Cooking just one of doctor’s hobbies

Barbara Hagerty of Charleston suggested Dr. George B. Del Porto as a good home cook whom we should check out.

She piqued our interest by telling us that he is a passionate home cook whose meals reflect his Italian heritage.

But there’s more.

“He also has a place in the Everglades, so sometimes his cuisine reflects the tropics: mango, papaya, pineapple, fresh fish, etc.

He is also an accomplished gardener, and has an all-palm (or mostly palm) garden on Bull Street that has been much photographed and visited. An accomplished musician, he plays the banjo and regularly performs with his bluegrass band.”

Del Porto sounds like the definitive renaissance man.

Name: George B. Del Porto

Age: 70

Residence: Charleston

Family: Wife of 44 years; two sons; one dog; and one granddog

Occupation: Shortly to be retired urologist

Q. You know the reputa- tion: big Italian families who love to cook and eat together. Was that true in your family?

A. Yes, we were that, the Italian family that loved to eat and cook. I think the first thing we decided upon in a day was, “What shall we have for dinner?” We used to have the typical large Sunday after-church dinner with at least two meats, pasta with sauce, antipasti, fresh Italian bread, red wine of course, etc.

An example would be roast chicken, beef braciole (thin slices of beef wrapped around spinach and seasonings braised in a red sauce), filled pasta, salad.

Q. Who or what most inspires you as a cook?

A. I really like my own cooking, and when I eat something that, I like I try to replicate it. Of course, father was a good cook, too, and I guess memories of his cooking also play into it.

Q. You use a lot of tropical citrus in your dishes. How did that get going? Please give us an example.

A. I have always loved the tropics and have always gardened, so here in Charleston in my yard I have orange trees, a grapefruit tree, banana trees, and an herb garden.

I even get pineapples to fruit by container-growing them.

I like lemon or lime juice in almost any recipe, as I think they really enhance the flavor. I use them as a salt replacement and really don’t salt my recipes very much. If one likes it more salty, then they can always add it, but you can’t take it out.

I also like to cook pineapple as a vegetable; for example, sauteing it in butter and olive oil with onions, zucchini squash and green pepper with lime juice and just a touch of cinnamon.

Q. What do bluegrass music and cooking have in common?

A. They are both art forms that have much room for improvising!

Q. In general, though, what are some of the dishes in your repertoire?

A. Paella Valenciana, lamb and eggplant moussaka, pasta with spinach and artichoke hearts, bracciole of beef or veal, Vietnamese pho (pork and shrimp, or chicken or a combo thereof).

A favorite recipe:

“This can actually be used as a main course for a meal with sliced tomatoes or some other colorful vegetable,” Del Porto says.

“All quantities are approximations as I cook like my parents did, mostly a pinch of this and a pinch of that, then taste and adjust.”

Ingredients

1 cup white basmati rice

1/2 cup wild rice

1 tablespoon plus 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon sea salt

1 lemon, halved, divided use

11/2 pounds fresh local shrimp

1 medium cucumber with skin on, diced

3 good-size green onions cut in small pieces

1 clove fresh garlic, diced very fine

1 small bunch fresh cilantro

2 or 3 nice Thai basil stems with leaves, chopped (see cook’s note)

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar with 1/2 tablespoon honey dissolved in it

Thin lemon slices for garnish

Directions

Cook’s note: Take the basil leaves off and chop up the tender end of the stems and the leaves together.

Put rice in a rice steamer with 11/2 cups water and 1 tablespoon of olive oil and cook until tender.

Put a pot of water on the stove and add a tablespoon of sea salt and juice from 1/2 lemon and bring to a boil, then add the shrimp and let return to a boil. Boil about 1 more minute then remove the shrimp. Do not overcook. Cool, peel and devein the shrimp.

In a large bowl mix the cooked rice, shrimp, vegetables and herbs together. Add the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and the rice vinegar. Squeeze in the juice from the remaining 1/2 lemon and mix completely.

Serve in a large shallow dish and garnish with thin lemon slices.

Note: One can also put 3 nice plum tomatoes diced in the salad if not serving them as a separate dish.

Remember, we’re always on the hunt for good home cooks and their “back stories.” If you would like to suggest a family member or friend to be profiled here, please email food@postandcourier.com 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.