When family, friends and great food mix, somebody's going to spread the word.
Karen Hoppmann Harris is wowed by the social gatherings hosted by Jim and Sally Monaghan, particularly their Sunday “feasts” with a house full of neighbors at the table. She says Jim is a fabulous cook who not only makes knockout Italian dishes but has a Midas touch with homemade bread, creamy mac 'n' cheese, chili and “lip-smacking wings.”
Karen suggested we profile Jim and his cooking for this column, and it was a great tip.
Name: Jim MonaghanAge: 51Residence: Mount Pleasant
Family: Wife, Sally; three children, one daughter-in-law and one grandson
Occupation: Commercial and resort real estate development
Q: Your name doesn't indicate it, but we hear you're Italian and are known for cooking family-style feasts. How did you come by your love of cooking?
A: My father came from England and my mother and her whole family comes from Sicily, all Italians. My father was the only Irishman allowed into the family. So I grew up with the entire Italian side of my family. My grandmother Perricone worked in an Italian bakery and my grandfather worked in an Italian deli /butcher shop in New Jersey. Since I can remember I was always helping my grandmother cook and later in life she always helped me cook. Sunday was and still is the big day. All family and close friends have to come over and eat a “feast.” It's just something we have always done, and still enjoy doing.
Q: What is one of your earliest food memories?
A: I remember making hundreds of homemade cheese raviolis, Italian cookies and gallons of gravy with my grandmother. Usually for a holiday like Thanksgiving. We would cook for an entire week. Then have a ravioli-eating contest with my cousins and uncles. My Uncle Tony always won!
Q: What are a few of the Italian dishes you do best?
A: My Italian breads, pizzas and gravy. I make homemade Italian bread that I stuff with pepperoni or sausage, provolone and mozzarella cheeses. As my grandmother would say if you're on a diet, just eat half as much.
Q: What's the difference between sauce and gravy in Italian-American cooking?
A: Gravy is always made with meat. Marinara (red) gravy has meat in it like Italian sausage, meatballs and beef short ribs. Brown gravy is served over roast or pork. Sauce has no meat. Like marinara sauce, white sauce or alfredo sauce.
Q: What's your secret to great mac 'n' cheese?
A: Believe it or not, Velveeta cheese. I make mine in a Crock-Pot. Not in the oven. Use Velveeta and extra sharp cheddar cheese, butter, evaporated milk and heavy cream.
Q: Have you been to Italy? If so, what did you come away with concerning food?
A: Yes, I actually still have family in Sicily that own olive farms. Some of the food in Italy is differently prepared; we have Americanized 80 percent of the way the food is made. The Italian cheeses and meats are so good, just a world apart from ours.
Q: There's a huge interest in food these days, but then we hear that people aren't really cooking. What are they missing?
A: Cooking takes practice, and it builds good family bonds. I am lucky to have built my house with the kitchen as an entertainment center. So when I am cooking and have friends and family over they are right there with me either drinking a glass of wine or helping me cook.
A favorite recipe: It's hard to narrow down my favorite recipe, but personally I love my grandmother's eggplant rollotini. It would be up there in my Top 10.
Eggplant RollotiniMakes 18-22 rolls
Ingredients3 to 4 small eggplants, peeled and sliced thin (see cook's note)
Kosher or sea salt¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
6 cloves crushed or minced garlic, divided use
1 tablespoon fennel seeds1 (30-ounce) can of crushed Italian tomatoes
4 (12-ounce) cans of tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar1 tablespoon table salt
1 tablespoon dried basil1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon black pepper3 eggs
2 cups Italian bread crumbsOlive oil for frying
1 large (2-pound) container ricotta cheese
2 pounds shredded mozzarella cheese
8 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
DirectionsCook's note: Recipe makes up to twice as much sauce as needed for this dish, so sauce ingredients may be halved, if desired. Or, make all of the sauce and refrigerate or freeze leftover amount to use for pasta or other dishes.
