On the recommendation of Sally Monaghan, we got in touch with Teresa Barrera to talk about her cooking. Says Sally of her friend, "She takes pride in cooking for her family. And prepares dinner every evening for them. She makes incredible Italian food, including homemade calzones and pasta, antipasto platters, lasagna, eggplant, etc. She also makes excellent oyster stew. Anything and everything she makes is excellent.
"She suffers from gluten allergies and still manages to make incredible meals with certain dietary limitations."
So, without delay, meet Teresa.
Name: Teresa Barrera
Residence: Mount Pleasant
Occupation: Domestic engineer; real estate agent at Agent Owned Referral Group
Family: My husband Paul; and four children, Sam, 22; Jillian, 19; Rebecca, 18; and Stephen, 16.
Q. What were your early food memories or influences?
A. Originally I am from the Midwest; St. Louis, where my Slovak grandmother cooked authentic dishes endlessly from scratch. Her pierogi were my favorite. She would allow me to fill and pinch them closed as she cut the dough. When I moved to Boston as a young adult, I befriended many Italians whom shared my love for authentic homemade food.
Q. Who has been your most important food/cooking teacher?
A. All of my Italian friends whose homes I was invited into during my single years in East Boston and the North End. I would often pitch in to help in the kitchen or just ask how they prepared what we were eating. I was able to observe, listen and learn from some of the best home cooks I have ever known. If I had to credit one person, it would be my eldest sister, Sophia, and her mother-in-law, the late Mrs. Rose Costantino who greatly influenced her cooking.
Q. You work and yet prepare dinner every night for your family. How do you do that?
A. I am not working presently, but yes, I have done so in the past and continue to cook most nights of the week. I used to can and/or freeze a lot of sauces, soups, stocks, meatballs, etc., that I would make in large batches when time permitted.
I also, try to keep fresh herbs growing year round and try to grow seasonal vegetables when time permits.
I always have pasta, grains, quinoa and legumes stocked as well as olive oil, wine, and lemon juice. I prefer fresh vegetables, but will keep quality frozen stocked for those rare times when I have not been able to get to the store.
Q. Which of your dishes get the most compliments from others?
A. Probably my antipasto salads and my "calzalonis," as I refer to them because they are really a cross between calzone and stromboli.
Q. What do you especially enjoy making and why?
A. Clam chowder because it takes me back to Boston and oyster stew because it reminds me of the Lowcountry, and they are both gluten free.
Q. You have some gluten intolerance; how do make modifications or deal with that?
A. It is actually a lot easier than people think. I use corn starch as a thickener and gluten-free flours to make a roux as a base for other sauces.
There are many gluten-free pastas now that are quite tolerable. Udis and Rudis brand gluten-free breads (when toasted) and wraps (microwaved) have the same taste and texture as flour-based. But when it comes to pizza or a good crusty bread with butter, only the real deal will do. There are no replacements. Flour has no gluten-free competition.
Q. What's your impression of Lowcountry food: What do you like, don't like?
A. I think we have some delicious local seafood: shrimp, oysters, crab, flounder, red drum, dolphin and wahoo to name my favorites. I enjoy the shellfish made in the Lowcountry traditional way: oysters roasted, shrimp and crab boiled.
I must say, our first crab feast was a little disappointing. After spending the entire day crabbing, we found the picking quite tedious. My children said, "Mom, this is like the part of the lobster we throw away." That was the end of crabbing for us.
Flounder seems to get fried way too often on menus but is actually very good on the grill, as is all the other fish I mentioned. Also, the local produce is very accessible and fresh; makes such a huge difference on the plate.
Much of the traditional Lowcountry food is quite delicious but very indulgent in ideal form: pulled pork, fried chicken, grits, mac and cheese and collards to name some of my favorites. I have learned to enjoy boiled peanuts once I embraced the soft texture. Good quality beef is one item I wish I could find here.
Q. If you could meet any chef in the world, who would it be? Why?
A. It would have to be Jamie Oliver. He is such a great personality and teacher. Not only that, but I love his campaign to change unhealthy diets and poor cooking habits for the better across the United Kingdom and United States.
