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Cooking: It's in his blood
and on his family's plates

Special Correspondent

February 5, 2003

Lenny D'Andrea draws comfort from early memories in the kitchen.

"I grew up with a full family," he says. "My mother was always cooking. There was always an abundance of food. Everything always smelled great."

Mostly hectic, rarely noiseless and always about "what's cooking" is how he describes his childhood in Greenwich. Given the level of high-decibel activity, the weekend home cook marvels that his mother and father, Eulalie and the late Rocco Sr., raised him, his five brothers and four sisters (Florence, Tony, Rocco Jr., Ron, Douglas, Lulu, Alicia, Laura, Donald) with little fanfare.

Mom and dad must have done something right. Such is the draw of the hearth that most of the D'Andrea clan still lives in Connecticut, "except for Rocco Jr., he is in Pennsylvania, and Doug who is in Idaho, a beef-jerky kind of guy," he chuckles.

And most siblings must have been paying attention. According to Lenny, who with Tony runs Rocco V. D'Andrea Inc., a Riverside land-use consulting firm started by their father, most of the D'Andreas know their way around a kitchen, thanks to mom.

"It seems our best family memories are still made around food," he says, dismissing being characterized as self-taught. "Nowadays, are you really self-taught with the Food channel and all the cooking shows?" he asks.

Far away home

It wasn't until the mid-'70s, when Lenny was a student at the University of Colorado in Boulder, that he learned to fully appreciate his mother's cooking. "There certainly wasn't any decent Italian food out West," he says. "I had to fend for myself."

So began what has become a lifetime hobby of tasting, savoring, modifying, blending, shopping, cookbook collecting and experimenting. "A few of us liked wine and finer cooking and no one was going to do it for us," he says. "After growing up in my parents' home, it was inevitable, I guess."

His only regret is that he does not have enough time to cook full time or entertain more frequently. "I try to get him to cook more meals so we can have them during the week," jokes Mary Lou, his wife of 15 years, visibly in awe of what she calls her husband's "fabulous dishes."

Gourmet meals, if only on weekends, are always appreciated. It might explain why Lenny and Mary Lou don't eat out much. But when they do, says Lenny, he tries to re-create what he samples from restaurants. "Sometimes it doesn't come out as good and sometimes I come up with something new."

If only he would record some of his creations, says Mary Lou. "We call them 'lost recipes,' " she says.

"I like to modify recipes because it's more practical or because something else inspires me," he shrugs. "And I hardly ever make the same thing twice. I build the flavor. I tell people, 'I hope you like it because I'm never making it again.' "

Brand-new kitchen

Lenny's variations seem countless, but all of his creations originate from one place: a brand-new, fully stocked kitchen in his 2-year-old Stamford home.

He points to the invisible triangle points marking the working space between a six-burner gas stove, one of two dishwashers and a corner sink. Granite tops a substantial island (with another sink) that divides the work area and what he calls the "social" area, big enough to accommodate the extended family drawn here for holidays, dinner parties and other special times. Spices are alphabetized, knives are lined up by size, can labels face forward and cookbooks that betray a fondness for French cuisine (Julia Child and Jacques Pepin) flank china and crystal displays in glass-paneled cabinets.

The ultimate luxury? A water faucet over the stove. "It's easier that way," he explains proudly. "For filling the pots."

Lenny admits his kitchen is lavish, but adds that it appears spacious because he does not collect many of the gadgets popular with home cooks. "I hate them," he says. "They are a pain to clean. I always say, 'If it's not a multitasker, it's clutter.' "

One only needs "a set of good, solid knives; heavy pots and pans; and good cutting boards," he says.

As for ingredients, "all you need is good wine, good stock and butter," he says. "Then you add everything else."

All in the family

Lenny was surprised to hear that his sister, Alicia Melillo, had nominated him for Cook du Jour honors; he does not consider himself an exceptional cook when compared to the rest of his family.

Alicia disagrees, saying Lenny deserves to be singled out. "All six of my brothers enjoy cooking, thanks to my mother, who is probably the best cook on the planet," she says. "But Lenny has what it takes. I keep telling him to sell the business and open a restaurant."

For now, no plans exist for a Chez Lenny, but according to Alicia, Lenny is ready if he were to change his mind.

"First of all, Lenny actually owns a chef's hat and clogs that I bought (for) him, so he plays the part well dressed," she jokes.

Second, "he orders truffles and truffle oils online or goose pate," she adds. "Whatever ingredient he needs, he will find."

Third, and arguably most important, is Lenny's special ability to improvise. "I think he inherited the knack of 'a little of this, a little of that' from (my mother)," says Alicia. "One meal cooked by Lenny will tell you why he was nominated."

The search is on for Cook du Jour. Do you know a spectacular home cook? Please tell us about him or her. To nominate:

* E-mail: valerie.foster@scni.com

* Snail mail: Valerie Foster, Features Editor, The Advocate, 75 Tresser Blvd., Stamford, CT 06904

* Phone: 964-2246

Copyright 2003, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.



