Beverly San Filippo may live alone, but she hardly ever cooks for one.
The Amherst grandmother, retired now after a 23-year career with Kaleida Health, grew up on Buffalo’s West Side and in North Buffalo, learning recipes like tomato sauce and stuffed meatballs from her Italian mother.
San Filippo, The News June Cook of the Month – a few days late – still makes those dishes today, adding her own touches, like the brightness of fresh mint in the tomato sauce and smoky bacon inside the meatballs.
Yet some of the most important things her mother taught her about food had nothing to do with recipes.
“When we lived at Prospect and Hudson, I remember a man came by and asked my mother if she had anything to eat,” San Filippo said. “My mother would not let him in the house, because we were there. She put him on the porch, right in front of the picture window, she put a tray there, and a seat, and she fed him. This guy had a whole, full meal.”
Her mother, Rosemarie San Filippo, taught her by word and deed that cooking and sharing food was an act of love, she said. That’s why “when I cook, I always have other people in mind,” she said. “I don’t cook one hamburger patty, and that’s my dinner.”
San Filippo spends time with her father, Anthony, almost every day at his retirement home, she said. (His recipe for pasta and peas, among the most homey Italian-American dishes of all time, won a local paper’s recipe contest, she said.) She also keeps in touch with other relatives and friends, often delivering a gift of a home-cooked meal.
“If I make, say, an omelet, a frittata, I’ll make the ingredients – whether it’s peppers, onions, hot dogs, potatoes – and I’ll make a whole pan full. I put it in the fridge, and if somebody’s coming over I can give it to them.”
That doesn’t mean she’s foisting off aging leftovers on people, though.
“I don’t have stuff lying around like, ‘Gee I wish somebody would eat this,’ ” said San Filippo. “Never. It’s always gone. And I don’t like leaving stuff in the fridge. Two days, goodbye.”
It does seem odd to others that at a time in her life when many people her age are just plain tired of cooking, San Filippo is still breaking out the big pots.
“People are always telling me that,” she said. “ ‘Why are you making that whole thing?’ Well, I’ve got stuff, and I’ve got people. There are too many people in this world that have needs. I cannot just do for myself. It is not my way of living.”
In addition to her career as transcriptionist and receptionist at facilities including Women & Children’s Hospital, the former Millard Fillmore Hospital on Gates Circle and Buffalo General Hospital, San Filippo worked as a server at a New Jersey country club and the Park Lane. She picked up recipes that she would later put to good effect, like a sauerkraut with bacon, apples and garlic. When she wanted to cook for a German minister with a mission at Genesee and Moselle, that sauerkraut hit the spot for him.
“I believe that in this life you are given a lot of gifts,” she said. “And when you have a lot, a lot is required of you. That’s how I believe, and I want to do what’s required of me. Because the Bible says that if you give somebody a glass of water in my name, it’s a blessing.”
Why should long-simmered tomato sauce be any different? Who would go through the trouble of making long-cooked Sunday sauce for one person? Not Beverly San Filippo, when there are so many mouths to feed.
“When I make sauce, put the tomatoes, do the garlic, when I do that I think of all the things I could do with that sauce,” she said. “I could make stuffed meatballs. You know what else I could do? I could do a braciole, I haven’t done that in ages. You know what else I could do? I could make meaty ziti. Because I could bring a casserole to somebody.”
3 pounds meatball mixture
(see recipe below)
2 slices cooked bacon, halved
1 hard-cooked egg, quartered
1 small ball fresh mozzarella, quartered
3 to 4 tablespoons olive or corn oil
1 to 2 quarts spaghetti sauce
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano, for serving
Make meatball mixture. Separate into three parts. Set aside one part (one pound) for regular meatballs.
Divide each remaining part into two. Form each 8-ounce portion of meatball mixture into large hamburger-shaped patties, about 6 inches across.
Top each patty with bacon, egg and cheese. Wet hands and mold meat over fillings to form 4 large stuffed meatballs.
Add 3 tablespoons oil to nonstick skillet and brown meatballs over medium heat, using two utensils to turn them until evenly browned. Do not crowd pan; fry in batches if necessary.
After browning on all sides, carefully transfer to pot. Cover with spaghetti sauce and simmer over medium-low heat for one hour. Serve one stuffed meatball per person, in a pasta bowl over one ladle of penne pasta. Top pasta with grated cheese.
(Makes 4 stuffed meatballs plus 8 smaller regular meatballs so you have plenty of leftovers. If your pot is big enough, the regular meatballs can be cooked in the same sauce.)
3 pounds ground meat, either “meatloaf mix” from butcher’s case, or 1 and 1/2 pounds ground beef (80-20 mixture), ¾ pound ground chicken and ¾ pound ground pork
3 thick slices Italian bread, crusts removed, soaked in milk and lightly squeezed out
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs lightly scrambled
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
Mix ingredients in a large bowl with your hands.
1/2 cup Vidalia onion, chopped small
½ cup olive oil
1 small head cauliflower cut into florets
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup Romano cheese
4 large eggs, slightly scrambled
Blanch cauliflower in boiling water until tender; drain. Mix crumbs and cheese in a small bowl.
Add 4 tablespoons oil and onion to a 10-inch nonstick skillet and saute for a few minutes. Add cooked, drained florets, garlic and breadcrumb mixture and stir, cooking until it starts to brown.
Add egg mixture to cauliflower, and stir for a few minutes. Lightly mash mixture in the frying pan using a potato masher, lowering heat to avoid scorching the pie.
Slide pie onto empty plate or pie dish. Add 4 tablespoons oil to fry pan, and flip pie into pan, uncooked side down. (You can use a kitchen mitt to protect your wrist from any hot oil; I do this over the kitchen sink.)
Cook until firm. Cut “pie” into slices, and serve immediately.
Serve as a main course with bread and a salad, or use as a side dish.
Find the recipe for Beverly’s father’s Pasta With Peas here at the Hungry for More Blog.