A few of Teresa's dishes:
Teresa's Antipasto Salad
15 to 20 ounces of Italian and/or Spanish cured meats sliced thin; such as bresaola, calabrese, serrano, soppressata, capocolla, prosciutto
24 ounces fresh buffalo mozzarella, sliced thin
1 bag of prewashed arugula
1 bag of prewashed spring mix lettuces
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large scallion, sliced thin
1 to 2 large elephant garlic cloves, chopped
1 package mini zucchini or 1 to 2 regular zucchini, cut and quartered into 3-inch lengths
1 each medium red and orange (or yellow) bell pepper
2 large lemons
1 (7.75-ounce) jar of Pastene Marinated Mushrooms
1 (12-ounce) jar of Pastene Marinated Artichoke Hearts
1 small jar of olives, your preference; or mixed from the deli
1 package mini heirloom tomatoes or 3 heirloom tomatoes, quartered and diced
Handful of fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Kosher salt and pepper
White balsamic vinegar
Balsamic reduction or rich balsamic dressing
Use a large, high-lipped platter, approximately 20x15 inches.
Cut the meats in half and arrange on outside of platter in two layers going the opposite direction.
Then layer the sliced mozzarella around the platter.
Wash, drain and dry lettuces and put in the center.
In a large skillet, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil; saute scallions and garlic until translucent. Then add the zucchini and peppers and squeeze in the juice of 1 large lemon. Put lid on and let the liquid absorb (approximately 3 minutes). Remove from heat. Vegetables should be al dente, not soft.
Drain half of marinade from each the artichokes and mushrooms and add them with remaining marinade along with olives that have been fully drained. Add the tomatoes and parsley.
In a separate bowl whisk together 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 3 tablespoons lemon juice and 4 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar. You may need to play with these to taste.
When satisfied, pour over sauteed vegetables and toss well. When ready to serve spoon over top of the lettuces.
Drizzle balsamic reduction or a rich balsamic dressing over mozzarella on the outside of platter.
Teresa's Mussels in Fresh Tomato Sauce
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
3 to 4 Roma tomatoes; preferably blanched, peeled and deseeded
2 cups sliced in thin strips: red, orange or yellow pepper; a combination is ideal
1 cup sliced fennel stalks
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded; soaked in cold water for at least 20 minutes to remove sand
2 handfuls (about 2 cups) of escarole or your favorite mild-to-medium green
In a large deep skillet with a lid over medium-high heat, add the olive oil then the garlic; saute garlic until translucent. Add tomatoes and peppers and lower to simmer. Stir to marry flavors. Cook until peppers begin to soften, adding olive oil if consistency is too dry while simmering. But you do not want olive oil seeping around the tomatoes and peppers.
Add chopped fennel and marry with the tomatoes and peppers,
Slowly add the lemon juice while stirring sauce. You do not want to add too quickly but rather want to thin the sauce in a constant state to become a thick broth.
After adding the lemon juice, do the same with the dry white wine. Add the red pepper flakes and stir. Add the mussels and then the escarole and cover skillet with the lid.
Turn heat up to just past medium low and let simmer until mussels open. If the sauce seems thick, add more wine, the
Just remember that the lemon juice is more overpowering than wine so you may want to taste often in this step. Also, if the sauce seems too thin, add more olive oil, but ideally you do not want this to happen at this stage.
Mussels should be open after approximately 10 minutes.
If there are still many not open, remove those that are and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes. Those that are not open should be discarded.
Teresa says this bread is great for dipping in mussels sauce and/or with antipasto.
Ready-made frozen bread dough
Pesto sauce; homemade or jarred from grocery
Provolone cheese, thinly sliced
Deli-sliced, very thin sandwich pepperoni
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
On a clean floured surface, roll out one loaf of the thawed ready-made bread into a rectangle, approximately 20x12 inches. Try to get an even thickness throughout, especially in the middle
With a spatula, spread a thin layer of pesto sauce evenly over the entire rectangle.
Layer with approximately 6 slices of provolone cheese spread evenly apart, then pepperoni evenly spaced over the whole rectangle; more pepperoni than cheese.
Starting with side closest to you, roll the filled dough in a cylinder shape. Pinch the dough closed on top and ends.
Cover hands with olive oil and spread over the entire roll, then put on a cookie sheet or pizza stone.
Put on the middle rack of the pre-heated oven and cook for approximately 25 minutes, checking every 10 minutes, poking with a knife any bubbles that form in the dough.
When golden brown, remove and cool for approximately 10 minutes. Slice and serve.
Reach Teresa Taylor at 937-4886 or ttaylor@postand courier.com.