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Sensi Magazine

Spaghetti A La Western

Jun 13, 2019 02:01AM ● By John Lehndorff
Walking through the Boulder Farmers Market with Antonio Laudisio is a little like shopping for paints with Vincent Van Gogh. You’re not just going to grab a tube of cobalt blue and go home because the goods guide you, not vice versa.

“Look at that! That spinach is beautiful,” says Laudisio. “I would take it and add farm eggs and make a frittata.”

Then Laudisio notices crusty baguettes at a nearby booth. “You could cut those in half and toast them. Cook the spinach in olive oil with a little lemon juice and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes. You put that over the bread with parmigiano, and there’s no way you don’t want to eat it,” he says. Laudisio is looking for ingredients to top the pizzas at his market food booth. On a sunny Saturday morning, half the strolling shoppers seem to know and greet him.

With his curled white moustache, Brooklyn-tinged accent and tendency to talk with his hands, Antonio Laudisio is a market icon. Talk to him about his life and he legitimately name drops Al Capone, Ernest Hemingway, and Fidel Castro. He has stories to tell.

With his brothers Raimondo and Leonardo, Antonio introduced generations of Boulder-Denver diners to simple, authentic Italian cuisine beyond spaghetti and meatballs at Ristorante Laudisio from 1989 to 2013. At 78, he co-owns The Mediterranean Restaurant and operates a catering business using the portable wood-burning ovens he built by hand.

Colorado’s first farmer-run market opened in Boulder, inspired in part by markets Laudisio had seen throughout Italy. “In Italy, there’s no farmers market. It’s just the market. It’s a way of life. Nobody would ask chefs how to cook things. Everyone who sold at the market will tell you how to clean a vegetable and cook it,” he says.

According to Antonio Laudisio, you’ve got to elbow your way in to see, touch, and smell the produce and ask questions. Taste the greens. Getting the most out of a farmers market means treating it like a contact sport.

As he walks through the farmers market, every fresh ingredient leads to a story, a recipe or a cautionary tale.

“Less is more when you start with great stuff. Those young radish greens are so good and spicy. They don’t need to be cooked, just add them raw to a salad,” he says.

Perfect baby potatoes came into view. “Boil them just a little while, then roast them with rosemary in a mix of 40 percent butter and 60 percent oil so they don’t burn.”

I asked him how he would cook exotic fresh mushrooms. “I wouldn’t. You slice the royal trumpet mushrooms razor thin and toss with some cremini mushrooms in a salad with salt, pepper, and a simple dressing with fresh parsley,” he says.

Asparagus should be simply steamed and served with poached eggs on top, he shares, noting that this is exactly what he feeds his own family. “My daughter said: ‘How do you make them taste so good?’ I just pick good ones and then leave them alone.”

To cook like Laudisio you need to have certain basics on hand. Not the cheap stuff you have to invest in the good stuff like Parmigiano-Reggiano, extra virgin olive oil, capers, and prosciutto. (For essential Italian pantry items to have on hand, see the pantry list sidebar.)

You can find some of these ingredients at many supermarkets, but along the Front Range you’ll find the real thing markets and delis run by multi generational Italian families reflecting the strong Italian immigrant heritage of Colorado.

This summer, take a farmers market road trip, and stop at Spinelli’s Market in Denver, Carmine Lonardo’s Meat Market and Italian Deli in Lakewood, Mollica’s Italian Market and Deli in Colorado Springs, and the state’s ultimate Italian family store, Gagliano’s Italian Market in Pueblo.

This is where you’ll find imported grocery items your Torrone nougat, Stella D’oro anisette toasts, and Cento canned tomatoes. They often make their own sausage sold wrapped in white butcher paper, bake cookies, sell “grinders” (hot sandwiches), and offer take home entrées like lasagna big enough to feed the family.

Colorado’s cache of farmers markets has grown each year, and markets can be found in towns from Fort Collins to Trinidad, but all markets are not all the same. Antonio Laudisio said that the only “real” farmers markets are those run by the growers themselves who generally sell only what they grow with the exception of Western Slope fruit. In other words, no pineapples. The prepared food vendors are also always local businesses, not chains.

Farmers market and ethnic market foods are sometimes perceived as being overpriced compared to supermarket options, but they deliver great family values. The heirloom and organic varieties are unavailable elsewhere, and are generally fresher and better tasting. Pointing your dollars that way supports family farmers, sustainability, a viable local economy, and the larger community.

Italians have a saying: La famiglia sopra tutto. Family above all. However you define yours, family is the most important thing in the world.

My final Boulder Farmers Market stop with Antonio Laudisio is near a charcuterie stand, which prompts thoughts of cooking with cured meats for quick dinner. “For a vegetable like broccoli raab, first you cut up the stems and poach them until they’re just tender. Start with one clove of crushed garlic in extra virgin olive oil in a pan and add sliced summer sausage. Put in the poached stems and broccoli raab tops…and al dente penne if you like,” he says.

Knowing the question would irk him, I wonder aloud: Why so little garlic? “What they’ve done with garlic in America is just terrible,” he says. “You have use peel fresh garlic just before you use it. I know because I used to have to peel bushels of it at my family’s restaurant in Miami. Now, you get bins of peeled garlic and a lot of it is rancid. It’s too easy to use too much. When I was a kid, my mother would cut up garlic and put it in the oil for a minute and then remove it, or it just gets bitter. You’ve got to respect the ingredients.”

A Midsummer Night’s Pasta Dish
Here is Antonio Laudisio’s recipe for Spaghetti All’uovo from La Famiglia Laudisio: The Cookbook.

INGREDIENTS Yields four servings.
• 1 lb spaghetti
• 4 tbsp olive oil (best quality)
• 2 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
• 6 large farm eggs
• ¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
• 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil, chopped
• 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
• 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
• Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

STEP 1: Bring salted water to boil in large pot, add spaghetti, cook until “al dente” - that means “firm to the tooth,” not soft.

STEP 2: Heat olive oil and garlic over medium flame in a large skillet. Be careful not to brown the garlic, or it will have a bitter taste.

STEP 3: Add eggs and fry over medium heat, with yolks not runny, but slightly firm. Drain pasta, reserving pasta water on the side.

STEP 4: Put spaghetti in frying pan and slowly add pasta water (to just moisten, not soak).

STEP 5: Toss gently with eggs and garlic, then add parmesan, crushed red pepper, and basil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

STEP 6: Serve hot sprinkled with parsley on a warmed platter.

• Grating cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano
• Extra virgin olive oil
• Capers: Tart nuggets for seafood and salad dressings
• Canned San Marzano tomatoes for an easy sauce
• Fresh lemons: Juice, zest and grilled slices for seafood
• Dried pasta: Long spaghetti and short, chewy penne
• Breadcrumbs, Italian or panko, turn summer veggies into tasty pan-sizzled treats
• Garlic: fresh not pre-peeled, pre-minced, a paste or dried
• Red wine: Box or bottle
• Pine nuts: Toasted atop sautéed spinach, bruschetta, ice cream
• Cured meats: Salami, pancetta, prosciutto, and bacon
• Sea salt, green herbs, red pepper flakes
• Vinegar: Balsamic, red wine, or sherry
• Optional: Canned anchovies, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, and Cannellini or fava beans