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The Italian Job
By Sally Belk King
May 6, 2008
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'My food is never timid,' says personal chef and caterer, Robert Cacciola.  'With a heritage that's 50% Sicilian, I have an innate love for the spices and seasonings of southern Italy as well as those of Morocco and Northern Africa,' he adds.  Cacciola grew up in Westbury, Long Island, graduated from the CIA and, after working in Manhattan for many years, has recently opened his own personal chef and catering company, Platter & Bowl, in Westchester County, NY. 

It comes as no surprise that Cacciola's favorite courses at the CIA were banquet and catering; he has a natural knack for planning and preparing food for groups.  Many of his clients request buffets, and because of his Italian heritage he often includes dishes that can be enjoyed at room temperature, especially during the warmer months.  'Plus, I like to let the flavors speak for themselves, so I use the best possible ingredients,' he says. 

The spaghetti squash recipe, here, is one of his favorite dishes not just because it's replete with flavor but because it's light, healthy, and can be made in advance.  'When making this at home, do all your prep ahead of time and keep the ingredients separate until 30 minutes before serving,' he suggests. 

To make the dish richer in protein, chef Cacciola recommends placing grilled shrimp or grilled bay scallops alongside or on top of the finished dish.  Wine suggestions include un-oaked Chardonnay such as the 2005 Matua Valley from Gisborne, New Zealand, a rich (i.e., not too acidic) Pinot Grigio like the 2006 from Campanile or, a not-too-fruity  Sauvignon Blanc such as the 2007 Ferrari-Carano. Buon Apetito!

To contact Cacciola to cater your next party, e-mail  chefrc@gmail.com 

Spaghetti Squash with Crushed Grape Tomato Sauce and Fresh Spring Herbs®

By Chef Robert Cacciola, owner, Platter & Bowl, South Salem, NY

Serves 6 as an appetizer or 8 as a side dish

1 medium spaghetti squash, about 3 1/5 pounds, rinsed, split lengthwise, seeds removed
5 tablespoons good quality olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
4 ounces fresh shitake mushrooms, wiped clean, stems removed (save to make mushroom broth or other use)
2 cups shelled edamame
2 pints red grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, washed and stemmed
2 cups vegetable broth, preferably organic (homemade or store bought)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon mixed fresh herbs, chopped (I like to use a mixture of parsley, basil, thyme, oregano)
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (yellow part only)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

• Preheat oven to 350 º F.  Cover a medium-sized baking pan with foil and drizzle it with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.  Season the cut side of the squash with salt and pepper, then lay the squash, cut side down, on the foil lined sheet pan.  Bake for 45 minutes.  Remove from the oven and turn the squash over.  Return to the oven and bake an additional 15 minutes or until squash is tender.
• Remove from the oven and let cool.  When cool enough to handle comfortably, shred the inside of the cooked squash with a fork and reserve 2 very generous cups of the shredded squash in a large bowl and set aside.  Refrigerate the remaining cooked squash for another use
• In a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat until the oil is shimmering.  Add the onion to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly golden, about 4 minutes.  Add the minced garlic and continue to sauté for another minute or just until the garlic is fragrant but not brown.  Add the sliced shitake mushrooms and continue to cook and stir 4 minutes longer until mushrooms are tender.  Add the edamame and toss with the other hot vegetables. Add the spaghetti squash, mix well and reserve over very low heat.  Cover with foil or lid to keep warm.
• To make the sauce, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium sized saucepan, until hot.  Carefully add the grape tomatoes, and stir constantly, being careful, as the tomatoes will begin to pop as they heat.  Add the vegetable broth and cover tightly.  Let cook, covered, for 2 minutes or until most of the tomatoes have burst open, making a fresh tomato 'sauce.'  Remove from the heat, uncover, and swirl in the butter, mixed chopped herbs and lemon zest.