Food & Drink

Tough-guy chef Steve Martorano has a soft spot for pasta

Chef Steve Martorano, a cueball-bald, tattooed muscleman who grew up on the tough streets of South Philadelphia, credits his grandmother’s home-style Italian food with steering him away from his neighborhood’s not-so-savory influences and into the restaurant biz.

He started at an early age, selling sandwiches made in his mother’s basement. Café Martorano, a Fort Lauderdale institution now for 18 years, was his first real joint; now there are five. He’s currently on tour to promote his first cookbook, It Ain’t Sauce, It’s Gravy, a collection of recipes prepared at his restaurants.

You’ll find out how to make Martorano Meatballs, Stuffed Hot Peppers and Fried Galamad, the South Philly term for calamari. But this is far from a basic tour through traditional Italian cookery; Martorano might look like a burly brawler on the front of It Ain’t Sauce, but (groan) you can’t judge this book by its cover. He has a delicate touch for the creative: Check out Rigatoni Tripe Parmesan, Spaghetti and Crabs or today’s topic, Strozzapreti with Cauliflower.

In the lore, strozzapreti is Italian for “priest strangler.” Priests, it seems, found the pasta so delicious that they gorged on it until they choked; we’ve heard from an actual priest that at least the first part is true. The braided macaroni resembles a thinner, longer version of cavatelli, and the cracks among the braids do a wonderful job of soaking in a thick gravy such as pesto.

This recipe borrows the pine nuts and ample garlic and olive oil of pesto. Instead of parmesan and fresh basil, though, the flavors are raisins, anchovies and crushed red pepper. Distinctive tastes all, but cooked together with the cauliflower, they disappear into a salty-sweet-spicy succulence.

Those fools who believe they dislike anchovies will not notice a whit of fishiness in this perfectly balanced dish. Serve with a sharply flavored salad green like arugula or watercress and your favorite wine.

By the Book checks out recipes from new cookbooks.

Kendall Hamersly is senior features editor at the Miami Herald. He last reviewed Steven Raichlen’s “Man Made Meals.”


It Ain’t Sauce, It’s Gravy” by Steve Martorano; Knopf; $28.

Martorano on tour

Nov. 4: Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables. Book-signing and bites from the book; 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Nov. 8: Books-A-Million, 12801 W. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Signing; 2-4 p.m.

Nov. 22: Barnes & Noble, 2051 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. Signing; 1-3 p.m.

Nov. 23: Miami Book Fair International, 300 NE Second Ave., Miami. Panel discussion; 3:30 p.m.

Main dish

Strozzapreti with cauliflower

Sea salt for pasta water

20 ounces strozzapreti

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

12 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped

8 anchovy fillets, whole

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

1 head cauliflower, stemmed

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and start to cook the strozzapreti. Meanwhile, in a hot pan, heat the olive oil and sauté the garlic until almost brown. Melt the anchovies into the oil. Add raisins, pine nuts, red pepper flakes and 2 tablespoons of the pasta water. When the macaroni has been cooking for 11 minutes, add the cauliflower to the sauté pan. Strain the pasta through a colander and add to the pan. Cook the pasta and cauliflower for an additional 4 minutes or until both are tender. Toss well and serve. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Source: “It Ain’t Sauce, It’s Gravy” by Steve Martorano.