BOB FOGEL and Rick Armstrong may be only a year apart, but they represent two different generations of Italian cooking. Fogel runs a Northern Italian restaurant in Cincinnati with the unlikely name of Edward's; he started cooking Italian food after a side trip to Italy while training in a Paris restaurant. Armstrong, a cameraman for WDVM-TV, started cooking Italian food, "when I left home and realized I didn't have Grandma or Mom, and the commercial restaurants didn't make it."
Fogel invents his own recipes, using his reading as inspiration for, say, fried eggplant sandwiched with mozzarella, veal, mushrooms and marsala; or cold sauteed leeks marinated in white wine and tomato sauce. His proscuitto-wrapped bread sticks are nowadays wrapped with uncooked Smithfield ham. Italy was the influence rather than the source of formulas for his Italian cooking; he was most impressed by the simplicity and freshness of the food. Fogel sees Italian cooking as an attitude, adding, "The whole nouvelle couisine thing, the Italians were doing it for years. The French just had better public relations."
Thus, Fogel is an Italian cook by choice rather than by inheritance. In fact, he grew up in Indiana, where they may not have heard of vitello tonnato (which his restaurant serves), but they have "the best damn potatoes in the country," as well as superb steaks, strawberries, catfish, apples and corn. "They take the corn out of the fields and they cook it," is as good a recipe as Indiana can offer; the freshness and simplicity set Fogel to appreciate Italian food."
In his 30 years, Fogel has done several about-faces -- from military school to yoga school, from working in a vegetarian restaurant to training in Paris. Then he reopened a century-old Cincinnati restaurant that had lain fallow after riots. "I was young and dumb and didn't know any better," he said, but he drafted his yoga school friends to help, and turned the restaurant into what he considered a success, finally selling out to his partner and opening Edward's in 1978.
At Edward's, one of only two Northern Italian restaurants in Cincinnati, Fogel makes all his own pastas, and uses 100 pounds of ricotta a month, which he imports from Cleveland -- pretty ambitious for a 116-seat restaurant. What did Fogel really know about Italian cooking? He answered, "Hey, I've read a lot of books."
He was in Washington to visit one of his restaurant's early fans, Phylis Ward, who until recently was a producer for WDVM-TV. She invited Fogel to dinner with Armstrong, and -- being a producer by indication as well as a profession -- invited them both to do the cooking, too.
Fogel led with aioli, which he insisted could be included in an Italian dinner because it was "Meriditerranean." Armstrong provided the mainstay of the menu, manicotti accompanied by meatballs, braciole and sausage, which had flavored the tomato sauce for the pasta.It was his grandmother's recipe, though "recipe" may be too formal a term for what he got from her. Whenever he or his mother tried to pin down his grandmother to times and temperatures and measures, she answered, "Fa cosi." (Do what I do.) Then, when Armstrong called his mother before dinner to ask for a specific recipe, she advised him only, "Fa cosi."
He did acquire strong opinions on cooking from his Neapolitan grandmother. He cooks his tomato sauce for at least six hours, lest it taste "green." He insists that most Italian restaurants overdo the use of oregano; for him, it is only a secondary seasoning, a backup for basil. And the basil must always be fresh.
So must the tomatoes, which Armstrong grows himself. Well, he does bend a little on that, substituting in winter the tomatoes that he has frozen -- by simply pureering them raw in the blender with a teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon citric acid for two quarts of puree. Armstrong has modernized his family recipes enought that he had an argument with his mother over one; he chops the raisins for his manicotti in a food processor, which his grandmother would never have counternanced.
The next course, was Fogel's: salad tossed with anchovy-dill dressing that he invented on the spot. As he mashed anchovies and chopped dill, he said, "They don't exactly go together, but I'm curious."
Dessert was also a competition between the old and the new, a tasting of two brands of ice cream. Fogel, who claims to have a great appreciation of ice cream (having worked at a frozen custard stand during his Indiana youth), brought Cincinnati's "Famous French Pot Ice Cream," Graeter's," which is stirred in old French copper pots with wooden sticks, the chocolate for chocolate chip poured in while still liquid and broken up as it hardens into large chunks. The local contribution was Haagen Dazs.