When buying the eggplants, look for the smallest ones you can find, because they have fewer seeds. Use about 3 or 4, depending on size. Peel the eggplant with a potato peeler. Once peeled, cut the eggplant lengthwise in thin slices (try to keep consistent with the thickness). Cover a cookie sheet with newspaper and lay the eggplant down in rows. Sprinkle a generous amount of salt over the entire row. Lay down more newspaper and repeat another row on top. When last row is complete cover it with newspaper and then another cookie sheet and place something heavy on the top of the cookie sheet (like a blender or big cans). Let dry out for 1 to 2 hours.
In a big pot pour the ¼ cup olive oil and heat on medium high. Add 2 cloves of the garlic and the fennel seeds. When garlic starts to sizzle, add crushed tomatoes and tomato paste. For each can of tomato paste add 2 cans of water. Stir until creamy. Add the sugar, table salt, basil, oregano, crushed red pepper and black pepper. Bring to a boil, stirring every few minutes. Don't let the sauce stick to the bottom. Once boiling, turn to medium heat and cover. Let simmer for at least 1 hour and continue stirring every 10 to 15 minutes.
In a bowl, beat the eggs with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil until smooth. Pour the bread crumbs onto a plate. Dip the eggplant slices into the eggs then drag through the breadcrumbs on both sides. Place eggplant on clean newspaper for drying, repeat process until all eggplant slices are done. Let stand for 15 minutes to dry.
Pour enough olive oil into a large skillet to cover the bottom and heat over medium. Add the remaining 4 cloves crushed garlic. When garlic starts to sizzle, fry the eggplant slices in batches until light golden brown on both sides. Return to newspaper for draining. Add more olive oil to the pan as needed to finish frying.
Take the ricotta cheese out of the container and mix it in a bowl to loosen it up.
Cover the bottom of a 9x13-inch casserole dish with some of the tomato sauce. Sprinkle the top heavily with Parmesan cheese. Take a slice of eggplant and spread ricotta cheese on it, then sprinkle mozzarella and Parmesan cheese on it. Roll the eggplant up and place it in the pan lip side down. Continue until pan is filled up. Rolls should be in rows and touching side to side. Pour a generous amount of the sauce over the top of the entire dish, then sprinkle Parmesan heavily over the entire dish. Cover in mozzarella cheese.
Cover dish with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake another 15 minutes until golden brown.
Serve with homemade Italian bread, pasta and a salad. Oh, don't forget many bottles of red wine.
If you would like to suggest a good home cook to be profiled, email firstname.lastname@example.org with “Good Cook” as the subject line. Briefly describe the person's talent and how you know him or her, and provide their phone number or email address so we can contact them.
What should we call those little green shell beans?
Local markets are flush with fresh butterbeans now, so it's a good time to stock up on this Lowcountry favorite. You just might be sorry when they're gone. To freeze for future use, blanch shelled butterbeans in boiling water for a few minutes, then quickly plunge into a bowl or clean sink of ice water. (A stockpot with a boil basket makes this fairly easy.) Drain the beans well, then place in dated quart freezer bags. Squeeze out as much air as possible and seal. Stack the bags flat and place in freezer.What's in a name: A heap of confusion. “Lima” and “butterbeans” are used interchangeably but you hear “butterbeans” more often in the South. It gets even more cloudy in the Lowcountry, where natives refer to them as “sivvy” beans.Well, asking resident Charlestonians in the office didn't clear things up at all. One said “butterbeans” are baby green limas (like the ones being sold at the markets now). Another said those are “limas” and “butterbeans” are larger and tannish in color. A third local person said “sivvy” beans refer to the smaller green ones.So I called Pete Ambrose of Ambrose Family Farm on Wadmalaw Island. Pete said he's always known sivvy beans as being very tiny, immature green beans. He thinks the term “butterbean” is applied to green, but slightly larger beans. He wasn't sure about limas. Maybe dried?Pete said to call his wife, Babs, who runs Stono Market on Johns Island.Babs