Cook du Jour Recipes

February 5, 2003



"This recipe will convert all who think they don't like oatmeal. Easy, easy, easy. The trick is to hide the oatmeal box. They won't know it's oatmeal," says Lenny D'Andrea

1 cup 2 percent milk

3/4 cup water

1 cup regular oats

Dash of salt

1/4 cup raisins, optional

Apple sauce

Brown sugar or raw sugar

Whipped cream


Confectioners' sugar

* Boil liquid, stir in oats, salt and raisins, cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

* Place oatmeal in a couple of breakfast bowls. Cover with sugar. Cover sugar with a layer of applesauce. Drop a generous dollop of whipped cream on top. Hit with a dusting of cinnamon and confectioners' sugar. Makes 2 servings.


"This one can be varied in many different ways based on the fish of the day and season." -- Lenny D'Andrea

1 or 2 fillets of grouper or other favorite fish fillets

Salt and pepper to taste

Superfine flour, for dusting

Olive oil

1/2 green bell pepper, julienne

1/2 red pepper, julienne

1 carrot, julienne

1/2 small yellow onion, thinly sliced

2 cloves crushed garlic

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup fish or chicken stock

1 Tblsp. each thyme and basil, chopped

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1 Tblsp. capers

6 pitted and crushed Greek olives

Squeeze of lemon

2 Tblsp. unsalted butter

* Feel for and remove any bones and score skin (remove if you prefer) of fish. Salt and pepper each side and dust with a superfine flour. Saute for about 2 minutes flesh-side down in a heavy skillet in olive oil, turn and saute for 1 minute on the other side. Remove and place skin side down on an oven-proof pan and finish in a 400-degree oven.

* Saute vegetables in pan with a little olive oil. Add garlic and deglaze with white wine, add stock and reduce by a third. Add all herbs, capers, Greek olives and squeeze of lemon and thicken with butter. Adjust seasonings and place each fillet on a warm plate and pour sauce over each.

* Serve with rice. Makes 2 servings.

(Bone with a Hole)

4 veal shanks

Salt and pepper to taste


Olive oil

2 celery stalks

3 carrots

1 medium onion

2 or 3 whole garlic cloves, peeled

1 bottle favorite medium-bodied red wine or dry white wine

1 cup rich veal or beef stock

1 cup chicken stock

1 14-oz. can diced plain tomatoes

Bouquet garni, tie together 1 large imported bay leaf, 2 sprigs fresh thyme, small bunch parsley and small leek

2 Tblsp. cornstarch

2 Tblsp. water

* Generously salt and pepper and lightly flour both sides of each shank. Brown in Dutch oven with olive oil.

* Chop all of the celery, carrots, onion and garlic and toss in pan to brown. After browning for a few minutes, add about 1/2 to 1 cup of wine; reserve the rest to drink with the meal.

* Add both stocks, can of tomatoes and bouquet garni. Shanks should be just covered.

* Cook in oven at 375 for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the veal is fork-tender and falls from the bone.

* Remove shanks, cover to keep warm and set aside.

* Strain the vegetables and de-grease juice. Pour juice into a saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Dissolve cornstarch in water and add slowly to sauce as it nears a boil, stirring constantly.

* Plate shanks with parsleyed noodles, brown rice, risotto or sauteed polenta and a green vegetable. Pour sauce over shanks. Makes 4 servings.


"If you don't like lamb, this will change your mind. Just remember to remove the fat. Since lamb fat has a low-burn point and I'm not fond of the taste of lamb fat, this recipe (has) all of the fat trimmed away." -- Lenny D'Andrea

1 rack of lamb per 2 servings

Olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Dry rub, more or less equal parts, ground fenugreek, powdered ginger, garlic powder, ground cardamom, Caribbean mango powder and Caribbean Massala powder

* Trim almost all of the fat away from each rack of lamb and lightly rub all over with olive oil. Rub salt and pepper all over each rack. Mix all other spices together and rub generously all over each rack.

* First lightly grill each side for about 4 minutes without letting the lamb burn or flare up. Transfer to a 400-degree oven and finish cooking until you reach your desired doneness, using a good digital meat thermometer to monitor doneness.

* Let meat rest for 5 minutes before cutting and serving.


"Unique in taste, not a normal salsa. Friends will grab for the last dip. A great way to use up the end-of-summer vegetables." -- Lenny D'Andrea

4 quarts ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 cup diced yellow onion

1 1/2 cups chopped red sweet peppers

1 1/2 cups chopped green peppers

1 1/2 tsp. pickling spice in spice bag

1/2 stick cinnamon

1 1/4 cup white vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

2 Tblsp. kosher salt

Chopped hot peppers to taste

* In a large pot, combine the tomatoes, onions and peppers. Add the spice bag and cinnamon stick; bring to a low boil.

* Reduce heat and simmer until reduced to half, stirring from time to time, for about 2 hours. Add vinegar, sugar and salt and increase heat to a boil and stir for about 5 minutes. Add peppers. Pour into hot sterile pint jars and seal with canning lids and rims. Place in boiling water bath for about 10 minutes.

* Serve as a dip or condiment. Makes enough to fill 6 pint Mason jars.

Copyright 2003, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.