Now that cellphone cameras have become as common as pocket lint, some traditional aspects of family life have changed – for the better. Among them: bragging to family members about the incredible meal they missed.

Just ask Paul Paolini of South Wales, whose large Irish-Italian family contains lots of cooks who try to outdo each other. “Now with the picture phones, everybody will make an excellent meal, take a real nice picture of it, and send a picture to someone else,” said Paolini, The News’ January Cook of the Month. “It’s ‘Ha ha ha, look what I’m eatin’ and you’re not.’ ”

It’s all in fun, and his brother Michael – whom Paul describes as the superior cook – gets his rebuttal in, if not by words, then in the form of food, like the legendary macaroni and cheese Michael brings to fuel family camping trips.

That’s how the Paolinis roll. Even out camping, “We’re not talking about hot dogs and hamburgers,” said Paul Paolini. “We’re talking fresh Alfredo out in the woods.” Using an electric cooker, they’ll even do full pork roasts, chicken and turkeys, he said, as the combined families and friends add up to more than a dozen eaters.

When he was growing up in Blasdell, the kitchen was the center of the house. His mother, Joan, the Irish side of the family, was a homemaker. She did most of the cooking, from Irish stew to Italian tomato sauce that simmered so long it was a two-day project. His father, Amicare, and his mother canned tomatoes and other things they grew. “We grew up making our own grape jelly – my dad had grapes in the yard,” Paolini said.

As the youngest of four children, Paolini said, he was free to cook, but rarely had the urge in a house filled with home cooking.

“Mom and Dad never stopped us from trying stuff, like if we wanted to cook some chicken up,” he said. “Any way you wanted to – if you wanted to dump a gallon of hot sauce on it, they never said very much. They just let us experiment.”

Paolini got married in 1990. When he and his wife, Cherise, invited people over for dinner, he wanted to re-create some of the flavors of his childhood. That’s when he started cooking full meals for the first time, he said, getting recipes from family members and making them his own.

“As with anything, as time goes on, you learn how to not screw things up,” he said.

Now an electrician for Erie Community College, Paolini does about 90 percent of the cooking for his household, which includes his wife, who is a registered nurse, and their children, Michael and Victoria.

Paolini’s repertoire includes Italian favorites like tomato sauce with meatballs, a recipe from his mother that he has adjusted to his family’s needs.

“I adapted this so I could make it in an evening, like after work, and eat it the same evening,” he said, “rather than make it all day and eat it the next day.”

Because Cherise has Crohn’s disease, he lightens up dishes, limiting fat and using whole grains wherever feasible. That meant switching the meatballs from a pork-beef blend to all beef, 90 to 95 percent lean. The pasta is usually whole-grain.

The sauce also fits his need to not spend too much time cooking. “You make a pot of sauce, you can make three or four meals,” he said. If there’s any sauce left over, Paolini said, he sometimes freezes it in ziptop bags for quick meals. More often, it’s for dinner two or three ways.

“The next day you have lasagna, goulash, chicken parm,” Paolini said. “We make a lot of stuff.” “Meatball bombers,” chimed in son Michael, sounding hopeful. Studying at Daemen to become a physician’s assistant, Michael lives at home even though it’s a lengthy commute. “I would have starved otherwise,” Michael said.

“How we grew up,” said Paolini, “family and food are one and the same, Italian or Irish.”

Paul Paolini

Residence: South Wales

Mouths to feed: 4

Go-to dish: Chili

Indulgence: Fettucine Alfredo with chicken and broccoli

Any day sauce and meatballs

For sauce:

3 medium onions,

peeled and chopped

1/3 cup dried parsley

1/3 cup olive oil

3 6-ounce cans tomato paste

1 15-ounce can diced tomato

1 carrot, finely shredded

4 29-ounce cans tomato


2 teaspoons sugar

1/8 teaspoon crushed

red pepper

6 cloves garlic, chopped

For meatballs:

2 and 1/2 pounds 90 percent lean ground beef

1 and 1/2 cups seasoned bread crumbs

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

or Romano cheese

2 eggs, beaten

1 and 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1 teaspoon dried parsley

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

Grated Parmesan or

Romano cheese, for topping

1 1-pound package of your favorite dried pasta

In a large pot, saute onions and parsley in olive oil on medium heat until translucent. Add tomato paste and mix well with onions. Stir in diced tomato, garlic and carrot. Add tomato sauce, sugar and red pepper. Turn heat down and cover.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients for the meatballs. Mix together by hand, then form into 1½-inch balls and add them to the sauce.

Simmer sauce until meatballs are fully cooked, about an hour. Cook your favorite type of pasta according to package instructions. Serve pasta topped with sauce and meatballs. Add grated cheese to taste. Note: Leftover sauce makes fine lasagna or meatball subs.

Spring mix antipasto salad

1 small package spring mix greens

1 jar pepperoncini

1 package thick-sliced pepperoni

4 ounces aged provolone, rough sliced

1 small package grape tomatoes

1 bottle of your favorite Italian dressing, such as Ken’s Steak House Lite Northern Italian

Lay down a bed of greens on plate. Arrange pepperoncini, pepperoni, provolone and tomatoes. Drizzle with dressing, or serve dressing on side.