A dozen diners sat down to the table as Fogel and Armstrong bounced back and forth to the kitchen for the bread, the corkscrew, the salad, a forgotten platter of manicotti. New style or old style? Cincinnati or Washington? Indiana or Naples? Which? Both. Ward lumped them together with, "Men aren't really good on timing." ROB FOGEL'S AIOLI 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic 2 tablespoons wine vinegar 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 1 tablespoon tomato paste French red pepper, for serving Garnish: Halved red pepper, cut-up vegetables, hard-cooked eggs, cooked potatoes
Blend well and refrigerate. Serve in half of a fresh red pepper. Surround with vegetables for dipping: cucumbers, mushrooms, celery, scallions, whatever is freshest in the market, plus quartered hard-cooked eggs and sliced, cooked potatoes. Aioli can be stirred into fish soup or tossed with salads, used to flavor many dishes and sauces. RICK ARMSTRONGS TOMATO SAUCE WITH MEATS (6 servings) Tomato sauce: Olive oil 1/2 cup diced onion 6 to 8 cloves of garlic, chopped 2/3 green pepper, finely diced 1 tablespoon basil 1 1/2 teaspoon oregano 1/4 cup dry red wine 2 quarts tomatoes, pureed (fresh or canned) Tomato paste to taste, up to 2 cans Salt and pepper to taste Italian sausages, one link per person Braciole: 12 1/4-inch-thick slices bottom round, as large as your hand 4 tablespoons parmesan 2 tablespoons garlic, chopped 4 tablespoons parsley, chopped 4 tablespoons raisins, chopped Salt and pepper to taste White string for tying rolls Meatballs: 1 1/2 pound ground pork 1/2 pound ground beef 4 cloves chopped garlic 1/2 teaspoon oregano 1 teaspoon basil 2 small white onions, finely chopped 1/2 large green pepper, minced A little salt and plenty of pepper 2 tablespoons bread crumbs 2 tablespoons parmesan 1 beaten egg Olive oil for browning
To prepare tomato sauce: Film the bottom of a large pot with olive oil and, over high heat, saute onion, garlic, green pepper, basil and oregano just until onions are softened and transparent. Do not brown them. Add wine and tomatoes. Cook at very low temperature, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Check consistency and add tomato paste as necessary to thicken the sauce enough to hold on a spoon and not run off. Add salt and pepper to taste.
To prepare braciole: Sprinkle each slice of meat with 1 teaspoon parmesan, 1/2 teaspoon garlic, 1 teaspoon parsley, 1 teaspoon raisins, salt and pepper. Roll as tightly as possible and tie with string. Brown in olive oil and drain braciole well. Add to tomato sauce.
To prepare meatballs: Mix all ingredients well. Brown a bit of meat, and taste to check seasonings; adjust if necessary. Form into large meatballs and brown in olive oil. Drain well and add to tomato sauce.
To finish sauce: Add sausage, braciole and meatballs to sauce and cook uncovered over the lowest possible heat for at least 6 hours, skimming fat occasionally. Serve over manicotti or other pasta, removing strings from braciole and passing meats on a separate platter. RICK ARMSTRONG'S MANICOTTI (6 servings) 12 manicotti shells, prepared according to package instructions 1 quart ricotta 1/2 cup finely diced pepperoni 1 egg 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoon pepper (less if desired) Tomato sauce (see above) Grated parmesan to sprinkle over casserole
Combine ricotta, pepperoni, egg parsley, salt and peper. Stuff into manicotti shells, arrange in a single layer in baking pan and top with tomato sauce made from 2 quarts of tomatoes (see recipe above). Sprinkle with parmesan. Bake at 350 degrees about 25 minutes until it bubbles. ROB FOGEL'S ANCHOVY-DILL DRESSING 5 teaspoons finely mashed anchovies 3 tablespoons wine vinegar 3 tablespoons dill 1 cup olive oil Salt and pepper to taste Juice of 1/2 lemon
Beat mashed anchovies and vinegar well. Add dill. Gradually beat in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Squeeze in lemon juice. Toss with salad greens.