Sandy Marino treats guests to special Italian dishes

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Photo by Ann Cipperly

By Ann Cipperly

After enjoying an interesting life in New Jersey and Marietta Ga., Sandy and Tony Marino are leading a slower paced, relaxed lifestyle at National Village at the Robert Trent Jones Grand National.  Sandy and Tony both enjoy cooking Italian dishes, with many of the recipes passed down in his family.

Sandy and Tony moved to Opelika three and a half years ago. Tony, who is semi-retired, owns a food service software company, NutriNet, used by large institutes, hospitals and universities.

They enjoy entertaining and always invite their next-door neighbor, Julia Moreman, a beloved Opelikan, to their dinner parties.  “She knows so many people,” says Sandy. “When we have a dinner party, she is friendly and entertains the guests while I am in the kitchen.”

Sandy and Tony met while he was stationed in Fort Benning during the Vietnam War. Sandy was working at one of her father’s barber shops on base. Her father had been a Marine, and her mother was a WAC.

Tony grew up in West New York, N. J. and then his family moved to Paramus, N.J., not far from New York.

He had a large family with four brothers. After Tony’s father died at an early age, all of the boys had chores, and Tony did a lot of the cooking. Over the years, everyone in his family became good cooks.

After Tony and Sandy married, she recalls that there could be five cooks in the kitchen at once helping to prepare a meal for a family gathering.

“I learned from my mother,” says Tony, “that certain things make a difference, such as the type of tomatoes and the spices. My family prepares a regional sauce, a red ragu, from the southern part of Italy.”

Tony’s grandparents on both sides were born in Italy. The Italians who came to this country came from southern Italy, Tursi, in 1907. His parents were born in New York.

“Our cooking is reminiscent of Naples,” says Tony, “with the red sauces, pizza and sausages of that area.”

After Sandy and Tony lived in New Jersey for 13 years, they moved to Roswell, Ga. and built a house in Marietta on the side of a mountain that provided a 50-mile view. Their house was featured in the Atlanta Journal. They also had a house at Lake Lanier. Sandy and Tony became tired of driving through Atlanta traffic to visit their daughter in Newnan.

The Marinos have two children and four grandchildren. Their son, Shannon, lives in Tybee Island, Ga., with his wife, Sandi, and daughter, Starling. Their daughter, Deana, resides in Newnan, Ga. with her husband, Tim, and daughter, Sofia.

The Marinos were familiar with Opelika as they traveled to Florida and had stayed at the Marriott at Grand National. As they were conducting research on different areas, they felt Opelika would be ideal for them. It is an easy drive for them to visit Deana and for her to come here.

Cooking has been a family tradition in Tony’s family. His mother taught Sandy how to cook Italian dishes. “I took my bride home to New Jersey to my Mom,” says Tony. “My mother tested her by fire. She put all the ingredients for a sauce on the counter and told Sandy to make a sauce, saying she would be back later.”

Both of their children enjoy cooking, especially Deana. After Deana married, she assembled a cookbook with family recipes in plastic sheets assembled in notebooks. Sandy has added to her cookbook over the years.

The Italian Macaroni and Cheese can be a side dish or entree. It is different from traditional mac and cheese with the addition of tomatoes.  They use Cento brand San Marzano tomatoes that they purchase locally.

For a dinner party, Sandy prepares dishes ahead and freezes them, so she will just need to bake them. This allows her to enjoy the party as well.

Her favorite dessert for dinner parties is made with Praline Baskets. She fills them with ice cream and embellishes with fresh berries or chocolate sauce for an attractive presentation.

Chicken Scarpariello is one of Sandy’s favorite Italian dishes. It is enhanced with sausage, mushrooms and sweet red peppers. When they lived in New Jersey, they made their own sausages.

For a quick appetizer, Sandy will purchase prepared crab cakes and break them into pieces for stuffing mushrooms. She simply removes the stems, stuffs the mushrooms and bakes them at 350 for about 15 minutes.

Crab Toast is also delectable with the crab mixture prepared ahead and baked on Melba toast rounds.

Many of their recipes have been passed down. You will want to save them all for creating special dinners for your family and friends.

“We enjoy being here,” says Sandy, “and the people are so nice.”

As Sandy gets ready for another dinner party, she has her table set with seasonal decor and will invite Julia Moreman to join them. “Sandy and Tony have been a blessing for me and good neighbors,” says Julia. “I have enjoyed their delicious Italian cooking many times.”

Crab Meat Rounds
1 lb. lump crabmeat
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 green onions, chopped
6 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 tsp. prepared mustard
50 Melba toast rounds
Very gently mix crabmeat, onions, cheese, mayonnaise and lemon juice. Put heaping tsp. of mixture on each Melba toast. Place in 450-oven for 8 minutes.

