roaming around and you know, in Rome, so…
F: Funny story that we met, and then for 4 years we hardly see each other. And then after 4 years we met in the same place with the same friends, and from that day we start to date. That was destiny [they laugh].
And how long ago was that?
F: 9 years ago.
A: When we first met.
F: When we first met.
A: It was funny because I asked this friend of mine for her phone number and I had the phone number for years, but…
F: He was with a girlfriend of mine.
A: Yes, I had a girlfriend and she had a boyfriend and I said—
F: How did you know I had a boyfriend at that time?
A: Well because I you know…
He’s got secret service.
A: Yeah, I had a secret service brother.
F: That’s a funny story. It’s a long story for another day [everyone laughs]
Another day
A: We make plans and God laughs at us, right?
He’s laughing right now.
A: That’s good.
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How important is it to connect with your local farms?
Antonio: That’s how the restaurant was built 33 years ago. My father was here with me and we had about 4 or 5 gardens around the area. My father was growing everything when we started this restaurant… we had the lettuce, we had tomatoes, we had green beans, we had potatoes, garlic— even planted the garlic in those days…
Fiorella: The parsley.
A: The parsley. It was very important because when we came here there was no parsley, it was just the curly parsley. It was parsley but it had no flavor. So my father used to plant the parsley and it would give everything the true… the really fragrant flavor.
So, everything was growing fast, because of the weather here—everything, you put something in the ground and it grows—and we were getting busy and 5 gardens was not enough. So then I started going to Chino and I made a connection over there and I was going every other day to buy. The basil and the parsley weren’t growing at first so my father gave them seeds and they started growing stuff for us.
Fiorella: Well when you use fresh product you have great food.
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Where do you get your inspiration for your incredible sauces? 
Fiorella: Well the inspiration comes from the tomatoes. The Italian tomatoes. It’s how my mom would make it, you know, very simple. For example, the last cooking class I did was about the marinara sauce. I teach them how to make the marinara from the base and people are shocked, surprised because in 3 minutes we prepared a sauce and they said “Oh my God, Fiorella. We thought we had to work half an hour to make marinara.” When I think about a good marinara sauce, I think about the sun, the land and the tomatoes. There is nothing else. And a little bit of basil. You don’t need nothing else.
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What role did your mom or your grandmother play in who you are today? 
Antonio: You know, it’s…
Fiorella: 100%.
A: I give 110% to my grandmother because she used to do everything. She had 3 daughters and they grew during the war. I mean, they were in a very small town invaded by Germans and so they used to live 10, 20, 30 people in one room sleeping. So my mom grew up not cooking. They were in farm houses listening to the bombing. So my grandmother used to do everything, she used to go down to the town and and bring the food and cook and so my mother when she got married, she said she didn’t know how to cook an egg. But then she learned. She got married and my dad, you know, he said, “we got to eat here,” so the food got better and better.
Everything was fresh, clean, light and the flavor came from very good olive oil, from fresh garlic and fresh parsley and fresh tomatoes, everything was just very simple. I can’t believe, I would come home and there’s nothing and all of a sudden we had a 5 course meal. My mother was able to put together the little things, it’s just phenomenal.
F: That’s the secret.
A: That’s the secret, yeah.
F: To prepare something with nothing.
A: When you grow up like this, we had nothing because it was a small town in the middle of nowhere, all we did was cook and eat. We used to go to different homes, we were a group of 7, 8 guys, and your mother would cook this week, his mother cooked this or that…
When I grew up all my friends would go to the house who’s mom brought the best groceries.
A: Yeah you know, same thing.
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Do you take risks in your cooking? 
Antonio: It doesn’t always feel like risk, but yes I like a challenge. But I do it (personally), I don’t take risks in the kitchen. When those guys take risks I say, “Well check with me first.” They tell me, “Oh, put some…” No, no, no,  it doesn’t work. I can see these things now and I can tell early. I can look at a drink… you know it’s amazing, I used to be a bartender when I was younger. I was probably 9 years old…
You were a bartender at 9?
A: Well in my house, yeah, in Italy in those days when I grew up it was nothing. I’m not saying you could go out and drink in a bar, but there was nobody to stop you. If you drank a beer at 9 years old they would serve you beer, I mean nobody really checked. “Oh, have a glass of wine,” my father would say at home. I used to make wine with my dad, you know. So I learned to mix things and I would mix this and that and my buddies used to come to my house to have a party. We were drunk, you know? I don’t even drink today, but you know, then. “How did you do that?” they would say. So, I have a good sense of the taste and the nose and it’s just natural, I think, that’s all in the business.