prefaced her information with a caveat. While she has researched these names in the past, “I have no proof.”Sivvy does appear to be an African word describing what most people think of as a speckled butterbean. But it also means very small, she explains. But those two characteristics don't jibe, because a speckled butterbean doesn't show its mottling of color until it's large and mature. So it's possible that sivvy beans were very young, still-green beans of the speckled variety.As for “butterbean,” Babs says that may refer to the color and the cooking. When beans are roasted or baked versus boiling, they turn a browner color, like burned butter.A “lima,” she says, “is a green butterbean anywhere above the Mason-Dixon line.”So there's nothing definite here, except that we are bound to stir the pot. It could be fun.A final note: Pete says that butterbeans are the hardest crop he's ever grown. The beans are susceptible to heavy rain. “If you get 2 inches of rain, all the beans just fall off, he says. Moreover, “It takes perfect conditions for the beans to set.”All this was prompted by a Ladson reader who asked about a recipe for barbecued lima or butterbean casserole.We had a nice response from Linda Field of Summerville.“I acquired this one 44 years ago as a newlywed in San Angelo, Texas, from a kindly landlady. My husband was attending an Air Force training school at Goodfellow Air Force Base. This recipe is a family favorite!”Lima Bean RoTelIngredients1 medium onion, chopped1 medium green bell pepper, choppedBacon drippings for frying2 (15-ounce) cans lima beans, drained (or 4 to 5 cups cooked fresh beans)1 heaping tablespoon brown sugar½ cup ketchup1 (10-ounce) can Ro-Tel Original Diced Tomatoes and Green ChiliesDirectionsSaute the onion and green pepper in some bacon drippings. Add the lima beans, brown sugar and ketchup. Drain off about 1/3 of the liquid from the tomatoes and add in. Cook over low heat for 30 minutes before serving.For a true casserole dish, we found a recipe in “The Complete Southern Cookbook” by Tammy Algood (Running Press, 2010).Dream Bean CasseroleYields 6 servingsIngredients4 cups fresh baby lima beans4 slices bacon2 tablespoons all-purpose flour3 tablespoons brown sugar1 teaspoon salt½ teaspoon black pepper1 tablespoon dry mustard1 tablespoon lemon juice½ cup dry plain bread crumbs2 tablespoons unsalted butter, meltedDirectionsPlace the beans in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 20 minutes, or until tender. Drain; reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. If there is less than 1 cup, add enough water to equal 1 cup. Transfer the beans to a lightly greased 8-inch square baking dish and set aside.Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet over medium heat, fry the bacon until crisp, about 8 minutes. Drain on paper towels and crumble when cool enough to handle. Set aside.Add the flour to the hot drippings and stir constantly until smooth. Cook 1 minute. Gradually add the reserved bean liquid, stirring, about 2 minutes, or until the mixture thickens. Add the brown sugar, salt, pepper, mustard and lemon juice, stirring well to blend. Pour over the beans.In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs and butter. Sprinkle over the bean mixture. Bake 25 minutes. Sprinkle the bacon over the top and bake 5 minutes longer. Serve warm.Not that I think that butterbeans need much help, as they are delicious on their own. But we like new ideas, such as this one from Charleston's own Lee brothers, Matt and Ted. I spotted this in their first cookbook, “The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook.”Country Ham Fettucine Carbonara: Toss 10 ounces (about 2 cups) cooked fresh butterbeans, ½ cup country ham cut into small dice, 3 ounces goat cheese broken into bits, 2 tablespoons buttermilk, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper with 1 pound freshly cooked fettucine. Add kosher salt to tastes. Serves 4.Who's got the recipe?A West Ashley reader asks for recipes for beef tips in a brown mushroom sauce that does not use salty soup. Also, how to stir-fry those beef tips with vegetables.Another reader requests a coleslaw recipe that is not too mayonaisse-y.And does anyone know easy, healthy recipes for spinach?If there's a recipe you've lost or a dish you are just wondering about, email food@postandcourier or call Food Editor Teresa Taylor at 937-4886.