Spicy Shrimp
2 whole green scallions or 1 Tbsp. sweet onion, grated
6 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh green or red pepper
2 Tbsp. Spanish capers, chopped fine
2 Tbsp. prepared horseradish
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup chili sauce
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1 clove garlic, mashed
20 jumbo shrimp, cleaned and boiled
Chop scallions, place in strainer with pepper, capers and horseradish and drain for 15 minutes.
Combine mayonnaise and chili sauce in a bowl. Add red and black pepper, salt and garlic. Whip well together with a whisk. Add drained ingredients and beat or mix well. Add salt. Refrigerate.
Serve with shrimp.

Chicken Picatta
Daughter Deana Young’s recipe
1/2 tsp. seasoned salt
1 Tbsp. capers, drained
1/4 cup flour
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 1/2 lb. chicken breast cutlets
1/4 cup white wine
Place seasoned salt and flour in zip-loc bag and shake to mix. Add chicken to bag; seal tightly and shake to coat. Preheat large sauté pan on high for 1-2 minutes.
Place butter in pan and swirl to coat. Using tongs, add chicken and sauté 8-10 minutes, turning once. Combine capers, lemon juice and wine in a small bowl and add to chicken. Cook chicken 2-4 minutes, to reduce liquid. Serves 4.

Veal or Chicken Saltimbocca
8 veal cutlets or Chicken breasts
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup butter
Pinch kosher salt
8 slices prosciutto ham
Pinch of pepper
8 slices mozzarella cheese
Mix flour, salt and pepper. Dredge cutlets in flour. Shake excess flour off. Heat butter in sauté pan. Brown veal or chicken on both sides. Remove veal from pan and place in shallow glass baking dish.
Set pan aside with drippings for gravy. Place slice of cheese and then ham slice on each cutlet. Bake at 375 for 10 minutes.
Sauce:
Sprinkle 3 Tbsp. of flour into sauté pan with drippings. Dc-glaze pan with 1/2 cup dry white wine. Stir in 1/4 cup of V8 juice, 1 can condensed chicken broth and 2 Tbsp. lemon juice. Cook on low heat until sauce thickens. (1 cup of water with 3 chick bouillon cubes can be substituted for canned broth.)

Chocolate Italian Cake
Cake:
5 large eggs, separated
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup butter milk
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup finely chopped pecans
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
Beat egg whites at high speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form, set aside. Beat butter and sugar, beating well. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Combine flour, cocoa, and baking soda.
Add to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat a low speed until blended after each addition.
Stir in coconut, chopped pecans and vanilla. Fold in egg whites. Pour batter into 3 greased and floured 8 inch round cake pans.
Bake at 325 for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove cake layers on to wire racks and cool completely.
Frosting:
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 cup finely chopped pecans
1/3 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 (16 oz.) pkg. powdered sugar
Beat first 4 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Combine powdered sugar and cocoa; gradually add to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with sugar mixture. Beat at low speed until blended after each addition. Stir in pecans.
Spread Frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake. Garnish with pecan halves, if desired.
This cake is long and involved. But it is well worth it. You will love it.

Italian Macaroni and Cheese
1 lb. box ziti pasta
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 lb. block sharp cheddar cheese, grated
10 slices Velveeta cheese
1 cup milk
1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs
1 large can diced tomatoes
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
Preheat oven to 350.
Cook ziti until almost done. Drain. Add cheddar cheese, milk, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Break up Velveeta cheese into small pieces; add to mixture. Stir. Pour into buttered 9×13 baking dish. Bake covered with tin foil for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake 10-15 minutes longer or until bubbles.

Crab Stuffed Chicken Breast
6 boneless chicken breast
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
3 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. melted butter
3 Tbsp. dry white wine
7 1/2 oz. can crab meat, drained
1/2 cup herb seasoned stuffing mix
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. paprika
Sauce:
1 envelope hollandaise sauce mix
3/4 cup milk
2 Tbsp. dry white wine
1/2 cup (2 oz. shredded Swiss cheese)
Pound chicken to flatten. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Cook onion and celery in 3 Tbsp. butter until tender. Remove from heat; add wine, crab and stuffing mix; toss.
Divide mixture among breast. Roll up and secure with toothpicks. Combine flour and paprika, coat chicken. Place chicken in glass baking dish and drizzle with 2 Tbsp. melted butter.
Bake uncovered in 375-oven for 1 hour. Transfer to platter for serving.
Blend sauce mix and milk in saucepan. Cook until thick. Add wine and cheese. Stir until cheese melts. Pour a little sauce over chicken on platter. Serve remaining sauce on the side.

