When Chef Roberto Manco is in his kitchen at home, he doesn’t worry about what’s on the menu. He’s more concerned that he’s making good memories with his children, Alessio, 5, and Anastasia, 3.
“On Sunday, we spend most of the day baking and cooking,” Roberto said. “We grow our own herbs and have a nice garden. We grow vegetables, and Alessio has his own little tractor. He doesn’t even need the iPhone and iPad, he loves being in the garden.”
While Roberto talks, Alessio and Anatasia are working on their pizza dough. Alessio wants to put his toppings in the shape of a T-rex. Meanwhile, his sister said, “These are so yummy,” and ate two delicious mozzarella balls before putting one on top of her dough.
Roberto has to convince Alessio that T-rex needs tomatoes and basil leaves to go with his cheese. Once the toppings are in place, brother and sister help their papa put the pizza in the oven.
“Sharing my passion for cooking and my culture with my kids not only brings back a lot of memories, we also have lots of fun in the kitchen,” Roberto said. “It’s a passion one day they can pass on to their own family, and it will bring these memories back to them.”
The Manco home is a mixture of cultures as Roberto’s wife, Oksana, is from Russia. On the counter where the children are busy with their pizza stands a beautiful Russian tea maker.
“We went to Russia for the first time this summer.” Roberto said. “It was wonderful.”
The couple’s youngest child is Anthony, who is one year old.
The family also travels to Naples, Italy, to visit Roberto’s parents. “Alessio was spending most of the time with my parents at home and in the garden. He would say, ‘Papa, you can go out, I stay home with Nonna (Grandma). I’m sure we are going to cook something.’” Roberto laughs. “He also wanted to stay because Nonna would take him to eat homemade gelato by the gulf of Napoli. Who wouldn’t do the same? She used to take me when I was a kid.”
Holidays are big celebrations in the Manco house, and everything revolves around the kitchen. “When my mother is here during Christmas, she starts cooking early in the morning of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The kids comes out and smell the wonderful cooking,” Roberto said. “I think that’s how Alessio started cooking with me because he sees it is a family thing. The kids also want to help my mother when she is cooking.”
Sharing a passion for cooking and the Italian culture means Roberto enjoys good times with his children, but father and son also like playing soccer and basketball as well as deep sea fishing. Roberto said Alessio has a blast every time they fish together.
Alessio frequently goes to the restaurant with Roberto. Alessio enjoys being with the servers and talking with customers. But he also loves to spend time in the restaurant’s kitchen with his father.
“I like to make alfredo pasta and the gnocchi,” Alessio said.
Today’s cooking session ends with Alessio putting the homemade pasta dough through the cutter to make fettucine.
These recipes are from A Taste of Italy: Over 100 Easy-to-Prepare Recipes by Chef Roberto Manco. Copies are available at the restaurant, Giovanni’s, in The Villages. Comments are from Chef Manco.
“Pizza Margherita is the most well-known pizza worldwide. It is the classic Napolitano pizza, made with fresh ingredients such as fresh plum tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, fresh basil, and a drizzle of olive oil. It was invented by Raffaele Esposito in Naples in 1889. One day the king of Italy, Umberto I, was visiting Naples with his Queen, Margherita. Esposito created three types of pizza. The queen’s favorite was the pizza made with only three basic ingredients, representing the three colors of the Italian flag. The queen encouraged everyone to try this simple, yet incredibly tasty pizza. Everyone loved it, and Esposito named the pizza in honor of Queen Margherita. The pizza’s history is steeped in the city where I grew up. Every pizzeria in Naples makes great pizza, especially in the historic part of Naples. It’s all about using fresh ingredients and cooking them in a wood oven. It takes only 3-4 minutes for a pizza to be cooked in Naples. Every time I return to Naples, I eat this pizza almost daily.”
4 pizza doughs of 12-inch diameter
2 ½ c. water
4 ½ c. flour
3 ½ tsp. fresh yeast
6 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ tsp. salt
Toppings for Pizza
2 ¾ c. mozzarella di bufala
10-15 fresh basil leaves
3 ½ c. fresh plum tomatoes
½ c. extra virgin olive oil
Place the flour on a worktable, and make a hole in the middle of the flour. In a small bowl, pour a cup of warm water, yeast, and salt. Stir with a small whisk or fork until yeast and salt are completely dissolved, and then pour this mixture into the middle of the flour along with the olive oil. Start to mix with both hands, adding remaining water a little at a time. Divide dough in the number of pieces you need for the number of pizzas you are making. Roll each piece with your hands into a round ball, nice and smooth, and place them on a large tray coated with a little bit of flour. You can also roll them and leave them on the worktable. Cover the dough with a clean kitchen towel and set aside until the dough doubles in volume—about 1 to 1 ½ hours in a warm place. Now it’s time to stretch the dough to make the pizza.
Preheat oven to 500°F. Dice the mozzarella and place in a bowl. Process the tomatoes and place them in a bowl with a pinch of salt. Stretch the dough and place it on a screen or pizza stone and top with a spoonful of sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella, basil, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Bake at 500°F. for 10 minutes or until crispy if cooked in a gas or electric oven. If cooked in a wood oven, it will be done in 3-4 minutes.
Cappuccino con Panna
“There is nothing better than waking up in the morning and smelling the aroma of fresh homemade cappuccino accompanied with a good Italian pastry.”
1 c. milk
2 tsp. sugar
2 oz. espresso coffee
Whipped cream and cocoa powder for topping
In a pot, pour the milk with sugar and heat until the sugar is melted. Prepare espresso coffee and pour it into the milk. Stir and mix well. Pour into cappuccino cup and top with whipped cream and sprinkle some cocoa powder on top. Serve with a pastry or biscotti.
“This appetizer originates in central Italy. It is very flavorful and easy to prepare.”
12 slices Italian bread
2 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped
3 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 large ripe tomatoes, finely diced
½ medium onion, finely diced
5-6 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1 tsp. dried oregano
Salt and pepper
Slice bread approximately ½- to 1-inch thick. Toast slices over charcoals, if possible; otherwise, toast in toaster oven or regular oven at 450°F. Combine garlic, tomatoes, onion, and basil in a small bowl. Season with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. Combine well and spread mixture on top of each slice of toasted bread. Serves 4.
Spaghetti al Pomodoro
(Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil)
2 cloves garlic
3 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 c. cherry tomatoes cut in half
5-6 large basil leaves, plus extra for garnish
1 lb. spaghetti (or pasta of your choice)
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Salt and pepper
In a large skillet, sauté garlic with olive oil over medium heat. Cook garlic until golden. Reduce heat, add cherry tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper to taste. Stir and cook 5-6 minutes, until tomatoes are slightly tender. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Pour in pasta and cook until al dente, approximately 7-8 minutes. Drain pasta and toss with tomato sauce. Place on serving plate and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Garnish with basil leaves. Serves 4-5.