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What do you do first when you go back to Italy?
Fiorella: I go to see my mom and I say “mom, prepare me something good, of course!” [Everyone laughs] We always go to see the family and friends, you know, and then we always go back to the place where we met, we see these friends in Rome, at this restaurant, and have our dinner over there.
That’s so cool.
Antonio: It’s nice, yeah.
F: It’s like our honeymoon every time.
A: The first thing, she’s right. It’s really funny because this last trip we had the baby. So, now it’s complicated. It was the first flight of the baby and we landed in Milan and you have to imagine geographically, that Milan, it’s more towards Switzerland then France…
F: It’s North.
A: And I lived down by the ocean like the Italian Riviera.
F: He lives North West and me North East.
A: Yeah, so landing in Milan we were supposed to go to my house but my mom…
F: She was sick, so.
A: She had a bit of he flu, so we had to split up. Thank God for my brother in law, they picked us up and it’s a 4 hour drive for them so imagine after 20 hours of flying another 4 hours of driving, and believe it or not our baby she was tough.
Fiorella: She was an angel.
Antonio: It was just an unbelievable trip. We split up for almost 10 days because I had to go down to the farm. My mother’s by herself, you know what I mean?
F: We love to stay with the family.
A: That’s what we do. Sometimes I say, “Listen, we should go like 2 weeks before and do all the things we want and then say ‘OK, we just arrived!’” [Everyone laughs].
F: We never have a day of holiday. Always with the family.
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When did food capture you? 
Fiorella: Me, it was when I was child. Because my mom, she taught me all my life. She is a very good cooker herself, you say cooker is that right?
Antonio: Cook.
F: Cook. Sorry, my English. She cooks very, very well and from when I was 4 years old I was in the kitchen. It was like a game playing with her. Preparing this, preparing that, and it was my passion all my life.
A: See, growing up in Italy, with the grandma, everything was homemade. I mean, I grew up in a butcher’s shop. My grandfather was a butcher and my other grandfather had a mill. So we had the flour from the mill, we had the polenta, in the center of a small town. It was a very, very small town and I’d see my grandmother making the gnocchi and they’d give you a little dough to make it, then we’d make ravioli, we’d make fettuccine, we’d make tagliarini. When you’re a kid, when you’re a child you just learn. You sit there with your grandma and you grew up in it.
F: But I think it’s the passion too. You have to love it because a lot of people in Italy, they don’t know how to prepare an egg, for example. It is in our tradition, our blood, the food in Italy. But like everything, it has to be something that you feel inside, otherwise you do it for a while and say “why I have to continue to do that?” So, for us it’s an adventure every day that we love to do it. Thank God that we found each other and have the same love for the food too, that’s important.
It’s true, it’s the same with me doing what I do.
A: It’s a passion.
F: If you don’t have passion you don’t do… nothing. It’s like a relationship too, if there’s no passion there’s nothing. It changes with the years, but it’s always a passion.
A: It’s like I said, when we were young and mixing drinks we’d just go and say “Let’s go see Giovanni, he’s got salami. Let’s go see Giuseppe, he’s got goat cheese.” We used to go on the farm, all the farm houses around me and everybody had salami, prosciutto, everything from the farm. Everything is from the land. You don’t buy. I mean, the biggest thing in those days was to buy ketchup. On Sunday we’d buy ketchup and put it on things. We used to put the bread in the ketchup. But everything else was from the ground and we had rabbit, we had chicken, we had bread, we had eggs, we had a 20,000 square foot garden. So we had everything. We never had to really buy anything. We were kind of self-sufficient. You know what I mean? That’s what we had.
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Which chef tool could you not live without? 
Fiorella: [To Antonio] You’ll have to translate because I don’t know what…
Antonio: [Speaking to Fiorella in Italian]
F: [Italian]
A: [Italian]
F: For me, it’s the… I don’t know how to say it in English.
A: It’s the wooden spoon. You know? For mixing…
F: Yeah, from grandma. I always use that. There is one thing that my mom teach me with that one, you never… [to Antonio in Italian]
A: Yeah, you don’t scratch the pan and even with all the new technology…
F: It’s the best. That is the one I will miss in my kitchen for sure.
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Your website says “the essence of Old World authenticity with a new Italian cuisine—Cucina Nostalgica Italiana.” What’s that mean to you?
Antonio: Well nostaligica is…
Fiorella: It’s something you miss.
Antonio: Yeah, nostalgic is like watching a black and white movie, you go back and you see Fred Astaire. You go back in time, and I go back into my farmhouse and it’s the type of food we used to cook 30, 40, 50, 60 years ago. That’s the nostalgic I’m talking about, bringing back the real Italian cuisine. Not one that we doctored up because of trends, you know what I mean? Bringing back what I left behind a long time ago.