Chicken Scarpariello
1- 3 1/2 lb. chicken
1 lb. sweet Italian sausage
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 lb. mushrooms
1/2 cup dry white wine
Juice of one lemon
3 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
1 jar peppercini
1 jar roasted sweet red peppers
Cut chicken and sausage into small pieces. Dredge chicken pieces in flour. Brown sausage and then add chicken to brown. Do not cover. Brown for 8-10 minutes, turn and brown 10-12 minutes longer. (Chicken and sausage should be done. If not, cook until done.)
Remove chicken and sausage. Pour off fat. Add butter to skillet and sauté mushrooms. Add garlic, parsley, lemon juice and wine. Add chicken sausage, peppermints and peppers back to skillet. (Add some of the juice from peppercini and peppers for extra flavor.) Cover skillet loosely and cook for 5-10 minutes.

Praline Shells with Ice Cream and Toppings
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened (do not substitute vegetable oil spread)
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 cup finely chopped nuts
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 quarts ice cream, any flavor
Fresh berries, ice cream topping
Preheat oven to 350. Combine brown sugar, butter and corn syrup in (2-qt.) saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally with a whisk. Remove pan from heat; stir in nuts and flour.
Cut two 15-inch circles of parchment paper. Place one circle on large round stone with handles.
Using medium scoop, drop 4 level scoops of batter, 3 inches apart, onto parchment. (Batter will spread while baking.)
Bake 18-19 minutes or until deep golden brown. Slide parchment onto stackable cooling rack. Cool 30-60 seconds.
Using a large serving spatula, quickly remove one cookie and carefully place in bottom of a serving bowl; gently form into a basket. Repeat with remaining cookies. Cool completely.
Scoop remaining batter onto second parchment circle; place on hot baking stone. Bake 9-10 minutes or until deep golden brown. Repeat method in Step 3 to form baskets.
For each serving, scoop ice cream into lace basket. Top with fresh berries or chocolate sauce. Recipe was adapted from one from Pampered Chef.

Coffee Crème Brulee
6 large egg yolks
1 large whole egg
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
1 3/4 cups milk
1 1/2 Tbsp. instant espresso powder
2 Tbsp. Kahlúa
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar or raw sugar
Preheat oven to 325.
In a bowl whisk together yolks, whole egg and granulated sugar. In a heavy saucepan heat cream and milk over moderately high heat until mixture just comes to a boil and stir in espresso powder and Kahlúa, stirring until powder is dissolved. Add milk mixture to egg mixture in a stream, whisking, and skim off any froth.
Divide custard among eight 1/2-cup flame-proof ramekins set in a roasting pan and add enough hot water to pan to reach halfway up sides of ramekins. Bake custards in middle of oven until they are just set but still tremble slightly, about 40 minutes. Remove ramekins from pan and cool custards. Chill custards, covered loosely with plastic wrap, at least 4 hours or overnight.
Set broiler rack so that custards will be 2 to 3 inches from heat and preheat broiler.
Sift brown sugar evenly over custards and broil custards until sugar is melted and caramelized, about 2 minutes. (Alternatively, raw sugar may be sprinkled over custards and caramelized with a blowtorch.) Chill custards 20 minutes.

Zarzuela de Mariscos
1/2 cup Spanish Olive Oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 roasted red peppers, cut into strips
2 oz pancetta, cut into strips, diced, small
2 large cans tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/2 tsp. saffron threads or 1/8 tsp. ground saffron
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves only, finely chopped
2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 cup dry white wine
2 1/2 cups fish stock, or half clam juice, half water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
12 clams, well scrubbed
12 mussels, well scrubbed
6 jumbo shrimp, in their shells
1 lb. scallops
6 lemon wedges, for garnish
Wedges of grilled country bread, for serving
In a large enameled cast iron or other flameproof casserole, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, and peppers and cook for 5 minutes, or until softened. Stir in pancetta and cook for 3 minutes more, stirring occasionally.
Add tomatoes and increase heat to medium high. Stirring frequently to prevent mixture from scorching, cook until liquid from tomatoes has evaporated. Stir in ground almonds, saffron, thyme, rosemary, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes and wine. Reduce the mixture until the wine has almost all evaporated.
Add fish stock and lemon juice, bring mixture to a boil and add clams and mussels. Reduce heat, add shrimp, scallops, and squid and cook for 5 minutes more, by which time of all the shellfish should have opened. Remove and discard any that have not. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary, and serve straight from the casserole into heated soup bowls, garnish with a wedge of lemon and toasted bread.
Note: To grind almonds, freeze 2 oz. of blanched, slivered almonds and then pulse them in a food processor only until finely ground. Do not over process or they can become oily.

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