Home cook merges Italian-American, Southern food

Paul Marino makes pasta in his home kitchen.

Lynn Marino of Mount Pleasant recently recommended her husband as someone interesting to quiz about his home cooking. The couple came to the Lowcountry from New York. Paul, who is of Italian descent, has since taken on creating “fusion” food.

In December, Lynn wrote, “... We hosted a ‘holiday buffet’ for 14 friends and neighbors. Our menu included Southern dishes with an Italian twist.”

Read on to find out what was on the menu.

Name: Paul Marino

Age: 63

Residence: Johns Island

Occupation: Speech and language pathologist

Family: Spouse, Lynn; son, JP.

Q. We always get the ball rolling by asking, who or what in your past made you interested in cooking?

A. My inspiration was both genetic and survival instinct. My Sicilian mother was preparing healthy and hearty meals with flavors that complemented one another: a bite from one dish inviting one from the next dish.

My Neapolitan father owned a pizzeria and could stretch dough by twirling it in the air on his knuckled hand. When I first married my lovely wife of 40 years, she could not seem to find her calling in the culinary side of the kitchen.

I was in graduate school at the time and picked up a copy of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and I have been at it since my first leek and potato soup.

Q. You’re an Italian-American who migrated here from New York. What’s an Italian food experience not to be missed in the Big Apple?

A. I would have to say Eataly for its incredible buzz, people-watching and abundance of all things Italian. Enjoy Italian beer, charcuterie and the view at the rooftop bar; sit down to delicious plate of pasta with pork ragu and finish with a gelato or espresso, and bring home some fresh pasta.

Q. Your wife says you have adapted to living here by making Southern dishes with an Italian twist. Describe some of those and which one is most liked by friends and family?

A. For our holiday party, I served grilled polenta squares topped with pesto shrimp (shrimp and grits), boneless breaded and fried chicken fingers with a marinara dipping sauce (fried chicken) and mac and cheese with pancetta, parmesan, ricotta and mozzarella cheese.

Q. What’s your favorite kitchen gadget or cookware?

A. My favorite kitchen gadget is my wife, Lynn; she cleans up behind me, makes sure our wine glasses are filled and always enjoys whatever it is I prepare.

Q. Italian-Americans are notorious for large family meals. Can you recall one and the occasion? What dishes were typically on the table?

A. Our Thanksgivings would begin with antipasti of salamis, cheeses, stuffed artichokes, roasted red peppers; followed by baked ziti with meatballs and sausage; and just when you began to feel full, Momma would bring the traditional Thanksgiving turkey and all the trimmings to the table.

For dessert Italian pastries, sharing room in your already-stuffed-self with pumpkin pie. We thought everyone ate that way.

Q. When you get a food craving, what are three things that likely come to mind first?

A. Pasta, of course. My wife loves orecchiette with broccoli rabe and sausage, a frittata with potatoes and onions topped with tomatoes, and any green vegetable in garlic and oil and a drizzle of lemon.

Q. Is there a celebrity chef you like, and if so, why?

A. I have had a culinary crush on Julia Child for over 40 years; her cookbooks taught me technique and her TV shows the love and joy of being in the kitchen, and to never apologize if a meal goes wrong.

A favorite recipe or two:

Ingredients

2 cups instant polenta

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 cup basil leaves

11/2 cups cup olive oil

2 cloves peeled garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt for pesto mixture

2 tablespoons butter

Directions

Cook polenta according to directions on package. Allow to cool in a sheet pan or two rubbed with olive oil. Use a spatula to even out the mixture to a height of approximately 1 inch. Once cooled and firm, remove from pan and cut into 2-inch squares. Grill in a stove-top grill pan just long enough to make grill marks and set aside for later use. Can be done a day ahead.

Make a light pesto by combining the basil, olive oil, garlic and salt in mini food processor and mix; season to taste.

One hour before cooking marinate the peeled and deveined shrimp in half the pesto mixture. Dry the shrimp mixture on paper towels and saute in a large saute pan coated with olive oil until just pink. Add the remaining pesto mixture and finish cooking the shrimp about 2 more minutes. Remove the shrimp from the pan and set aside. Swirl 2 tablespoons butter into the remaining liquid and melt. Set polenta squares on serving platter and using a basting brush coat them with liquid in the pan, top each with a shrimp and serve.