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What’s the difference between cooking in Italy and cooking in America? 
Fiorella: Cooking in Italy, it’s… different traditions, a different world, everything is different. Italy is normal and here it’s more complicated for me. I’ll tell you why.
For me, Italian food looks like we have thousands of different recipes and a person that is not from Italy may say “Oh my god,  that is so many recipes, that would be so difficult.” But no, because in Italy the base of the food is only one: olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil and a little bit of basil. With that you can do anything you want. For me it’s very simple.
In America it’s more complicated because we don’t find everything that we have in Italy, even at the best farm market, so sometimes we have to adjust a little bit. Even when you smell a tomato, an Italian tomato that comes from Italy, it changes. We make extra virgin olive oil and wine. If we drink a glass of our wine that we make in Italy we have one flavor. When we bring it over here, it’s always very good but it’s different. I think it’s a little bit…
Antonio: I think it’s the ambiance, it’s the whole thing, like Fiorella said. When you’re in Italy even with people from here, making the same things, they say it’s different. When you’re there with the ambiance, the people, they relax. You give them a “two buck chuck” in Italy—we go to places where you buy the wine for thirty cents, I’m not kidding—you go to Florence or you go to Piemonte, you go to farmhouses and when you’re there we sit down, we have some salami, some prosciutto, some of this, some of that, and some of the vegetale and the friendship. You drink the wine and you say “man, can I take some back to the United States?” Sure, no problem, we’ll take it back. But then you’re here, the environment, the stress, you work, you go home, you taste it and oh my God what happened? I know so many people that ship cases of wine back…
F: They say, “what is this?”
A: People say, “Oh we have to make have a dinner for 20, 40 people.” They open up their wines and the people say “what were you thinking?”
F: It’s different. Totally different.
A: Totally. But then again, it’s the same with food from all over the world. When you eat it over there, it is real. And we find a lot of bad restaurants, too. Very bad.
Fiorella: Oh, yeah.
Antonio: We travel all the time and try places. I look on the Michelin guide and we try new stuff and always at the end of the day I think the simple food is best. Sometimes they try to make it everything, they make the plate look like a rose and it’s too much manipulation. Too much. I think the food should just come from the pan, into your plate. If you make a sauce, if you have to make ossobuco it will take 7 hours to make it, of course. You have to weigh the ingredients, get the best meat and cook it right, make sure it’s cooked all the way through so it has all the flavors, but it’s still simple. That’s true Italian food.
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Who would you most like to cook for and why?
Fiorella: Well me, I like to cook first for my husband. When I met him, I had a business too, in a place like Bristol Farms here, so I was cooking all my life. But when you meet somebody that you love and he tells you “I have 3, 4 restaurants,” you go “oh my God, now I have to cook for him.” So what I can prepare? [She laughs]. For me the first person is him, his test. His mom was here a few years ago and I made for her a risotto one night and she told me, “Fiorella, this is the best risotto I ever had.” For me, her words are so important because she is very good. My mom too.
Yesterday night I prepared the linguini mushroom and he says “this is the best linguini mushroom I ever ate. So I was like, OK.”
Antonio: Oh yes, the porcini mushrooms so… yeah we love to cook and have people in the house. But that’s the way we grew up, you know? My father, every night at our table used to bring friends home, I used to bring friends home, and my mother she was cooking all the time. We like to do it.
F: I have friends at four o’clock they call me and say “Fiorella, what are you having tonight?” and I say no, I’m home from the restaurant and they say “no, come on, let’s make something, we’ll come over.” And one will call another one and they’ll bring another friend…
Antonio: Somewhere between 10 to 15 people all the time at home.
Fiorella: That’s what we love to do.
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What’s the best thing about cooking? 
Antonio: Oh, it’s like making love.
Fiorella: I was going to say the same things [everyone laughs]. You keep taking my words! Sometimes it’s better than making love.
A: Look, sometimes you can have a quickie or you could have a wonderful experience, love.
F: I think you use all your sense when you eat. Your eyes, the palate…
A: The nose, the ears, you hear the pans and the everything over there [he motions toward the kitchen].
F: It’s a love, you know? It’s a second love for us.
A: You’ve got to use all of your senses and instincts.
F: First love is us and our baby. Second love is the food. I have to say that now because before it was us and the food—now it’s our baby and then the food.
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the recipe:

Printable recipe Back to top

Fish in a Jar

Serves 4
  • 4 ea. 4 oz. filets of sea bass
  • 4 oz. julienned vegetables (squash, zucchini, carrots)
  • 4 ea. garlic cloves
  • 2 oz. chopped parley
  • 4 ea. mint leaves
  • 2 oz. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 ea. lemons
  • Sea. salt to taste
  • 4 ea. mason jars
  1. In pot, simmer some water enough to cover 3/4 the mason jar
  2. In mason jars, divide half julienned vegetables in each container
  3. Place fish on top vegetables
  4. Add second half of julienned vegetables on top fish
  5. Then add parsley, garlic, mint, and squeeze of lemon
  6. Season with salt and close jar
  7. Place jar in water for 15-20 minutes, open and serve

Filetto in a Jar

Serves 4
  • 4 ea. 4 oz. filets of beef tenderloin
  • 4 oz. julienned vegetables (squash, zucchini, carrots)
  • 4 oz. cherry tomatoes
  • 4 ea. garlic cloves
  • 2 oz. chopped parley
  • 1 ea. sprig of rosemary
  • 2 oz. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 ea. lemons
  • Sea. salt to taste
  • 4 ea. mason jars
  1. In pot, simmer some water enough to cover 3/4 the mason jar
  2. In mason jars, divide half julienned vegetables in each container
  3. Place beef on top vegetables
  4. Add second half of julienned vegetables on top beef then place cherry tomatoes on top
  5. Then add parsley, garlic, rosemary, and squeeze of lemon
  6. Season with salt and close jar
  7. Place jar in water for 15-20 minutes, open and serve

Sausage in a Jar

Serves 4
  • 4 ea. 4oz. portions of sausage
  • 4 oz. julienned mixed bell peppers
  • 2 oz. sliced onions
  • 4 ea. garlic cloves
  • 2 oz. chopped parley
  • 2 oz. extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea. salt to taste
  • 4 ea. mason jars
  1. In pot, simmer some water enough to cover 3/4 the mason jar
  2. In mason jars divide half julienned bell peppers and onions in each container
  3. Place sausage on top vegetables
  4. Add second half of bell peppers and onions on top sausage
  5. Then add parsley, garlic and olive oil
  6. Season with salt and close jar
  7. Place jar in water for 15-20 minutes, open and serve

wine pairing

w/ Organic Wine Exchange + guest wine expert

Fish in a Jar
The spritely 2011 BioKult Grüner Veltliner offers a lovely mineral aspect that balances the delicate flavors of the fish and vegetables, plus a lemony zip and lively herbal notes that marry beautifully with the mint and citrus.

Filetto in a Jar
Juicy beef tenderloin, Mediterranean herbs, fresh cherry tomatoes?—I say rosé! The 2010 Buenas Ondas Syrah Rosé hits all the right notes here, the meatiness of Syrah balanced by zesty berry flavors and lively, refreshing acidity that keeps the pairing light.

Sausage in a Jar
Sausage loves Barbera, its richness and bold flavor calling for a vibrant wine that also refreshes between bites. The 2010 Nuova Cappelletta Barbera del Monferrato offers refreshing acidity plus notes of spice, pepper, and cherry that blend seamlessly with the seasonings.

Meg Houston Maker, CSW, is a writer curious about nature, culture, food, wine, and place. Her freelance writing focuses on traditional foodways, artisanal food and wine production, sustainable agriculture, and the human connection to landscape. Meg contributes regularly to many food and wine publications and is a columnist for wine magazine Palate Press. Find her creative writing at Megmaker.com and her essays on food and wine at Maker’s Table. Follow her on Twitter @megmaker.

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